Status Report – perfect project monitoring

Project reporting is an essential part of project management and at the core of most methodologies.  There are many reasons for this but at the core is decision making.  To make any decision you must have information.  To make the best decisions you must have good accurate and timely information .  That is why when organisations buy new project tools, reporting is so high up on the list of requirements. So the new status report is another helpful tool in this regard.

Status report quickly and consistently

The system contains many report templates, one for each type of report you need to produce.  The template controls the layout, structure and contents of the report. This allows identical reports to be produced for each project at the touch of a button.

status report; project reporting, project management  click to expand.

The new status report works in just the same way, you simply select it from the menu and run it for your current project.  As you can see here above the output is usually straight to word so it can be easily printed.  Depending on the complexity and status of the project it is usually two to three pages but the cover page is always the same.

The first page always starts with a set of coloured status indicators, a main project status one and then nine others covering topics from Benefits and finances to tasks, risks, issues and plan progress.  A new feature in 5.4 allows the colour of the panel to be controlled by the value of the property.  Your report’s first page is completed with Commentary, Description and key dates roles and two remaining graphics.  Firstly the Finances timeline for the last six months and the risk heat map.

Having such clear graphical indicators on the front page means you can decide quickly how the project is performing. If the project is doing well you can move on to another and if it isn’t you turn the page.

The remainder of the report is conventional analysis of project data.  A summary gantt chart with a matching financial analysis and a list of all overdue tasks.  If the project is large or performing poorly this will often push the report out onto three or more pages.  The status report is finished with the top ten Risks and Issues.

Status report that fits your projects

As with all the other 60+ report templates this status report is available for personalisation.  You could just change the logos and perhaps also the fonts for corporate branding.  But you can also change the contents of the reports if required.  You could change the status blocks or even the analysis sections.  We have designed reporting so you can make these changes yourself, if you wish.

To browse a PDF version of this status report click here.

If you want to see the video of it running then look here on YouTube.

If you want to know more about reporting in general then our YouTube reporting playlist can be found here.

Quick Plan – Easy to develop plans in Planner

It can be a hectic time in  any project.  Right at the beginning when you need to develop your plan.  But actually getting all that information together and into your planning tool can take an age.  We have often been in that situation so we have added a new ‘Quick type tasks’ facility.  This makes it easy to create a quick plan in Planner.

Quick plan by copy and paste

Often when you start developing your project plan you will already have a list of tasks.  Perhaps a table in a proposal or a spreadsheet.  So if you need to create a quick plan you can just copy paste that task list into Planner and the tasks appear.  It automatically assumes a FS dependency between each task as this is the most common plan type.  So immediately your plan takes shape.  If you also have duration info for your tasks you can include it in your copy paste too.  Your duration data might be a 2nd column or separated by a comma.  Duration formats can be in hours, days, weeks, months and even years.

Depending where you are copying from you can use options to change the separator.  With options you can also choose if the data you are adding will append, insert at current location or replace the current plan.

Typing your quick plan

Copy paste is good but you can also type into the text area.  You can also edit your paste as well and see the changes real time on the right.  This makes fleshing out your quick plan really easy.

quick plan; planning software

Quick plan including groups

So you can also set up groups in your tasks while copying and typing a new quick plan.  Simply include two spaces before any tasks in a lower group as shown here in the screen shot above.

And of course with Planner this is all totally free.  Just sign up here to download the latest version.  Get a quick tutorial of this feature here on YouTube.

Cyber Essentials the tick you should be looking for

Cyber security is no joke, it seems like everyday there are reports of another organisation struggling.  So when we host peoples projects for them we take every care.  Some customers have knowledgeable Cyber security experts of their own and grill us.  But plenty of other organisations lack those skills and that is where Cyber Essentials comes in.

Cyber Essentials verification

This process is an assessment of the organisations systems, practices and approaches with relation to cyber security.  An independent assessor does the assessment to ensure their is no bias.  We have recently passed out latest re certification assessment.  This means we have been successful every time.

