Project scheduling software streamlines planning process

The management of most projects begins with planning and scheduling. Thanks to the many software tools available, plant engineers have help at their fingertips during this crucial early stage.

04/01/1999


The management of most projects begins with planning and scheduling. Thanks to the many software tools available, plant engineers have help at their fingertips during this crucial early stage.

In one case, a Pennsylvania engineer found assistance in a simple, easy-to-use project scheduling tool. The software (QuickGantt from Ballantine & Co.) is suited for situations that do not require PERT scheduling, but would benefit from the use of a Gantt chart to communicate the schedule to everyone. Unlike more complex programs, this package can be mastered in minutes using the templates in the package. Results are presentation quality and ready to use.

Initially, the time and budget of the project (new pump station and treatment plant) needed to be communicated clearly. Later on, the schedules of several subcontractors had to be coordinated. The Gantt chart (see illustration) is one of several versions used throughout the project to communicate job requirements.

The chart shows the time required to design, specify, and coordinate construction. It is divided into two sections: booster pump station and treatment plant. As the schedule clarifies, much of the work can progress concurrently, but some activities must occur sequentially.

According to Andrew Herbert, the project's coordinator, the software was "so easy to use and modify that I can create project schedules for discussion, proposal, and construction purposes. Then, once people have had a chance to comment, I can modify the schedules with their input."

The Gantt charts helped the project coordinator communicate schedules to the engineering team. The ability to visually examine concurrent and sequential activities gave everyone a better understanding of the whole picture as well as his role in the entire project.

The software proved to be flexible and easy to use. For example, time lines on the Gantt chart could be created in four ways:

1. Input start and finish dates for each activity

2. Enter a start date and elapsed time and the finish date is calculated automatically

3. Double click on the dates from the pop-up calendar

4. Manually drag and drop a line on the chart and the date changes are reflected in the worksheet.

Basic cost analyses could also be performed. Labor units and unit costs may be entered with each activity. A special category (called expenses) lets material costs be entered for items not associated with a scheduled time. In addition, spreadsheet files can be imported, complete with date formats and cost data.

The program also offered the ability to link activities together, allowing the critical path to adjust automatically if something fell behind schedule. The critical path method (CPM) is a technique schedulers use to find a project's shortest route from start to finish. If any activity on the path takes longer than planned, the end date has to move back. This sort of schedule adjustment was crucial to this project as it is to many plant engineering projects.

Information for this section was provided by Ballantine & Co. Its web site is located at www.ballantine-inc.com.





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