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What users want from project software: A case study

Photo of slide

Pawel Wieckowski’s opening slide for his talk on user needs

Pawel Wieckowski from GlaxoSmithKline presented a case study on their project software deployment at the Gartner PPM & IT Summit earlier this year.

He started off by saying that they defined who would be using the tool. Users, he said, fell into the following categories:

  • Project management community
  • Project Management Office
  • Senior management
  • The whole company

“A PPM tool is not just for the PMO,” he said, “it’s for use by the wider business community.” Therefore they had to find the right balance between user wants, what technology can deliver and business needs. “If you find the right balance you’ll be successful and everyone will be happy, but that’s not easy,” he said.

They were also clear on why they wanted to invest in technology by stating why it was needed. GSK needed a PPM tool because they wanted to simplify their data and have one repository. They wanted to also enable and empower the project management community.

Starting small

Pawel explained that they had the choice between a big bang roll out or an evolutionary approach and sensibly they chose to start small. They opted to roll out their solution, then refine it and optimise it later. They took an interesting approach to those refinements, too. The team gathered enhancement requests from users and then asked them to vote on them. Using this method meant that the user base set the priorities for enhancements.

Photo of Pawel

Pawel Wieckowski presenting at the Gartner PPM & IT Governance Summit, June 2014

Next steps

Three years on their solution is a tool that helps the company plan and realise its investments. One of the big refinements that Pawel explained was to plug the gap in corporate financial planning. The business has a complicated structure between bits of the company that deliver solutions and bits that fund projects. Any single project could be funded from a multitude of sub-companies or departments or countries and the PMO wanted to be able to see the impact of a project on one of these companies, countries or teams.

The business wanted projects linked to capital and operational plans so the team mapped the organisational structure and high level aggregated spend performance. They were then able to show the benefits and disbenefits of projects, where they hit, forecasted cost at completion, accurate actuals, along with high level and adjustable financial plans. In short, a really comprehensive way of looking at projects as investment spend.

Waterline spend

One of the key features was the ability to show a list of prioritised projects. The waterline is the amount the company can spend. It is marked on the project list and clearly shows which ones will be funded and which ones won’t which, Pawel said, is very useful for forecasting and for having difficult conversations with project sponsors.

You don’t need fancy software to do this – every PMO should have a list of projects that it can resource and a pipeline of projects that it would like to do next. Priorities change and so does the list, but you need some view in order to manage resources accurately.

Finally, Pawel said that his team had had to make many changes to the software, working alongside the vendor (and he didn’t tell us who it was, or if he did I didn’t write it down), in order to make their solution do exactly what they wanted. He recommended that we should all do the same and add the features we wanted even if they don’t exist at the moment. “Don’t hesitate to improve your tools,” he said. “PPM vendors will follow.”


Software review: Comindware Project

General information

Name: Comindware Project
Vendor: Comindware
Hosting options: Web hosted and locally hosted
Cost:Cloud service starts at $29.99 per user per month for up to 9 users. On-premise service starts at $450 per user (a lot, but that’s a one-off fee). Fees decrease the more users you have.
Currency: No currency options that I could see

Basic features: creating projects

Comindware was a finalist in the 2014 Hot Companies and Best Products Awards for Most Innovative IT Software of the Year, so I was prepared to be dazzled by the product. At first glance, it doesn’t disappoint.

It’s simple to get started: click the ‘+’ against the Projects tab and you’ll create a Project dashboard enabling you to see any associated project activity. The system assumes that the project starts on the day it is created but you can change it with the calendar function. You can also pick a deadline for the project – very useful for fixed date projects when you want a bit of help scheduling.

It’s easy to add tasks too: import them from MS Project or just type them in. By default the task is unassigned and active. Other than task name you don’t need to fill out any other details, just click ‘close’. However when I closed the task, and tried to open it again it took a bit of working out how to do it. You have to wave your mouse next to the ‘Not set’ indicator and wait for a little ‘i’ to appear. This could be made clearer, but once you’ve cracked it then it’s an easy job to change the task details once it is open. You can set a deadline date for tasks, and a ‘delay until’ date but I couldn’t see how you add a start date. You wouldn’t need it if you can use ‘delay until’ but the terminology of ‘delay’ might confuse some team members. You’re not actually delaying the task, you’re setting a start date in the future. You can view your tasks on a timeline but you can’t use that to move tasks around.

Adding tasks in Comindware. All these screenshots have come out quite badly as the colour definition isn't that good. Sorry.

Adding tasks in Comindware. All these screenshots have come out quite badly as the colour definition isn’t that good. Sorry.

