You’re Only as Good as Your Current Project

Project TeamworkAs project managers and professionals we’ve experienced many successes as well as failures on the projects we’ve lead and participated on. When you work on or lead a high profile, successful project, it’s human nature to want to rest on our laurels sometimes. Finish a great project, win against all odds, drag a doomed solution through the trials to a successful deployment or perhaps even take over and ‘save the day’ on a failing project….all of these scenarios may make you want to sit back, take stock of what you’ve accomplished and coast for awhile.

What’s wrong with this scenario? Mainly, your next project or your other projects on your plate at the moment probably don’t involve the same customer and may not involve any of the same team members. They really don’t care about how things went on your last project – unless you have some good take-aways from it that apply to your current project. All they care about is how you’re doing on the current project. Are you performing properly for them? Are you doing everything you can on the current project to effectively plan, manage, communicate, innovate, and document so that this project will end successfully?

When we come off an energetic, highly visible, adrenaline pumping, satisfying…perhaps even thrilling…project, how do we regroup and focus on the next endeavor? Truly we are only as good as our current project. To ensure there’s no let down, think about following these guidelines…

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FastTrack Schedule is Lead Scheduling Tool for 2012 ASLA Legacy Project

ACE Mentor ProgramWhen the opportunity arose to lend a hand – and some scheduling prowess – to the American Society of Landscape Architect’s (ASLA) Legacy Project, we jumped at the chance. This is our first year to attend the ASLA EXPO, and the Legacy Project offered us a way to collaborate with the host ASLA chapter and give a little back to the host community.

The project will upgrade the horticulture program greenhouse and build a courtyard garden at Metro Tech High School in Phoenix, AZ. The ASLA Arizona Chapter is working with ACE mentor students, and Metro Tech students and faculty to upgrade the facilities with paved spaces, raised planters, benches, and gardens. Metro Tech provides vocational training to students from 15 high schools in the Phoenix Union High School District, and this project is a coordinated effort with the schools’ Culinary and Drafting Departments.

AEC Software provided scheduling support and FastTrack Schedule 10 licenses to project managers and the team of ASLA and AEC Mentor Program volunteers. FastTrack Schedule was used to plan all elements of the project including details on initiating the project, contacting/assigning stakeholders, construction, and public relations efforts. The project kicked off in July and is scheduled to be completed in the first quarter of 2013. Here’s a look at the project’s design charrette.

It’s been great connecting with architects, planners, and developers at chapter events and at the ASLA headquarters in DC this year. We’re looking forward to meeting more ASLA members at the EXPO next week and watching the progress of the ASLA/ACE Mentor Legacy Project over the coming months.

Use Lessons Learned Throughout the Project

Project Lessons LearnedHere’s an interesting concept – let’s make things better now rather than in the future. Why would anyone want to think differently, especially if it might help their career and the work they are doing at this moment? Experiencing success today is better than postponing success until tomorrow, right?

What is “lessons learned”?

Ok, let’s back up for a moment and discuss the concept of lessons learned. The process can vary from PM to PM and organization to organization, but the lessons learned session is basically this: around the time of deployment or project closeout the project manager gathers the project team and, hopefully the customer, together and discusses and documents what went right and wrong on the project. The hope is we learn from our successes and our failures, we take them to our next project in order to improve our project delivery performance and we share this knowledge with others in our organization so as to improve the performance on all projects in the company.

We can’t benefit if we don’t conduct

Sadly, we don’t often take advantage of this type of session. A survey I performed of project professionals in June 2010, found that 57% of respondents indicated that they either never conduct lessons learned sessions or conduct them less than 10% of the time. Only 34% of respondents indicated that they conduct lessons learned sessions more than 50% of the time. Reasons for not performing lessons learned vary, of course. On bad projects, sometimes a PM may avoid the session so as not to receive the negative feedback. Sometimes as soon as the project is over, the entire team needs to disperse and jump on other projects. And sometimes the customer has no interest as they are immersed in the rollout and ramp-up of new system usage and user adoption and likely some internal training. I’m sure there are 50 more reasons, but you get the idea…often it just doesn’t happen.

