Project Management: From Zero to Hero

In the last few days, we, at SmartBox software, conducted a little experiment to test our Project Scheduling Smart Assistant (PSSA) software. Like any good scientific experiment, we started out with a hypothesis.

Hypothesis: PSSA can transform virtually anyone into a competent project manager, regardless of how much skills they possess in the field of project management.

To test our theory, we found the perfect guinea pig: our new intern, Alexander. Alexander had never touched Microsoft Project 2007 before and was totally new to project management. So we gave him the task to plan a simple project in any domain he knew very well with Microsoft Project 2007, first alone and then using PSSA. We asked him to be able to answer two questions at the end of the experiment:

  • If the project started tomorrow, when would it end?
  • How much would the project cost, in total.

Alexander successfully completed the experiment yesterday. His comments were:

“When I first opened Microsoft Project, I was overwhelmed. I could not see how this Excel look-alike would help me plan a project. I began to play with it and slowly began to understand what I had to do. After about an hour, I knew how to create a task, link tasks, create resources and make the project looks like a coherent whole. After a total of 2 hours and a half, I had a complete project planned.

Then came the next step; I installed Project Scheduling Smart Assistant (PSSA) and ran it. First thing first, I’ve rarely seen such a simple-yet-efficient user interface. You have one big button called analyze, you click on it, and voila, the software tells you what you must, should, or may do.

Among the practices it suggested were the creation of milestones, which I would not have thought of by myself, the necessity of linking task to others and the avoidance of tasks with free slack time greater than 50% of the time you need to complete the task. For those of you who do not know what free slack time is, and I did not know myself before PSSA told me, it is the time between the end of a task and the beginning of another linked task. My project plan had two tasks with an excessively long slack time, but thanks to PSSA, I was able to correct the mistake quickly. But one must keep in mind that PSSA does not tell you what to do, it warns you about possible problems your project may have, but not all of its warning must necessarily be heeded.

After half an hour, I was totally finished and, thanks again to PSSA, I knew when my project would end and how much it would cost, as requested. As a whole, the experiment took three hours. However, if I had had PSSA from the very beginning, I’m sure it would have taken less time, because I would have learned Microsoft Project much faster with PSSA’s help.”