Comindware Project schedules projects using automated priority-based planning. The system schedules projects for you based on task priorities and resourcing. Tasks will be scheduled automatically based on their priority and assignee availability. Tasks with higher priority will be planned to finish earlier. When you make changes, the whole plan is rescheduled which saves time, but is a new way of planning for many people, and it relies on your task and resource data being up to date.

It’s easy to set dependencies between tasks to help with that priority scheduling. From within an open task you can select an existing task for it to depend on. You can also drag tasks up and down in the task list to reset or set priorities. If you have a complicated project you can see the hierarchy from the WBS chart. Given that I can create dependencies, sub-tasks and baselines it seems strange that I can’t set milestones. Maybe that’s a priority based planning ‘thing’ but not something I have come across before.

The Gantt chart view is basic and you can’t drag and drop tasks. But as Comindware does automatically reschedule work (shifting undone work to the future) it should always be up to date showing the real status of the project.

The Gantt chart in Comindware

The Gantt chart in Comindware

Reporting and timekeeping

There is a timesheets tab but I couldn’t actually work out how to log time. Maybe I need to activate an individual’s settings? Maybe it’s not part of the trial version? I expect with a bit more patience I could have worked this out. Once you’ve got timesheets operational you can run reports for projects, choosing whether you want to see projects, people or tasks. Set it up as a template and you can clone it for other projects or parameters. If you want to use it for invoicing or billing you’ll have to use the ‘Export to Excel’ feature.

Having said that, you can’t set or track budgets or expenses, so you’ll only be able to invoice for your time.

Overall, the reports are basic. For a project the reporting will show you all projects and can group by: active/inactive, sort by manager/start date/deadline/expected end and progress. You can export the information to Excel.

Sharing with your team

The product looks nice, and whilst there are some usability quirks it’s easy to learn. A team member would check the ‘My Work’ tab to check on recent activity for their projects, tasks within them, timesheets and documents.

The concept for companywide collaboration is there. You can create a ‘Room’ which you can name whatever you want and you’ve the choice of setting the status to private or public. There doesn’t look to be a limit on how many rooms you can create, and there isn’t anything stopping you creating a duplicate room. If you do have a duplicate room I’m not sure how you’d merge the two together, but that’s me speculating: I’m sure their customer services team could come up with a way. As the Rooms don’t have to be associated to a project who’d be responsible for cleaning up redundant rooms? Not a problem of the software – more an operational thing to think about if you decide to implement it.

There are some other collaboration features too. At a project level you can also start discussions for that project. At a task level I don’t think you can start a discussion but you can leave a comment. Both of these are then shown in team members activity feeds under ‘My Work’. There are also email alerts.

I like the look and feel, it’s easy to navigate. However if it’s a big and busy project, or you are working on lots of projects, then your discussion feed list is going to grow long quickly. You can sort it by ‘All’ or ‘Unread’ but it would be nice to be able to sort by project or task as well. The search feature will help you find something in comments or in documents but that’s assuming you know what you’re looking for already.

The Comindware WBS view - only a few tasks as at this point I hadn't got many in the system

The Comindware WBS view – only a few tasks as at this point I hadn’t got many in the system

In summary…

The getting started guide takes you through the areas of getting started, managing a project, collaborating with colleagues and managing resources in a step-by-step way. That’s great if you want to work through in that way, but if like many users you already know the basics and just want to know how to do a particular step then it’s not very helpful as you can’t skip through. You can click on Help though to take you to the website.

I’d say that Comindware is good for small to medium projects. There are limitations but I like the look and feel and it’s easy to navigate around. The most complicated bit was understanding how it uses automated priority-based planning and how that impacts your scheduling overall – especially if you are used to using bigger/more complex/older software tools then this may be new to you. That automated priority scheduling is a real innovation, and if you are constantly finding yourself struggling to get people working on the right thing at the right time then it could be a major advantage for you.

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Project Management news round up for September 2014

As it’s Software September, we’re focusing this month’s news round up on the moving and shaking in the project management software arena.

Wrike releases new native iOS and Android apps

Californian based collaboration software firm Wrike have launched new apps for iOS and Android which aim to give users the functionality to update their work on the go. Optimised for iPad and Android tablets, they provide everything you’d expect to get through your laptop browser.

Changepoint acquires Daptiv

Cloud project management software company Daptiv has been acquired by Changepoint as part of what they are calling “an aggressive growth strategy”. The acquisition should give Changepoint the opportunity to invest in both on-premise and cloud solutions, covering all bases. It’s not surprising that we are seeing consolidation in the marketplace when it comes to project management tools after all there are hundreds of them. The acquisition already looks like it is working well for Changepoint as they have just won the Gold 2014 Golden Bridge Award for Outstanding Innovation in Enterprise Management for the Daptiv product.

