Wednesday, 26 April 2006

How to cope without MS Project

MS Project is the project schedule tool that I encounter more on site than any other tool, and the one that I personally prefer to use on sites.
But sometimes things don't go as planned and I recently found myself without MS Project on a site with many MS Project Plans.
Sadly Microsoft do not provide a viewer for MS Project files so I hastily tried to find a tool to help me view the plans.



Viewing:
I looked at a few but none were suitable, and then I found Afinion Project Viewer. The free viewer was adequate for my purpose, but at only 46 USD the full version seems reasonably priced, there is a lite version available for only 16 USD.
The free version allowed me to open .mpp files, and view the project plans in an outline with the associated gantt diagram on the right.
The Afinion website could be clearer in listing the differences between the versions but the free edition is a simple viewer without printing. (see the end of this article for a list of differences between versions).
So with Afinion viewer installed I can now comment on the plans.
Creation:
But I also had to create my own plan and I don't actually like doing that in a spreadsheet so I needed a free project planning tool that would give me the flexibility of moving back to project later, or of working with the files directly.
I've actually been looking for an excuse to try the opensource ganttProject in a production environment. 2 versions are available, both version 1.11.1 and 2.0-pre1 use the same file format.
2.0 looks much better and has a much better GUI, but still has bugs in the GUI that caused some hassles when creating milestones, and didn't have the full complement of exports that 1.11.1 has, so 1.11.1 should still be the version of choice used in prodution. But 2.0 is more comfortable for viewing your projects and is certainly worth watching to see how much more it improves.
v 1.11.1 has a handy export to mpx to allow me to move back to MS Project and the html export is very effective for sharing plans.
Because xml and xsl are used for the exports you can even plug in your own exports, but I didn't try that, the defaults served me perfectly well.
In summary:
Neither tool requires an install and I will add both to my System Tools folder and memory stick. Both run on Java, so with a local JRE installed in the tools folder I can avoid conflicts on any borrowed machine.
In an emergency I will happily turn to these tools again, and for simple plans GanntProject is perfectly adequate.
And the links again: ganttProject , Afinion Project Viewer

Afinion features between versions
Free
  • displays plans from MS Project (Project 2000, 2002, 2003)
  • No Install required - only copying the files into a folder.
  • Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, Solaris and Unix.
  • view the tasks in a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly base.
In addition Lite:
  • .mpp versions (Project 2000, 2002 and 2003) simultaneously.
  • Printing
  • enable connections in the Gantt chart to get a clearly arranged view.
  • also available as server version.
  • language independent. Standard languages are English, Italian and German. Other languages on demand.
In addition full:
  • also displays plans from MS Project (version 98, Project Server).
  • displays also plans from SAP PS (network plans, wbs elements, tasks).
  • store all activities which are assigned to a resource directly into the Outlook task folder of the resource.
  • supports all currently MS Project versions in a database and as mpp file simultaneously. Thus you can support all sort of plans (old and new ones) with one version of Afinion Project-Viewer
  • can use the common databases (SQL-Server and MS Access Project Server)
  • shows different views used by the project manager.
  • has different filters and a standard view which the user can customise corresponding to their needs.
  • shows all activities of an employee over all projects in a database. So the employee can see immediately, where they are assigned to.

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