Browser or App, should you have to choose?

Welcome to the third in our series of blogs about buying your project management solution.  In the last two we looked at Buy vs Lease and Assessing value.  This time we are going to be a bit more technical and think about how you will access the system.  Do you just want to use a browser so you can use it anywhere you have internet access? Or would you like a more functional App, perhaps that can work when not on-line?  This Browser or App decision is an important one.

browser or app; project management; software; solution;saas

Browser or App? – The flexibility of browser interfaces

Almost all project management software solutions these days offer a browser interface.  In fact many of the newer project management software solutions will only offer you a browser interface.  This will make it much easier to work with because no install will be required and it should work pretty much the same on any device.

However, it isn’t all good news.  You will likely lose some capability as browsers cannot connect to the device, especially a laptop or desktop PC as well as an App could.  They are also very unlikely to offer any off-line capability, so users will need to be connected to the network or internet to be able to work.

It is likely that a project management software solution which only offers browser interface will be simpler and less capable.

Browser or App? – greater capability in an App

Usually an App will be more work to set up, to download and deploy and it may ever require IT permissions to install on your laptop.  However it will usually give you more complex functions the browser interface couldn’t support.  This is especially the case when working with files.  So if you are organizing your project documentation like in PROJECT in a box, using an app can be very helpful.

If you choose to deploy an App it can often allow you to continue to do work when off-line.  So even if you lose connection to your server or the internet you may still be able to  work.

Browser or App? –  why not both?

Of course why restrict yourself to one thing or the other?  With PROJECT in a box we provide both a Windows App for desktops and Laptops and a browser interface.  This gives you the best of both worlds.  You can log in and use the browser interface anywhere, on the go on your phone or tablet.  But when you are at a computer you can choose to use the same browser interface or pull down the Windows App and get a richer experience with enhanced capabilities.

And this is the case whether you use our hosted systems like Live Edition or YourPMO.  Or have an on-premise solution like Small Team or Enterprise Editions.

Buy vs Lease – The SaaS dilemma

So you are in the market for a new project management software tool? One of the things you will have noticed during your technical research is hosting.  Many vendors in the market now only offer their systems as a SaaS or leased service.  In this model you pay for the users you want and the period you want.  And of course if you want to continue to use it, you have to continue to pay for it.  However for many people looking for a tool that might be a problem.  Perhaps in terms of the lifetime costs.  But also fundamentally so from an IT security perspective.  So in this blog post we look at Buy vs Lease, the pros and the cons.

buy vs lease; project management;software; saas; lease; on-premise

Buy vs Lease – why should I lease?

The ease of getting started is going to be your major benefit of a SaaS or leased solution.  As the vendor will be hosting it for you there is no technical prep and set up to do.  You won’t have to worry about accessibility and firewall issues.  Anyone you give a licence too will be able to access it, if they have internet access.  SaaS or Lease may also spread the cost of the system out over your period of use.

If your organisation has outsourced its IT and has a policy of Leasing all services then this might be actually your only available route. It should also be highly cost effective for short term implementations.

So the choice should be good, the costs should be clear and predictable, why would you consider anything else?

Buy vs Lease – why should I buy?

If you plan to use the system for more than a year or two then it will work out more cost effective to buy vs lease.  If you still have an IT department then you already have the infrastructure and skills to host it yourself, rather than paying a SaaS provider to do it for you.

When you buy and host yourself you are in control of the access to the system and the data security.  For many organisations in sensitive sectors this is essential.  Many SaaS systems are unable to support much personalisation because everyone gets the same thing.  When you host it yourself it is much more likely you can personalise aspects of the service to match your specific needs.

So if you look to buy you could be getting a much better long term deal, more control and greater flexibility.

Buy vs Lease – why not ask?

Most vendors push SaaS because they make more money from it.  The vendors also know that a SaaS model locks you in.  Because once they have your data moving is difficult and expensive.  So why not ask the vendors what they offer in terms of a Buy option and pricing?

Of course the best and most open vendors will offer you both choices, so you can decide Buy vs Lease which suits you best.  Here at PROJECT in  a box we provide both SaaS implementation with our Live Edition and Buy and host with our Enterprise Edition.

Hopefully this has made you think a little more deeply about how to source your new system.  You might also find the blog on how MEAT gets you value for money helps too.

Value for money Project Management Software

So you are in the market for a Project Management solution.  What do you think about when trying to find the right one?  Theses days there are so many different solutions to choose from.  So it pays if you are methodical and do your research carefully.   It isn’t all about functionality though, in fact you can have too much of a good thing.  So perhaps you should try MEAT.  The Most Economically Advantageous Tender.  This approach will help you by bringing value for money into your selection process.

value for money;project management software

Value for money – don’t over specify

Many organisations start their search for a project management tool by drawing up a list of the features they think they want.  Of course this is a good idea but sometimes it can get out of hand.  These lists can get very long and can end up including lots of things which are only of interest to a small number of users.  When this ‘over specification’ happens it narrows the possible applications to being just the most highly featured ones.  You then get two very big negatives:

Firstly the solution will be much more expensive.  Secondly the solutions being more complex will be harder to train to users and in practice to actually use.  Strong control from the leaders of the selection project will help here.  Especially if they use a MOSCOW approach.  Here you mark the function list with Must have, Should have, Could have, Won’t have.

The secret to this is that only absolutely core requirements like reporting and security should be Must have.  Things not universally identified as Must have should be Should have.  You should also bear in mind the things which are appropriate for your level of maturity.  If you try to jump to capabilities too far above your current point the radical change will be difficult to adopt.  This blog post and you tube video will be helpful in understanding this.

When you then score the categories it allows applications with more features to be better represented.  But crucially it doesn’t disqualify a solution which might be missing one aspect that some people need  but is otherwise very attractive.  This functionality score should be represented as a % with a solution that meets everything getting a 100% score.  Of course you might like to weight some features higher than others.

Value for money – the EA in MEAT

Now you have a scored list of suppliers and how they match to your functionality.  The second half of the MEAT equation is to then compare the cost of each solution.  If you wrote your requirements well with user numbers, periods and service levels this should be easy to do.  Usually the lowest price gets a 100% score and then the other solutions are prorated against this.  So a solution would get a 50% score if it was 2x the price of the lowest (and this is surprisingly common).

MEAT then brings your two scores together.  Perhaps you might do this simply by just adding the functional and price scores.  More often though buyers weight the split perhaps giving a 70:30 weighting to function vs price.

This is a rational way to help judge tenders which can often vary significantly in function and price.  Of course you don’t have to follow it but it really helps to bring clarity to that surprisingly common trap.  “Do I really want to pay twice the price for those few features more?”.

Value for money – buy vs lease

One trend in the Project management software market has developed strongly over the last ten years.  That is organisations choosing to lease their solution rather than buy it.  We will discuss the pros and cons of this in the next blog piece.

Of course not everyone goes to formal tender.  Public sector organisations can often purchase SaaS solutions through GCloud and you can find us listed there.

 

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.