KeyedIn® Projects launches new functionality

Leeds-based KeyedIn Solutions has added some new functionality to its latest release. Version 5.7 includes benefits management capability and new governance tools including the option of creating your own checklists to mark off tasks prior to moving the project to a new stage. Checklists don’t sound very revolutionary but they have been proven to improve performance and quality in aircraft and in hospitals so why not make the leap to think they will improve success rates on projects too?

Projectplace acquired by Planview

Johan Zetterström, EVP and General Manager, Projectplace. Photo from Projectplace (CC BY 3.0)

Johan Zetterström, EVP and General Manager, Projectplace. Photo from Projectplace (CC BY 3.0)

More market consolidation in the project management space. Planview, which is headquartered in Texas, has acquired the project management software company Projectplace in a bid to expand its solutions in the direction of portfolio and resource management. Projectplace remains located in Sweden and their CEO takes up a new role leading the new Projectplace business unit from Stockholm. I hope the acquisition works out well for them; I’ve collaborated with Projectplace in the past and they’ve even written for this blog.

Need a new way to manage resources?

The PapercutPM introduces his annual project portfolio capacity planner. Designed for project portfolio managers to use during the annual planning and budgeting cycle, this is an Excel based tool without macros, so it will run in any security environment. Geoff Crane has released it on a pay-what-you-want basis and I know it will be worth it – watch the video to find out what it does and download the tool here. That’s not an affiliate link, by the way. I just love Geoff.

More news from Basecamp

Earlier this year 37Signals announced that they were changing their name to Basecamp and focusing on that project management product. That meant selling off their other products including the CRM solution Highrise. But they couldn’t find a buyer at the time. Now, however, they’ve managed to set Highrise up as a product and business in its own right under the stewardship of Nathan Kontny. That should mean that the Basecamp team have more time to focus on their project management solution and Highrise gets the management team and focus it deserves.

New ConceptDraw versions

ConceptDraw have launched a raft of new versions recently. Project v6 now supports MS Project files and includes new visual graphic reports (making my review of v5 now out of date). Pro v10 is the latest version of their flagship drawing tool which is compatible with the latest versions of Visio. Mindmap v7 also now has better Microsoft integration and compatibility with Mindjet MindManager formats too.

And finally: the new English computing curriculum launches

This month sees the launch of changes to the computing curriculum in England which sees a greater focus on computer science and digital literacy (hurrah!). It’s being billed as the biggest change to the way IT is taught in schools since computers arrived in the classroom.

BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, surveyed parents to ask them what they thought about computing in schools and while 60% said they didn’t know or weren’t sure about the changes, 88% believed that learning computing will help their child be more successful in later life. But less than half would encourage them to study the subject at GCSE or A Level. Maybe because the syllabus doesn’t reflect what parents think are the ‘important’ bits of computing? I don’t know.

Bill Mitchell, BCS Director of Education said, “We know that pupils from primary school onwards enjoy and are good at computing and that it aids their intellectual development, literacy and numeracy skills. Learning the fundamental principles and techniques of computer science is also important for the development of the UK’s future engineers, scientists and creators of technology.” I hope it also helps organised ways of working and the ability to manage projects as well.


Software review: Twproject

General information

Name: Twproject
Vendor: Open Lab
Hosting options: Web hosted and locally hosted
Cost: Locally hosted from 1 user per year at 45€ with an interesting non-expiring licence option for between 1 and unlimited users capped at 5000€. Web hosted from 53€ a month for 10Gb of storage and 10 users. The cloud versions go up in cost but that just buys you more storage, not more users.
Languages: English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Polish and Slovenian. Impressive!
Currency: No currency options

twproject's homepage

twproject’s homepage

Basic features: creating projects

New projects are created from the projects tab. You can tick to specify that the start date (which you select) is a milestone and the end date is a milestone. However, you don’t have to put the end date in as you’ve got the alternative option of putting in the project duration as a number of days and it will calculate the end date for you.

You can also specify the project type (you define the types) and you can mark it as a range of status types (active, suspended, completed, failed, undefined – not sure what use the last one would be).

Adding tasks to a project is done via a screen that looks very similar to the create a project screen. So I did get confused as to where I was: project or task? There is no obvious indicator but there is a link to the project tree, so if you do get lost you can use this to navigate and see what you’ve done and where you are.

On the projects home page you can see what’s been recently modified but you can’t see whether it is a project or task, which is confusing and would probably be easy enough to fix. If you need help, there is a good range of online FAQ and the option to ask for help via Twitter, although this didn’t seem to be working for the demo version.

Managing time and people

New resources are created from the resources tab. Once created they can be selected from within the task/project via assignments. You can specify the role that they play (project manager, stakeholder/customer/worker) and you can also estimate the number of work hours (operator load) required by that person.