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FastTrack Schedule Rated Best Project Management Software by Review Authority

Project Management Software Award Winner - Review Authority

We’re happy to add another feather to our FastTrack cap. FastTrack Schedule 10 has received Review Authority’s Best Project Management Software Award. Review Authority gave FastTrack Schedule top marks in Ease of Use and Customer Support and an overall score of 96 out of a possible 100.

FastTrack Schedule 10 Scorecard - Review AuthorityFastTrack Schedule topped perennial rival Microsoft Project, besting both Professional 2010 and Standard 2010 versions, as well as Oracle’s enterprise-level Primavera P6.

For MS Project users or those who need to exchange data with someone who uses MS Project, it’s great to know that FastTrack Schedule 10 (Windows and Mac versions) and FastTrack Schedule Go (our new iPad version) open Microsoft Project MPP, MPT, and XML files.

Thanks to Review Authority for the recognition, and thanks to all our customers who rely on FastTrack Schedule to plan, manage, and achieve their project goals.

Conducting the Project Kickoff

Conducting the Project KickoffSo you’ve been handed a project, possibly your only project or possibly just one more to add to your already overloaded portfolio of active projects…now what do you do? If your organization is a thought leader in project management then maybe, just maybe, you’ve been involved during the very early customer engagement and sales meetings and maybe you’ve been made aware or involved in creating high-level requirements, a general scope of work, the estimation process and the drafting of a shell project schedule that identifies some key milestones and activities. However, if your organization is like most professional service organizations, then the deal is in place, all of the above has happened without your input or knowledge and just now you’re hearing about the project for the first time. It’s not ideal at all, but it is reality. What do you do?

At this point, it’s all about gaining knowledge. It’s all about getting up to speed so you can productively engage the customer and get the project started off on the right foot. In order to do that, there are a few key steps the project manager should go through to plan, prepare for, and ultimately kickoff the project in the best possible manner with the project customer and other key stakeholders. I’ve narrowed it down to what I consider to be the five main sequential steps:

#1 – Meet with the account manager who closed the deal. If the 2nd scenario above is how your organization handles new projects, then the first thing on the PM’s agenda needs to be an acquisition of everything project related to date from the sales person or account manager who handled the project deal with the new customer. That means getting every piece of material possible – meeting notes, report mockups, estimates, resource plans, statement of work, draft schedule, milestones dates, assumptions and any other project-related materials that are available.

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New FastTrack Schedule 10.0.4 Update Now Available

FastTrack Schedule 10 UpdateWe’ve just released another update to FastTrack Schedule 10. FastTrack Schedule 10.0.4 adds new features and fixes to Filters, Layouts, Consolidation, exporting to MPX and XML, and much more. It’s a free download for all FastTrack Schedule 10 customers, so go get it!

For a list of all the new additions and to download the Update, visit our FastTrack Schedule 10.0.4 Mac Update and FastTrack Schedule 10.0.4 Windows Update pages.

If you’re not already using FastTrack Schedule 10 – try it today! Download a free 21-day trial version of FastTrack Schedule 10.0.4 for Mac or FastTrack Schedule 10.0.4 for Windows and get your projects on track.

Enhancing Schedules with Custom Bar Styles [How-To]

We’ve all seen many a Gantt chart during our years of project planning. What sets one schedule apart from the rest? It’s the details – details in scope, in cost, in time, and yes, the eye-catching graphic detail of the Gantt chart itself. A little time spent customizing the design of the bar styles you use for your project tasks will pay big dividends when presenting your plans.

With FastTrack Schedule, you can customize every element of a bar style including its color, pattern, size, border, and bar labels. You can even create custom milestones from pictures and logos that relate to your project. These branded milestones will give your schedules that extra “pop” and make an impact with your audience.

