Scheduling Tools and Services
Proper scheduling is the essence of successful project management. IT professionals must be able to balance their commitments to deliver against other draws on their time. The key is to balance between the extremes: busy enough to meet revenue or performance targets, but not so busy as to lose the time needed to handle business activities.
Striking the right balance has obvious benefits. What’s far from obvious is how to manage and schedule time to establish and maintain this balance. And while certain periods of feast or famine are likely, a good approach to scheduling time and activities can skirt those extremes. This is why scheduling skills are useful, and where related tools and services can be a huge help.
There are tools galore that apply more formal methods to these activities. I map out categories in this area:
- Basic tools: With the right format and enough imagination, you can use any kind of simple text editor, word processor or spreadsheet to schedule or manage projects. This works best only for a small number of simple projects. If you use Microsoft Excel, install the Analysis Toolpak so you can use its calendar arithmetic.
- Calendaring and scheduling tools: Most messaging and e-mail packages include personal calendaring and scheduling; access to a server is required to coordinate multiple instances. Relevant products include Microsoft Outlook, Lotus Notes, Novell GroupWise and so on. While these tools can publish milestones, send reminders and track completion of tasks, you can’t use them to plan, build or manage schedules per se.
- Web services for calendaring and scheduling: Application service providers (ASPs) offer low- to medium-cost options for calendaring and scheduling on the Web. More sophisticated offerings coordinate and manage multiple schedules. Table 1 lists examples.
- Basic project management packages and services: Whether you look at software like Microsoft Project or Web-based services like those listed at www.project-management-software.org what you get here is moderate-cost products or services that can manage projects of middling complexity. This kind of software or service is perfect for individual contributors up to 25-person projects.
- Enterprise/advanced project management packages and services: A surprisingly large number of ASPs serve this market, while plenty of vendors offer packages for your servers and infrastructure. As with other specialty niches (think help desk), a compelling argument for the services approach is that somebody else installs, manages and maintains the service while you use its capabilities. For a quick look at lots of candidates, visit a search engine with “enterprise project management”; well-known players appear in Table 2.
When it comes to picking tools and technologies to handle project management and scheduling needs, compromise between expense and capability. The more projects you must manage in parallel, and the more complex their schedules, the more you’ll appreciate automated assistance. With the right tools and knowledge, you can make scheduling and project management work.
Ed Tittel is vice president of IT certification at iLearning.com and contributing editor for Certification Magazine. E-mail Ed with your questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Table 1: Web-Based Calendaring and Scheduling Services
ChimeNet (www.chime.net/Member/MgdEmail.html): managed e-mail and calendaring
Collabrio Technologies (www.myevents.com/release_1.asp): Internet collaboration software
Courier Mail Server (www.courier-mta.org): integrated e-mail/groupware server
Courier MTA (freshmeat.net/branches/1501/): integrated e-mail/groupware server
eCal (www.ecal.com/products.asp?action=solprov): calendaring/scheduling services
Intranet Journal (www.intranetjournal.com/news/blurb16.html): story on shared calendaring
Table 2: High-End Project Management Packages and Services
Citadon (www.citadon.com): project management and documentation services and workspaces
Computer Guidance (www.computer-guidance.com): project administration, collaboration, construction management and more
Deltek (www.sema4.com/deltekweb.asp?id=102): enterprise-wide project support from proposal to planning to management
Tufan (www.tufan.com/autoplan.htm): AutoPlan Enterprise project management suite