Tools for managing the project
Mention it quietly but we’ve gone through our whole new library website project without using a particular bit of software, beloved (or be-loathed?, not sure if that is a real word) of project managers the world over, namely Microsoft Project. There’s no doubt that it’s a powerful and flexible tool and used with skill it can be a great help in planning complex projects. But that flexibility comes at the price of being immensely time-consuming to get everything setup and with several people on the project who hadn’t used MS Project before, we decided early on that we would just use the excel gantt chart plug-in that I’d blogged about earlier in the year.
So we’ve now gone through the whole project without using MS Project and haven’t really missed it particularly. We’ve been able to record the tasks that we need to, and keep track of when activities are taking place. Although using the gantt chart template means that there is more manual tweaking of the gantt chart elements I’m finding that it is preferrable to having to undo the automatic things that Project has done (or at least trying to work out what setting to change to stop it automatically trying to show things in a particular way.)
The big advantage is that people don’t need MS Project to be able to work on the file. Everyone has got Excel. You don’t have to export the charts in a particular format so people can view them, everyone can view the charts through Excel. As we’ve also started using Zoho Projects for another project that we’re now doing, it may be that we won’t use MS Project much in the future.
Tracking project progress
We’ve also used Excel for a simple visualisation to show project progress. Taking the list of tasks for each workpackage we’ve just used a simple 100% horizontal bar chart to show the progress for each workpackage. So completed tasks show as green, those in progress as yellow, and those to be started as red. It gives a simple visual clue about the progress towards completing all the tasks in each workpackage. It meant that by displaying the chart and then talking through the detail we were able to provide a simple update of the project progress.
Obviously there are some limitations to this approach in that it only looks at the number of tasks and doesn’t take account of the amount of resource needed or used. But it would be possible just to graph those elements quite easily.
The final tool we’ve been using is Mantis Bug Tracker. Unsurprisingly we’ve used this to keep track of all the issues we need to fix on the new website. Although the tool certainly has a lot more features than we need to use there is a good workflow/feedback process and it has worked reasonably well for us. Within the web team we’ve used it extensively and tried to encourage as many library staff as possible to log things directly into the system and not worry too much if they can’t fill out every section as long as they put in enough to identify the problem.
The feedback processes and the way you can add notes and comments seems to work really well. By the end we had a grand total of 170 bugs recorded in the system. There are just a handful still outstanding now.