So we are now wearing our badge with pride and find that this helps customers have confidence in us.

cyber essentials

Of course this applies to all of our products and services but in particular to our Live Edition SaaS service.

Beyond Cyber essentials

Of course we do more than the minimum needed to meet the standard and this includes regular penetrating testing.  We don’t publish this information but if you are interested in our products we are happy to discuss it with you.

If you want to find out more about this standard you can read on here.

Process is the secret to success

People will tell you all sorts of secrets and keys to successful projects.  Of course planning and tools will be on the list. Picking the right team will be high on peoples list too.  As will many soft skills you should have as a project manager.  We have no doubt that all these will prove helpful to your project.  But have your thought about process or methodology and how that can improve your projects?

Process for consistency

Most project managers just think about their project but lets think about this from the organisation’s point of view.  your organisation will be running many, possibly hundreds of projects. Having a standard process for managing your project can improve many aspects of its delivery.

Firstly having a standard process allows for common understanding of requirements and approvals.  There is always a clamor to start new projects.  But not all ideas are sound and well researched.  So a process to walk people through the project idea is really helpful.  This will make sure the team do enough research on the idea.

Once the project is up and running process can also help keep it on track.  For the project manager a step by step guide to the project lifecycle is very helpful. This shows them what to produce when and usually gives templates to help with quality. A good methodology process will also include review points.  These can be defined continue/stop points in the lifecycle. When you have these frequent reviews of projects it prevents failing projects proceeding too far.  You can then either stop such projects or put recovery actions in place.

process; project management; methodology

Process for documentation

Usually standard processes also require standard documents and templates for a project.  The project team members will find templates helpful.  They won’t need to do too much research and can just fill in the blanks.  For the project team members this gives two big benefits.  They need to spend less time producing documentation.  The documentation they produce is of a higher quality, so they look good.

Templates are particularly helpful in the process when it comes to collecting data and metrics.  Most projects will collect data on plan, risk, issue, finances and even benefits and health and safety.  If you let every project collect this differently it will be a lot of hard work to assemble standard reports.  So templating the collection for consistency significantly improves the quality and speed of reporting.

For most senior managers their interaction with your project management activity will be in approving projects and digesting reporting.  So if using process and methodology improves these aspects then it makes you look good.

Process next steps

At PROJECT in a box we get process and methodology.  Many other software tools just provide document libraries but we embed process into the heart of your project.

If you want to try this out you can download our free Community Edition tool and use it for as long as you want, on as many projects as you wish.  It contains a number of project methods for you both agile and waterfall.  Sign up for free here to use it today.

If you are interested in how this can help your organisation you can explore our demo multi-user site here.

Our YouTube video here walks you through the range of methods we support off the shelf.

Multi-lingual project management software

Of course we want our software to be available for as many people to use as possible.  English is the default language of all of our software.  But all of our tools use locale language files.  This means they can support any language a user needs.  The language files support the interface functions such as form names and buttons.  This approach does not translate the file or diagram contents such as templates.  In many of our systems of course you can also change these directly into your preferred languages.  So lets explore this multi-lingual capability further.

Multi-lingual Planner

Although Planner and Community Edition are free products they still provide this very helpful multi-lingual capability.  Both tools have relatively modest language files.  So you can even translate them using notepad.  Existing users have helpfully undertaken translations and provided the language files back to us for distribution.  Therefore Planner and CE already have the following partial language files: French (fr), Spanish (es), Dutch (nl), Polish (pl) and Czech (cs).  We can also announce that Italian (it) has just been added thanks to the information provided by  user Davide Briani.

If you would like to help out in this effort then feel free to either extend one of the existing language files or create a new one.  We have a helpful page here on our Knowledge base covering how to do it.

multi-lingual; project management software;translations

To download the latest Planner and CE installer with this new translation please click here.

Multi-lingual Project Management tools for your organisation

Our PROJECT in a box multi-user tools also support language files.  Having a much more substantial set of functionality though they have a much larger language file with many more terms.  You can have these professionally translated with our service.  Or alternatively you can translate them yourself.  We provide a great translation tool to take some of the effort out of this.

