REDMOND, Wash., December 7, 1998 — An analyst with the County of Santa Barbara Public Works Department, Robert Ooley used to help his co-workers plan road and landfill projects by manually drawing bar charts that showed the timeline for each project and how many workers it took to get the job done.
“When I’d finish drawing these bar graphs, somebody would have a mindstorm and say, ‘Let’s reshuffle these guys,’ ” Ooley said. “So I’d have to wad up the paper, throw it in the trash and start over. You can imagine the amount of effort it took to simply get a final schedule out.”
Ooley now uses Microsoft Project 98 to plan the time, staff and costs required to complete public works projects. The software has allowed him to plan projects more precisely and update his schedule instantly when unexpected changes occur.
“You can boil project management down to three things,” Ooley said. “There’s resources, there’s time, there’s money. Project allows me to balance all of those three to reach my objectives.”
Ooley is among a growing number of customers who use Microsoft Project software to plan and manage project information. More than 3 million customers worldwide are now using the software, Microsoft announced this week. And numerous magazines-including PC/Computing, PC Magazine, PC Week and Windows Magazine-have recognized Project 98 with awards.
Michael Ahern, Microsoft group product manager for Project 98, said business professionals are increasingly turning to project management software because of growing pressures on companies to constrain project costs by planning more efficiently. In addition, many companies are using project management software to plan for the Year 2000 problem, which requires them to make major adjustments to their computer systems in a limited amount of time. “So there’s definitely more focus on planning throughout the business world,” Ahern said.
Users turning to project management software often choose Microsoft Project because of its ease of use, its intuitive user interface and its tight integration with Microsoft Office, Ahern said. Others like advanced features such as the software’s ability to export documents to the Web, which enables users to log onto a Web server to view project assignments and status reports.
“Many of our customers are professional project managers who make use of the advanced project management feature set,” Ahern said. “But then we also have many new users who are only going to be using project management tools in a more limited way., This is where our focus on ease of use and our integration with Office pay off for customers–they’re going to learn Project 98 quickly.”
Integration with the Office suite was a key reason why the County of Santa Barbara chose Project 98, Ooley said. “The fact that we were already using Microsoft software meant that we were simply adding one more staple to the desktop,” he said. Ooley said the county also selected Project 98 because of its ease of use and Microsoft’s stability as a company.
In addition to using Project 98 to help his co-workers plan projects, Ooley said the county requires contractors bidding for public works projects to develop their completion schedules using Project software. This makes it easy for Ooley to manipulate contractors’ documents to prepare briefing materials for county officials.
“I can construct my own reports on the fly, or port information from Project out to Excel to draw a chart, or drop it into Word to finish my briefing memo,” he said. “So the fact that this stuff integrates with the rest of the Office suite to me is important. It saves me a lot of time.”
Integration with Office is also a major reason why Reed Shell uses Project 98. An information technology specialist with Basic American Foods in Blackfoot, Idaho, Shell said the biggest benefit of Project is that “you’re able to see the big picture of your project all in one concise area.”
Shell recently used Project to help plan the rollout of Windows NT to more than 550 employees. Using Project, Shell created a timeline for when certain milestones had to be met and identified the tasks that needed to be completed along the way.
“All too often, you get deep into a project, and you find out that you didn’t do everything that you really wanted to do,” he said. “We identified those things right at the beginning so we didn’t waste our time.”
Shell also used Project to develop contingency plans, send and receive updates to fellow workers and provide reports to management on the progress of rolling out Windows NT.
“I’m a strong believer that you do 80 percent of all your work right up front in the pre-planning and planning stages, and then you go and implement,” Shell said. “Project allows me to identify everything that needs to be done with a project. From that point of view, I think it’s a very powerful tool.”