Thursday, August 23, 2007

Project Management - for All - on the Cheap

Project management is a critical competency that we don't - unfortunately - teach to our students - not just engineers, but all students. Even in engineering education, not a great deal of time is spent teaching students project management. Most students will work as part of a senior design team, getting their first and only experience with project management. The "real" education comes after graduation - on the job. Recent graduates are thrown into a project and "forced" to learn project management working with and for more experienced engineers. Through a variety of projects, new engineers take on diverse roles and increasing levels of responsibility - eventually managing their own projects.

One of the barriers to teaching more students project management is the prohibitive cost of software, such as Microsoft Project. Other factors include the long learning curve and the lack of faculty experienced in project management. Clearly, the first step to a broader understanding and adoption of project management is to get the tools in their hands.

There are a number of free or inexpensive alternatives to Microsoft Project. OpenProj, and GanttProject are open source project management applications available for Linux, Mac and Windows. OpenProj (screenshot above) is a pretty full-featured application with the ability to open and save MS Project files. Another, alternative is to use Microsoft Excel to layout and manage a project schedule. David Seah - Manual Gantt Charting in Excel - provides an Excel template for doing just that. Unfortunately, this doesn't give you all the bells and whistles or intelligence of full-blown project management, but is simple to implement and forces students to organize their tasks into a PM context and to really think about and understand task dependencies. The template has even been converted to a Google Spreadsheet - further reducing the entry barrier and even enabling collaboration. Finally, Ismael Ghalimi's Office 2.0 Database lists 27 online or web 2.0 project applications including Zoho Project, DreamTeam, and ProjectPipe.

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