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Software review: RationalPlan [2011]

General information

Name: RationalPlan

Vendor: Stand by Soft Ltd

Hosting options: Locally hosted. There is a free trial but it requires you to download an application.

Cost and plans: Single project (this is not just for one project at a time; it relates to having unrelated projects without dependencies). Multi-project for interrelated projects i.e. a programme. Project Server enables you to have all the company’s project data stored in one place, and works with the Multi-project licence.

Languages: English, Dutch and Italian.

Currency: You can have whatever currency symbol you like.

Basic features: building projects

The menu bar and icons look like a Windows product. Choose the icon that symbolises ‘new file’ or Click File/New to create a new project. Define the basic information and click ‘go to next step’. It’s like this the whole way through, essentially hand-holding you through the creation of a new project.

There is lots of space to record project notes, assumptions, constraints and risks, but you can skip these screens if you don’t want to duplicate what is already in your project initiation document.

The process for entering tasks is really simple. You create a work breakdown structure first and this is used as the basis of a Gantt chart for scheduling. It’s the easiest way of creating task lists and the most comprehensive Gantt chart I have seen for a while: this is an area where web-hosted tools have failed to deliver, but RationalPlan has very strong Gantt and WBS features.

WBS in RationalPlan

RationalPlan’s Work Breakdown Structure

You can store up to 10 baselines per project. It has an easy-to-use drag and drop feature to add task dependencies. It automatically colours a task red if it is on the critical path.

The task completion screen enables you to add in details of the amount of work done, in the form of percent complete. However, you can’t add in more hours than the original task duration. So if a task takes longer than you planned, you have to edit the planned duration and then record the additional hours spent. This could be fiddly – there might be a way around this in the settings but I couldn’t find it.

RationalPlan Gantt chart

The RationalPlan Gantt chart

Time-tracking and notifications

As I said when I reviewed Apollo, online project management software seems to be moving towards integrated time tracking. RationalPlan does not have this. There are no timesheet options, but you can track tasks by virtue of work complete.

RationalPlan can integrate with your email server to send email notifications for when team members are assigned work. There doesn’t seem to be the option to send out emails when tasks are late, but again, this generally tends to be a feature of web-based software tools.

Reporting features

Basic reports are available: project calendar, critical tasks and simple status report. You can also print out a cost-per-task report. These are all produced in .pdf format.

Status report

Status report in RationalPlan

Collaborating with others

There are no specific collaboration features like chat, commenting on tasks, wikis or Twitter-like streams of data. The product is not hosted online so there are no smartphone access options or apps either.

Project team members won’t find it difficult to use at all, but it feels a bit old-fashioned. Some of the English is clunky, like: “Project calendar is the default calendar for project’s activities (for certain projects the activities’ working time might not match with the resources’ general calendar).” And, “the Active Window might be splitted in two components.”

It wouldn’t take a lot for all this to be spruced up, although it doesn’t affect the functionality in any way.

In summary…

RationalPlan bills itself as “a Microsoft Project alternative,” and it is certainly that. Its look and feel is very similar to a Microsoft product, and many of the features and icons are so similar that MS Project users will find it easy to switch to this product.

However, it does have the look and feel of a Microsoft product five years ago, and there are other project management software tools that provide a sleeker, modern interface. The company website is the same. It looks tired and still has the Christmas offer on even though the forums show up to date discussion and the news section makes it clear that the product is still being actively developed.

If you are after functionality and a superior approach to managing WBS and Gantt charts than many web-based products, without having to use Microsoft products, then this could be a good tool for you.

Check out my other reviews of project management software.

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About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

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