If you want to discuss this further or see some examples just contact us and we will be glad to help.

Top five planning software – 2020 review

If you fail to plan you plan to fail. Trite yes but also very much true.  All projects even Agile projects need to plan.  Of course you don’t have to use software to plan your project but the productivity gains are definitely worth it. Over the last decade the project management software market has grown significantly.  There are now hundreds, thousands even of tools which promise to make projects easy.  Many of them try to make it easy by ignoring things like planning, dumbing  down.  Other tools try to do everything and become either expensive or complex or both.  In this post we are going to look at the top five planning software tools you should consider using.

Our review is going to look at just tools with a primary focus on planning and which can be used standalone.  Here is the summary grid and each planning software tool is then discussed in more detail below.

Top five Planning software; planning tools; project management software; planning tool comparison

Top five planning software tools – 1 – Microsoft Project

Lets start with Ms Project certainly the most well known desktop planning application on the market.  MS Project led the way with planning support and has been constantly updated ever since.  It is the most comprehensive desktop tool on the market in pure planning terms, highly featured and well supported.

Unfortunately it doesn’t have a good actual cost collection capability.  MS Project has two main drawbacks however, cost and complexity.  It is by far the most expensive application at £600+ to purchase individually however many organisations have discounted and bulk buying options which will bring that down.  I like MS Project I have been an active user for over twenty years but even I don’t know all its ins and outs.  You will need formal training to be proficient and to get the most out of it.  Of course sharing your plans isn’t that easy as it’s exporting/printing isn’t that great and you might need to tool your teams up with one of the free tools so they can view the plans you want to share

To summarise it is the desktop planning software you should use if you have the budget and the time to learn it all.

Visit the Microsoft site for Project Professional here.

Top Five Planning Software tools – 2 – Gantt Project

Gantt Project is a free alternative to MS Project.  It is the first of two similar freeware planning tools on the list.  Again it is provided as standalone software and is capable of running on Windows, OSX and Linux. Unfortunately Gantt Project is now looking quite dated.  This tool is also limited in terms of higher level capabilities for example cost and budget management.  Although it does offer both Critical Path and Baseline functionality.  Data interchange with older versions of MS Project and CSV formats is also good.

However it has no Earned Value capability and there is no step up capability for linking it into a more multi user experience so it is perhaps a little bit of a dead end.  Having said that it is free and has a large user base among smaller organisations.  It is robust and well proven and for freeware quite well supported.

Visit the Gantt Project site here to download it for free.

Top Five Planning Software tools – 3 – Project Libre

Project Libre is the second freeware planning tool we will look at. Although the interface is a little nicer than Gantt Project it is pretty similar and is also supported on Windows, Linux and OSX .  Likewise it also reads from older MS Project files but not newer ones nor does it exchange with CSV easily.

Project Libre provides Earned Value and baseline capabilities but lacks Critical path.  It also has minimal customisation, no actual cost collection, analysis or risk and issue management.  Project Libre does support budget cost build up and they say a server version is coming soon so this wouldn’t be a dead end.  I like it more than Gantt Project, but only just.

You can learn about Project Libre and download it for free here.

Top Five Planning Software tools – 4 – Team Gantt

Team Gantt is something a bit different from the other tools here as it is a SaaS subscription service.  They do offer a free very limited version but the paid (£25/month) version is more comparable to the other tools.  As it is browser based you can in theory use it anywhere with an internet connection, but don’t lose your connection!  It covers all the core capabilities as expected although again not actual cost collection.  Team Gantt also supports Baselines but not Earned Value or Critical Path.

It is the only tool on the list which doesn’t support interaction with MS Project and isn’t multi-lingual.  Customisation is also very limited.  On the plus side it has better Filtering and anlaysis then the freeware products and is inherently multi user and multi project.  However it doesn’t really support the full project management capability set.

