A detailed project plan that is regularly maintained with actual information is the only objective measure of project status and performance. Therefore, it is extremely important that the project plan accurately reflect expected and actual results across the key constraints of scope, budget and schedule.

The primary objective of having a project plan is to allow the project manager to manage “by the numbers.” This is important not only from a budget perspective but is also is the mechanism by which the project manager gains insight into many qualitative aspects of the project and team members. The development and maintenance of even modest plans quickly goes beyond the automated support that generic tools like spreadsheets can provide. The demands of most projects require automated support from specialised project management tools such as Open Workbench™ and Microsoft® Project.

Although both are project planning and scheduling tools, there are many differences in how the products operate. A fundamental difference concerns estimates of work for a project plan. Open Workbench is resource-driven and Microsoft Project is task-driven.

An Open Workbench plan is built up from estimates for the tasks of work. Estimates are tied to the resource assigned to the tasks. Duration is then driven by the number of hours each resource will work per week to cover the total number of hours required for the tasks. Open Workbench is best suited for groups that estimate total work effort based on the estimates for all the tasks associated with a project, and then create a staffing plan and schedule for those estimates.

A Microsoft Project work plan generate estimates for the resources based on the task durations. Tasks are defined in terms of duration and total work effort. Resources are assigned to the tasks. Hours are calculated for the resources. Microsoft Project is best suited for time-boxed projects where task durations are well understood or determined by dependencies between tasks.

Since most organisations are resource-constrained rather than time-constrained, the resource-based scheduling in Open Workbench typically provides a more realistic plan in less time.
Another fundamental difference between the two is the way the scheduling algorithm determines the optimal project plan based on resource availability.

Open Workbench is unique in its ability to schedule work in a flexible way based on resource availability. Rather than manually specify how much and when a resource works on a task, Open Workbench allows that time to be calculated automatically by the Autoschedule feature. When a project is scheduled, work on tasks is calculated to fit within the availability of the people to do that work, even if those people are allocated to multiple projects. As a result, the daily work for a resource is an output of the scheduling process rather than in input, allowing the application to optimise work to deliver a useful plan.

Microsoft Project’s Resource Leveling capability is not as sophisticated. The resource leveling algorithm can only shift tasks on the schedule to find the next contiguous window in which the resource can complete the entire task. Any resource that is assigned excessively causes the leveling to fail since no contiguous time slot is available. As a result, many Microsoft Project users do not depend on the Resource Leveling feature to determine optimal project plans and instead need to manually determine when a resource works on a task.

Features Common to Both Products

Managing Tasks and Schedules

  • Work Breakdown Structures can have as many levels as needed.
  • Dependencies can be created between tasks within a project.
  • Inter-project dependencies can be created between projects.
  • Master–subproject relationships are supported. Information flows upward and downward.
  • Information is rolled up from the task level to the project level, as well as consolidated across multiple projects.
  • Project baseline settings can be established and reset.
  • Status on every task can be updated manually.
  • Critical path is identified.
  • Key tasks and milestones are identified and displayed.
  • Progress of the project is tracked through several methods:
  • Actuals
  • ETC (estimates to complete)
  • Task Status and % completed

Managing Resources

  • A resource can be a person, a group of people, material or equipment.
  • Resources can have variable “% availability.”
  • Resources assignment can easily be replaced if necessary while maintaining work estimates.

Creating Views

  • Customisable views can be created to reflect individual management styles.
  • Gantt Chart, CPM and spreadsheet-style views are supported.

Reporting and Analysis

  • Calculated fields are provided to analyse status, such as:
  • Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled
  • Budgeted Cost of Work Performed
  • Actual Cost of Work Performed
  • Estimate at Completion
  • Variance Analysis (schedule, cost, at completion)
  • Performance Indices (schedule, cost, schedule variance)
  • % Complete Indices (BCWP, BCWS, ACWP)

Differences Between The Products

Resource Scheduling
Open Workbench: Schedules based on Duration, which is defined as Effort ÷ Availability. Changes can be made without all the information surrounding resources changing.

MS Project: Schedules based on Work, which is defined as Duration x Units. Microsoft Project attempts to satisfy this equation at all levels of detail. Any updated value automatically changes another, while the third value is maintained.

Plan Scheduling
Open Workbench: The schedule will move only when the Auto Schedule functionality is run, allowing for completely manual scheduling if desired.

MS Project: The schedule will move dynamically as new information is introduced. No true manual scheduling available.

Creating Inter-Project Dependencies
Open Workbench: The user can browse the project WBS and create dependencies with other projects.

MS Project: The user must open the project, temporarily combine it with the other project, then create the dependency.

Baseline Business Rules
Open Workbench: Baseline information is validated through business rules. For example, baseline finish must be after baseline start, daily baseline work must add up to total baseline work. 

MS Project: No business rules to validate baselines.

Shared Views
Open Workbench: Supports deploying standard views of information to Open Workbench clients. Shared views do not overwrite the user’s personal views.

MS Project: Standard views overwrite personal views.

Holiday Work
Open Workbench: Supports scheduling work on holidays.

MS Project: Does not support scheduling work on holidays.

“Actuals Through” Date Tracking
Open Workbench: For each resource, the date through which actuals are posted is tracked. All remaining work for that resource is scheduled after that date, so it is not possible to schedule remaining work for a resource to occur in the past. 

MS Project: The date is not tracked at the resource level, so it is possible to schedule remaining work in the past.

Loading Patterns/Contours
Open Workbench: Front contour schedules work to complete as soon as possible. Back contour schedules work to complete as late as possible.

MS Project: Front is a triangular distribution starting high and decreasing linearly over time based on manual entry.

Role or Resource Replacement
Open Workbench: When a role or resource is replaced, the work estimates are maintained.

MS Project: When a role or resource is replaced, the units are set to 100% by default which may affect work estimates.

Schedule Calculation
Open Workbench: Activated manually. Critical Path or top-down driven. Resource constraints can be included or excluded.

MS Project: User selected option for either automatic or manual calculation. Dependency or top-down driven.

Accessing Multiple Project Plans
Open Workbench: Master plans may be created ad-hoc or predefined. Opening a master plan automatically opens subordinate plans. Resources can be assigned in subprojects and are recognised across projects.

MS Project: Each individual plan must be opened prior to opening the master plan. All resources are included from each plan, often resulting in duplicates.

Project-Specific Resource Information
Open Workbench: Allocations are supported at the project level, so even if projects are combined into a master project, allocations are properly resolved.

MS Project: Must use a shared list of resources for master/sub projects. All resource attributes are global within the master/sub set, including for example availability and billing rates.

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