To create a new milestone from an image, go to the Format menu > select Bar Style (the Format Bar Style dialog will appear).


a. Select New
b. Type: select Milestone
c. Shape: select New (Format Point dialog will appear)

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Reporting Progress in FastTrack Schedule’s Calendar View [How-To]

While a Gantt chart is a project manager’s bread and butter reporting tool, it’s often a traditional calendar that’s key when presenting project details to non-project managers. FastTrack Schedule’s Calendar view enables you to create simple straightforward monthly calendars like you’d find in Outlook or iCal, but it also has advanced reporting features that add valuable detail regarding completed work, resource assignments, and overall project status.

Consider the schedule below. There are three different projects being displayed in the Calendar view. The bar styles are carried over from the Schedule view, making it very easy to see when the different projects are taking place. FastTrack Schedule’s Calendar view is loaded with useful project details including the Parent Tree of each task, which is displayed as a bar label across the activity bar.

FastTrack Schedule Progress Tracking in Calendar View

Some of the tasks are partially “filled” with gray, indicating the percentage of work complete on the task. Here are some tips on how to take advantage of FastTrack Schedule’s progress tracking while in the Calendar view.

1. Display % Complete as a label on the activity bar.

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Practical Software Solutions Becomes Authorized Reseller of FastTrack Schedule

Practical Software SolutionsToday we welcome another partner to the FastTrack Schedule family. North Carolina-based Practical Software Solutions is our newest authorized reseller, and we couldn’t be happier to have them as a partner. Their track record of success and business management expertise will serve FastTrack Schedule customers well.

As an AEC Software Reseller, Practical Software Solutions will offer sales and service support to FastTrack Schedule customers. Practical’s team will ensure that FastTrack Schedule is well-suited for your project management needs and integrates into your business process.

Established in 1993, Practical Software Solutions provides business management software solutions and industry expertise in accounting, manufacturing, distribution, construction, service management and professional services. Practical Software Solutions is also a Sage Timberline authorized partner and continually recognized as a leader within the Sage community for sales and service to its customers.

Connect with Practical’s team to learn how they can help. For details on AEC Software’s partnership opportunities, visit our Partner Program portal.

Using Templates to Create New Schedules [VIDEO]

Why reinvent the wheel when scheduling a new project? With FastTrack Schedule you can use your own schedules as templates or one of FastTrack Schedule’s many industry-specific templates. It’s quick, easy, and the perfect way to kick-start your project.

We’ve created two new Quick Tip videos — a Mac version and a Windows version — that walk you through the process. Check them out then visit our online gallery of project templates. Download as many as you like, they’re free.

FastTrack Schedule 10 for Mac

FastTrack Schedule 10 for Windows

For more FastTrack Schedule how-to videos, visit our Mac Quick Tip Video Tutorials page and our Windows Quick Tip Video Tutorials page.

Displaying Project Costs Over Time With Summary Graphs [HOW-TO]

Cost control is necessary in every project phase to keep your project on budget. FastTrack Schedule’s Summary Graphs track and display project costs in colorful time-based graphs that make it easy to identify cost trends, pinpoint cost overruns, and anticipate costs of work that remains. Visualizing costs in time-based segments (weeks, months, quarters, et al.) helps you keep a watchful eye on overall project health and provides essential cost reports without the need for Excel.

In the schedule below, you’ll find a cost per activity breakdown. What about seeing costs over time?

FastTrack Schedule Activity Cost

Summary Graphs can be used to easily display these costs across periods of time. Data used to create Summary Graphs are always taken from column data and is distributed across the duration of the activity. Once a summary unit and operation are defined, the graph is generated.

1. To Insert a Summary Graph:

a. Go to the Insert menu, select Summary Graphs

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year from AEC Software

As we turn the page on another great year, we’d like to thank all the FastTrackers for your continued support. We wish you a happy, healthy, and successful New Year!