Download PDF version (457.3k) Log In or Register to view the full article as a PDF document.

Scheduling Software 101, continued

cPM Scheduler

CDCI

800/285-2324

www.cdci.com

$600 for up to ten concurrent projects; other pricing plans available

Unlike the generic schedulers in this article (Project, SureTrak, FastTrack, QuickGantt), cPM, by Construction Data Control, Inc. (CDCI), is built to schedule one thing only: construction. And it crosses the line between pure scheduler and complete project management system by tracking accounting cost codes and allowing project managers to control the schedule from the field. cPM's only shortcoming is that, like VirtualBoss, it can only schedule in full-day increments, which may not be ideal for remodelers.

0304st-06

CDCI's cPM combines an easy-to-use scheduler with project management tools like job to-do lists, budget tracking, and job inspection worksheets. cPM's PDA modules allow project managers to maintain the schedule and approve budget items right from the field.

Only three fields of information — Activity, Duration, and Sequence — are required to set up complete project schedules in cPM. Each activity can be tied to a budget item, either imported from CDCI's accounting software or entered manually when the schedule is set up. All major functions of the scheduler are mirrored in the PDA versions, which will run on either PalmOS or PocketPC devices. Project managers can manipulate the schedule, approve budget items, and check off to-do items right from their handheld computers.

CDCI has also realized that not all builders are ready for PDAs. A number of useful "clipboard-friendly" reports, such as Job Inspection Worksheets, Activity Details, and Vendor To-Do Lists, build a bridge between the electronic world of the construction office and the paper-based world of the typical project manager. All reports can also be written to over a dozen standard computer formats, including text, Excel, and HTML, for distribution via e-mail or the Internet.

cPM is available as a stand-alone scheduler or can be combined with CDCI's accounting software to form the field component of a robust purchase-order and pay-from-PO system for production builders.


BuildLinks Online Scheduler

BuildLinks

800/803-3002

www.buildlinks.com

$75 per home scheduled, $1,000 one-time setup fee

Web services continue to peck away at the conventional software market for good reason: There is no easier way to share project data than to put it up on a website where anyone with a browser can access it. The full BuildLinks system is an "online collaboration" service with a twist: one view for the home buyer and another for the builder. Buyers logging on to the system are greeted by a friendly project overview, while builders log on to track all the gory details. This two-sided approach works well: You can show customers what they need to know and do at all times without worrying them with unnecessary detail. The BuildLinks Scheduler is the latest module in the BuildLinks online system. It's available stand-alone or integrated into the other BuildLinks project management tools.

0304st-07

BuildLinks Scheduler is totally web based but rivals conventional software. It even adds a few tricks of its own, like automatic updating via Nextel Blackberry pager and an unusual bubble chart (inset). BuildLinks' familiar calendar view (in front, at bottom) makes it easy for buyers to see selection dates and project milestones.

Despite running in a web browser, the BuildLinks Scheduler is conventional in approach. Tasks, resources, and dependencies are scheduled in a list view, which automatically generates an interactive bar graph similar to a Gantt chart, and a calendar view. Lead and lag times are created by altering date ranges in the list view, and the user can select whether a particular activity will appear on the homeowner calendar, the builder calendar, or both.

It's obvious that a lot of "builder-thought" went into the BuildLinks Scheduler. For example, you can make a task dependent on completion of a task in a different project, a necessary scenario for townhouse or condo builders who are running a separate "shell" schedule. You can also do basic resource allocation to see where a particular sub is scheduled across all projects. All reports can be "printed" to .PDF files, and the system will automatically notify participants of schedule changes by e-mail.


VirtualBoss 3.6

VirtualBoss Software

888/827-5397

www.virtualboss.net

$395

Created by a builder, VirtualBoss combines a simplified critical path scheduler with a basic contact manager, a good combination for hands-on contractors who don't have the time or patience to learn more complex scheduling systems.

VirtualBoss has three basic modules: Job Manager, Task Manager, and Contact Manager. The scheduler itself is very basic. Everything is lumped together in a master "task list," which you can filter by project, by contact, or by date. You can also create project "groups" — for instance, to filter a list of all material deliveries, or to see all the tasks related to a particular subdivision. Scheduling is in full-day increments only. The start date of a task can be linked to the completion date of a previous task to create a basic critical path schedule, but there are no advanced constraints, no resource leveling, and you can assign only one contact (resource) to a task. The built-in contact manager is adequate for looking up phone numbers on the fly and keeping track of essential address information, but it is not very customizable and does not log client activity, except for e-mail.

0304st-08

VirtualBoss generates individual work orders, as well as complete project lists, and delivers them to whoever is responsible by computer fax or e-mail.

It's not the fanciest scheduler or the most versatile contact manager, but VirtualBoss has a better trick up its sleeve — automatic work orders. It lets you distribute task lists and individual work orders painlessly with just a few mouse clicks — by computer fax (Windows fax drivers or WinFax Pro required) or e-mail — to whoever needs to see them.

0304st-09

The VirtualBoss interface is simplicity itself: a window for setting up projects, another for setting up contacts (resources), and two task views, a list and a Gantt chart.

VirtualBoss is all about ease of use, and I can envision even computer greenhorns having no trouble riding around with VirtualBoss on a laptop computer, scheduling and tracking their projects, and using the program to send work orders right from the job site. A PocketPC companion version is also available ($60), and PalmOS PDA users can get information in and out of VirtualBoss by using a third-party utility like Documents To Go (www.dataviz.com).


QuickGantt Plus 4.0

Ballantine & Company, Inc.

800/536-6677

www.tools-for-business.com

$249 for single-user license; other versions start at $99

If all you want is very basic list-based scheduling with at-a-glance visuals, QuickGantt Plus might be just what the doctor ordered. It hasn't changed much since we reviewed it in 1998 (Computer Solutions, 9/98). The interface features three tabbed views: Worksheet, which is similar to an Excel worksheet, Gantt Chart, and Notes. You won't find PERT charts, resource leveling, or Internet-based collaboration, but you will get speed. Working in the Worksheet view, you can set up the bones of a typical residential schedule in just a few minutes. One nice feature is a budget column where you can plug in costs for various line items. You can also create a "master schedule" by grouping individual worksheets together. The result can then be filtered by individual jobs or merged into one combined worksheet. QuickGantt also has the ability to compare a baseline schedule with a revised version.

0304st-10

QuickGantt's simple and straightforward interface makes it possible to set up a schedule in minutes. Worksheets can be combined to form a master schedule (left).

QuickGantt Plus integrates with Ballantine's QuickAssist contact manager to link to resources directly, and you can import and export to a number of standard formats, including Access, Excel, and comma-delimited text. Finally, in the PDA department, a $25 add-on makes QuickGantt the least expensive PDA-enabled scheduler in this roundup.