We Need a (Project) Plan

It’s been surprising — very surprising — the number of people that I know who have made the switch to the Macintosh in the past year or so. It’s as if Apple’s “Switch” campaign, which stopped airing two years ago, is only now having a delayed effect. But really, what it’s about is that the smartest and most creative people are doing the smartest and most creative projects on the Mac. And yet there’s still a big hole in the platform’s offerings when it comes to pulling off great projects: project planning software.

The 800 pound gorilla in this niche, Microsoft Project, has its faults, to be sure. But really, that program is sufficiently fluid and pliable for serious work, and it has the added cachet of serving as a de facto standard for project plans nearly everywhere. At Behavior we use it extensively, and not just our project managers — I spend time in it frequently myself, and I reluctantly depend on it as a fine-grained, flexible tool for estimation, planning and tracking of fairly complex jobs.

Am I Missing Something

I’m not naive enough to hold out hope for a port of Microsoft Project to Mac OS X, but it puzzles me that more Mac users don’t bemoan its absence. Surely people aren’t using Fast Track Schedule, are they? Not that I have anything against that long-standing project management contender (which has been commendably faithful to the Mac), but it hardly has the look and feel of a modern application. More to the point, I’ve never heard of a single person mentioning that they use it, in real life or anywhere online.

And it can’t be the case that no one is doing project management on the Mac, because there are plenty of all-Mac operations out there doing serious projects that require tight coordination. What kind of software are those operations using? Perhaps there’s some other, Macintosh-native project management software out there that I’m not aware of, and that users never mention, perhaps as a part of some secret oath of fealty? (Or to avoid the ire of Microsoft Project-devoted clients?) And if there’s not, then shouldn’t there be one? The answer is yes, and it should integrate with iCal, the Mac OS X Address Book and iSync.

  1. I’ve never used any kind of project management software, being a one-girl shop and a naturally organised kind of person, but I’m quite shocked that such a thing doesn’t seem to exist. What are the most useful features of Microsoft Project? I’m assuming it tracks time and assets… what else does it do? Maybe it’s time to get stuck into Cocoa.

  2. For me, it’s most essential for planning out a project, trying to figure out what the major milestones are, and determining how many resources (designers, technologists, etc.) needed for the project and for how long. That information informs the budget for the project. During the course of the job, our PMs are constantly fine-tuning the plan and making sure everyone stays on budget, and they use it to communicate our progress and dependencies to client teams. It’s really invaluable.

  3. My (more or less) guess is many designers (i.e., Mac users) get away with delegating project management to producers, and well, project managers. And those all use Windows. And lots of people run 2 computers or Virtual PC. And lots don’t use anything other than email, OmniOutliner, iCal or whatever.

    It’s learned helplessness. Just like personal finance apps. Quicken for Mac is a joke, and the Mac-only contenders aren’t up to snuff. Mac users (myself included) are used to this by now unfortunately. A Project-alike app is a lot of work – evidenced by the lack of one. How to demonstrate the need for one to a developer or software company? I’ve no idea. And as you said MS Project for Mac ain’t happening anytime soon…

    Actually, online solutions are a much more likely solution – Basecamp works for the many whom Project is overkill for, and there are others – free PHP ones, non-free ones, etc., which will fill the gap in. They’re not there yet though. Something akin to Salesforce.com is what I’m thinking. Perhaps even overcoming Project for all but the mega-projects someday.

  4. I was going to mention Basecamp, but heck, it gets enough free publicity! Seriously, Basecamp is terrific and impressive, but it’s only one part of the project management equation. I would actually like to see a streamlined project planning app that hooks in not only with the Apple apps I mentioned, but also with Basecamp. That would be a real breakthrough… I’m sure 37signals has a similar idea in their notebooks somewhere.

    MS Project’s clunkiness aside, I do really like and need MS Project-style controls even for smaller projects. Or, maybe that’s just a product of years of living with a Microsoft solution and no longer being able to imagine anything else.

  5. > What are the most useful features of Microsoft Project?

    The most useful feature of MS Project is that it produces nice pieces of paper that make pointy haired bosses feel warm and fuzzy, which are then promptly ignored when the real work begins ;).

    Seriously, In the three years that I’ve been using OS X I’m not sure that I can remember a time that I needed Project, except to view a file that someone had sent me. Mostly when it comes to Project Management I use either Word or Excel to do the numbers as trying to wrestle Project to do want I want to is too much pain.

    Personally, while I think it would be worth having something, its not high on my priority list of application I’d like to see on the Mac.

  6. I get by with a combination of iCal and Basecamp, which is fine for a one-person shop (with sub-contractors) like myself. You’re right though – there isn’t anything better than Project on the Mac right now.

  7. But NetOffice is like the other on the PHP category. even for just the PC its dificult to find something like MS Project.

    And for my company, the CALs are so expensive that have all the employees with access to the Project Server its to difficult. Any one knows a good solution for the PC also?

    By the way, I’m a Mac User, and I think as a Mac User the PHP solutions are good, and for Small project you can use Entourage.

  8. On the GUI side you have Merlin and xTime Project, on the web side there are Basecamp and Tasks (but they don’t focus on allocating resources – which by the way I like).

    And no, there is no MS Project and no MS Outlook for the mac (but these applications literally _stink_ with everything-enterprise-and-you-are-small thing). So maybe it’s for the better 🙂

  9. The lack of MS Project for mac has been a thorn in many companies I’ve worked for, and ours recently. It’s one of the reasons we use virtual pc, and keep a couple pc boxes around for full production — many of our clients collaborate with it, and even though we’ve used web application alternatives, nothing really has the power.

    We tried using fasttrack, and some people here like the calendar function — but I used it for a bit and moved on. In the end, we’ve had to create our own custom system to sidestep the lack of MS Project, and would be personally excited if it, or a major competitor, stepped into the market. If anything, just for the collaboration with the business world who’s not so computer friendly:)

  10. I recently made the switch to a Mac after 20 years of using an Intel based PC. I am in IT and I am a project manager. So far, I am able everything I used to do with a PC even better with an exception to Project Management.

    I need MS Project or a similar program that is able to read and write MS Project files. None of the software mentioned in this post come close to what I do with Project.

    For now, the only option I have is Virtual PC.

  11. I am a project manager (mostly of web-projects), and was a PC user for a long time. But when OS X arrived, I switched to a PowerBook and have never looked back.

    As a PM you need a tool like MS Project, I use Basecamp as well (very successfully), but Basecamp is more about communication than task planning and schedule management. For this you need an app like MS Project (and real PMs use it for more than creating pretty Gantt-charts for management to look at!).

    I used Fasttrack Schedule the first couple of years after I switched to the Mac, but was uncomfortable because it just didn’t feel “right”. It doesn’t seem to be getting much attentikon from the developer lately, either.

    Recently I’ve looked into both Merlin and iTaskX (both linked to in a previous comment), and I seem to favor iTaskX. The recent additions in both apps to import and export MS Project files is great, and often a necessity when working with clients who are still using Windows.

    I am not sure how the two apps would do in an enterprise-level project, but it’s been a while since I was doing any of those, so I can’t be certain.

    This turned out to be quite a long comment, but I just wanted to comment that as a project manager on the Mac, both Merlin and iTaskX gets the job done. In combination with Basecamp and Post-ITs, there’s nothing more you need 🙂

    (By the way, I ended up here while I was looking for anyone with experiences using Merlin and iTaskX).

    — Pтl

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