Top Five Planning software tools – 5 – PROJECT in a box Planner

Our Planner tool is designed to feed nicely into our multi-user platform as a source of all project controls data.  It therefore goes further than the other tools in covering actual cost collection and also risk and issue management.

Planner does not support baseline directly and has a simple Earned Value measure called Progress Cost.  A Critical Path capability is coming soon too.  You can do full import/export with MS Project and CSV.  Planner is also the only product beside MS Project to offer Timeline and Calendar displays.

Planner is also totally free though developed and supported by a commercial organisation so not freeware. It also boasts strong analysis capability and onward extensibility into the main PROJECT in a box application.  Planner however is only available as a Windows application, although commercial users of the PROJECT in a box application have access to a browser version of it.

So if you want a great all round modern project controls tool Planner is a great choice and totally free.  Find out more here, or sign up to download it here.

Plan start date – move it easily with Planner

Just one of life’s million annoying little things, but it happens to us all. You spend all that time carefully crafting a schedule for your upcoming project. And then the start date changes… Perhaps priorities pull it forwards or delays push it back. But when that plan start date changes you inevitably have to move your tasks around to refit.

plan start date

Plan start date moves made easy

Of course if your plan has made good use of dependencies there may only be a few tasks to move.  But if you have a large plan working through to be sure can take a while.  And you might miss those outlying milestones or tasks without a dependency.  So we have introduced a great new feature into Planner to help you with plan start date moves.

This simply moves all tasks which don’t have an incoming dependency by a set number of days.  You can move the first task in the project to start today if you want.  And the function will move the others to suit.  Alternatively you can also just bump forwards or back a set number of days.

Plan start date in templates

We had a particular reason for adding this feature.  The way our project management tools work is to establish a new project with a preconfigured set of templates.  Of course this is very popular and gets the project off and running on the right foot.  Usually one of the key templates will be a project plan/schedule.  Often the plan template will contain a predefined set of tasks and also resources.  You will helped our greatly by this when setting up your project.  But it means you will always needs to move the plan start date  on first edit.

We have added a new video to our popular Planner Masterclass series on exactly this topic.  Planner templates is the eleventh masterclass and you can see it here.  It explores 7 aspects of Planner templates you can take advantage of.

To jump straight to the section on changing plan start date use this link.

You can download the Planner installer with this upgrade for free from here.

Software demo updated to 5.3

Many of you have found our software demo capability very helpful when thinking about buying PROJECT in a box.  So we have great news for you.  When you use the live software demo you will now be seeing the current version 5.3.

All you have to do is follow the link to the page and log in.  You will then be able to browse and interact with a populated example site.  We have limited the capabilities in some areas so for example you can view files but not edit them.  But you will get a really good feel for how simple and easy the system is to use.

free pm software; software demo

Software Demo – Live Edition version 5.3

You will be able to browse a whole range of different project types and see the new dynamic navigation display in action.  This included PRINCE2, Praxis framework and Scrum projects as well as projects developed with our n-step methods.

Of course you can also explore the impressive reporting interface and choose to run any of the report types you might like to see.  You can also explore reporting at programme and portfolio levels too.  We have also set it up so you can try out the new edit and customisation of .piabx files.

To make it very easy to follow we have also provided a tutorial guide video showing you how to log on.  This also points out some of the interesting projects and capabilities to explore.

We intend this to be a helpful step in the buying process.  You can look through the system and try it out without having to register or leave card details.  That means nobody will be giving you the hard sell.  Of course if you like it do contact us and we can arrange for a fully interactive evaluation as the next step.

Working from home – a survival guide

So as the scale of Corona virus impacts increase it looks like many of us will soon be working from home.  For many people this will be an unusual experience.  Here at PROJECT in a box many of us have been regular or occasional home workers.  So we thought we would put those fifteen years of experience to good use.  The result is our Survival guide to working from home.

working from home; self isolation

We have prepared the guide as videos on You tube and split them into three easy to follow parts.

