Managing Projects, Herding Cats

By Lauren Simonds | Posted November 14, 2005

Anyone who's ever had to manage a project that involves diverse tasks, different phases and multiple people (not to mention multiple personalities) and bring it in on time and on budget knows it's a major challenge. Some might say it feels a lot like herding cats.

Many small businesses manage a variety of projects that can last a single day, span multiple years or fall somewhere in between. They include client presentations, weddings and conferences, complex construction development or national product promotions. Project management software can help managers get all the people involved organized, focused and on track for the duration of the project.

Ryan Kish, vice president of marketing at AEC Software, calls FastTrack Schedule (FTS), version 9, "more than a PIM but less cumbersome than typical project management software like Microsoft's Project." Kish says that most small businesses have limited time and resources to spend learning complicated software programs. "We found a lot of frustration out there," he says. "People just want to get in there and start using the program. They can use FastTrack Schedule right out of the chute."


ACE's FastTrack Schedule Version 9
Click here for a larger image.

Typically, FastTrack customers fall into two categories. The first, said Kish, is people who have a component of project management in their jobs, but it's not their primary responsibility. "They've generally been making do with a PIM or an Excel spreadsheet, and FTS acts as their on-ramp into the world of project management software."

Kish describes the second group as people in small- or mid-sized companies who have used high-end project management programs like MS Project, but who found it to be too much or too complicated for their particular projects. He likened it to using a shovel to kill a fly.

The company designed FTS to focus on four elements — usability, presentation capabilities, cross-platform compatibility and price. "Customers can quickly and simply create projects and clearly present plans with colorful timelines at half of what MS Project costs." He also said that the cross-platform compatibility makes FTS a good choice for companies that run both Macs and PCs.

New In Nine
One of the new features in version 9 involves better integration with Microsoft Project. According to Kish, companies often run both MS Project and FTS — either because they have professional project managers who use MS Project and other employees who need a less complicated program, or because they're transitioning from Project to FTS.

"FastTrack Schedule's integration with MS Project assures painless interaction between the two programs. You can easily open Project files within FTS, and you won't lose any data," says Kish.

Some of the other new features found in FTS 9 include the following:

  • Project consolidation — improves data sharing and collaboration between team members; useful when freelancers or subcontractors are working on different phases of a project; combine multiple projects into a single master project file while retaining the original formatting
  • Enhanced XML and MPX support; publish projects as iCalendars to remote servers
  • Tools to improve productivity — more than 30 industry-specific tutorials, templates and example files; a new interface with icons, menus and dropdown lists
  • Support for Mac OSX Services for v10.4 Tiger, including Spotlight support
  • Capture and store multiple (up to ten) project baselines
  • AutoArchive, AutoSave, and File Properties with user-definable metadata and privacy preferences

Pricing
FastTrack Schedule 9 sells for $349 and upgrades from previous versions start at $149. You'll find free-trial versions of the software at the AEC Software Website.

Lauren Simonds is the managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com

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