There is a timesheet module which has a great feature where people can ‘clock in’: start the clock when you begin working on a task and clock off when you are finished. Interestingly, the button to start the timer is red, and to stop it is green (I would have expected it the other way round).

From the timesheets tab you can access ‘check worklog’ functions and see reports. These cover things like days missing or exceeding worklogs, worklog approval and analysis, assignment of priorities, operator load and overall plan. So if you have lots of projects and resources and want to really keep an eye on what people are working on, and where there may be potential issues (either resource capacity or budget), then you should be able to configure a report to fit your needs.

Resource calendar view in twproject

Resource calendar view in twproject

When a resource has entered time against the task, the task stays open until somebody closes it. Hopefully it’s a task that you visit often because then it will have a shortcut from your home page. Otherwise you need to go via the Projects tab: overall the navigation of this product was confusing.

You can set costs at both task and project level. You can allocate an hourly rate to resources which will feed into the cost calculations. Assuming everyone is doing their timesheets there’s a neat feature where you can get a quick update on the financials including current margin, so the reporting is really very good.

Keeping everyone together

The homepage shows your open projects, open issues, appointments, To Dos and what I’ve mostly visited, which is a helpful shortcut given the navigation challenges. It looks OK and once you’ve got used to it I expect you’d find it fast and intuitive to use. However, I think it is probably more suited to people who are experienced with using project management software and so understand the terminology such as ‘add child process’, ‘worklog’, ‘operator load’ and so on and who also know what reports they want and who are used to creating them. This might be a challenge for some less experienced project team members but nothing that they couldn’t overcome with some coaching.

Talking about your team, you can create ‘boards’ for free discussion. Once I’d created my board it didn’t appear automatically under the Docs And Tools tab and I had to refresh the page. This happened a lot – making changes and then having to refresh but it may be because I was using the demo version of the product. I created the board with a name and a description, but clicking on the link doesn’t show you the description which seemed odd. The new board doesn’t appear to send emails when things change so I think it’s up to your team to just browse through the list. It’s therefore only something you would want to use for general notice purposes.

Another great feature is the option to send a sticky note. You can send a sticky note via the system which will pop up as a post-it on the recipient’s homepage. How cool is that? You can also opt for them to receive it as an email too – but they must be in the system (I got excited and thought you could add someone who wasn’t in the system but you can’t, shame, but I understand why).

twproject sticky note feature

The sticky note pops up on my screen

In summary…

I really wanted to like this, as it has lots of data that will help users keep on track. And I like their marketing blurb. But I still couldn’t truly get on with it. I found navigating around the system frustrating and interaction with the team and stakeholders is limited. Changes and additions that are made rely on you refreshing pages (hopefully a glitch of the trial version only?). Whilst it’s nearly there with regard to what it can do, it just feels clunky and didn’t really inspire me to want to use it – which when choosing new systems for company-wide implementation is an important consideration.

I appreciate that the more information it holds and reports on means that compromises may need to be made – it’s not going to be as easy to use as the simpler project management tools, but usability should be a priority and it just feels that with a few small changes that would improve massively. If, for example, I have a note on my homepage that a task needs to be closed, a link to close it should be available from that message.

I like the range of reports that are available particularly on resourcing and budgets, but the terminology is awkward and might alienate people who don’t work in a project environment all the time. Having said that, it is detailed enough to track issues, but simple enough to get a project overview, satisfying different levels of requirement.

If some of these comments seem unfair, then it’s important to point out that the demo version is really slow which had an impact on how thoroughly I tested. It may be that navigation seems worse than it is because I was using the trial system. An alternative maybe that the vendor considers either speeding up the demo system, or allowing people to create individual trials like other software providers do. If I was going to invest in a locally hosted version I would want to give it a good go before committing that expenditure.

Right to Reply (update, 18/9/14)

I received the following response from one of the Twproject developers, once this review had been published. I’m grateful that they took the time to read the review and respond to the points I raised. Silvia writes:

From your post we realized several improvements in our site which we are putting in place now; in detail:

– The demo version is slow as it is a server shared with thousands of evaluators and hence surely can result as clunky – it is not an instance of the hosted versions we provide customers; for a speedy trial the best way is to install a local version. We are changing our website link structure to suggest this evaluation path.

– The hosted version does goes up in cost enabling more users and using a more performant server, not just more storage, but this shows only if you play with the number of users on the price page (we are changing that).

– The “help via Twitter” function was not updated in the demo version, we do try to answer Twitter support requests @twprojectnews.

– Just as a note, you can generate free trial licenses online and use them in locally installed versions (maybe this too should be presented more clearly on the site).

Thank you so much for your review, all the best,



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