Working from home – part 1 – tools

In this first session we get you to think about preparing to work from home.  So what are you going to need in terms of tools and connectivity?  Of course with internet being so good in many homes this should be easy.  But if yours isn’t we give some tips.

You will also want to think about supporting comms with phone or tools like skype.  To enable you to keep your projects running smoothly of course you will need some shared access to something like Live Edition too.

Working from home – part 2 – working environment

You will face plenty of practical issues with your new working environment.  These will apply whether you are a regular remote worker or are just self isolating for a week or two.  In this session we advise you about how and where to set up your work space.

It is likely you won’t have an ideal space available, most people don’t.  So we give some helpful advice about which factors to consider when weighing up your choices.

Working from home – part 3 – keeping focus

You will find positives and negatives of working from home.  In this third part we cover how to keep motivated and productive in your new surroundings.  We also talk about the advantages of working from home and how maximizing these will keep you focused.

The meat of this guide is in the videos.  So use the links above to see them one at a time or here for the full playlist.

The perfect project plan presentation

We all know how having a good project plan is critical to success.  However just having the plan is not enough.  You also need to share it and the understanding it contains.  With many planning tools this is a problem.  Sometimes due to deliberate choices but also by poor design.  For example licensing limits or lack of features for formatting outputs.  Planner doesn’t suffer from either of these issues.  So with Planner you can achieve excellent project plan presentation.

Project plan presentation on-screen

Planner gives you  a rethought planning interface.  So many other planning tools provide project data in-line with the Gantt chart rows, Planner goes beyond this. We do this by providing the Gantt chart above the the data rows below.  That way you get to see much more of both and clicking in one puts you into the right place in the other.

We have talked often about how the views capability in Planner gives you total control on what you see.  Not just which data columns you see but also which set of tasks.  So if you just want Milestones or you just want overdue tasks, or your tasks, you can filter that.  That means you won’t have irrelevant tasks cluttering your project plan presentation.  You can find out more about views here.

project plan presentation; gantt chart; free planning tools

Some of you will no doubt have large hi-res monitors, perhaps even a pair of them.  We have noticed that as this trend has increased users have struggled to see the details of their plans.  So with that in mind we have a new Planner version out which allows you to choose the font and Gantt size arrangements for your plan.  This makes it much easier to read the plans on high res monitors.

Project plan presentation outputs shared

So having your plan and being able to work on it is very important.  But it is also essential you can share access to it with other parties.  These other parties might be your members, contractors, partners, customers or even regulators.  With some of them you will want to provide the plan so they can update it or interact fully with it.  Of course because Planner is totally free they can download it and do exactly that.  With other parties you want to provide snap shots or reports which blend other information in your project plan presentation.

Again Planner comes to the rescue and this time offers you a number of ways of sharing content.  Planner has a reporting facility which provides PDF output for your current data.  Because this takes note of the view you are using it can report on a subset of your project plan if needed.  We have significantly enhanced this feature in the new latest Planner version by allowing you to choose scale and quality.  By scale we mean you can choose font sizes and the sizing of Gantt elements.  By quality we mean you can choose the resolution of the Gantt image.   So you can see you are really in control of this reporting.

project plan presentation; free gantt chart; free planning tools

Sometimes you will want to mix your project plan presentation in with other outputs for a more formal report.  Perhaps running multiple views to identify say overspending tasks and upcoming milestones in the same report.  Using Planner you can do this too.  Just right click on the data or image you want and you can copy to clipboard and paste into another file or email.

Do you have a lot of tasks in your project plan presentation?

But what if your task list is too long for a single image on a report page?   Don’t worry Planner has your back again.  You use advanced copy Gantt chart as image in the import/export menu.  This allows you to decide how many tasks per image and then creates the multiple images for you.

Project plan presentation mastered and it is free

These are the sort of features you don’t even get on top end commercial planning applications.  And of course we provide you this and it is free.  You can get your free forever Planner by signing up here.

If you want to see this live we have  covered it in our Planner masterclass 10 – perfect presentation.  And of course the full set of Planner Masterclasses are here.