10 project management solutions for architects (or anyone) using Mac OS X

I regularly evaluate all of the tools and practices of my day-to-day business and project management has come up. Amazingly I had never used project management software in my first 13 years studying and working as an architect but I immediately began to explore it when I set up on my own.

The RIBA has a Plan of Work which sets out workstages from A to L that breakdown the process of creating a building – from initial appraisal through to completion on site (there must be equivalents around the world – if you know of any please share). This is a great starting point for setting up a template for timelines.

Project management is about resources – time, money, personnel etc. but since there are better places to look at the theory, here I will concentrate on my actual experience using various products. I cannot claim that this is an impartial review because what I used reflected my personal requirements and even these have changed over time. As in any discipline there are various schools of thought, but in general I would say that I have moved from a Gantt chart time/task focus to a collaborative/communication one.

Also there are also a lot more options than I have covered here, especially in the web application space. I would love to hear about your own experiences.


Merlin

[from US$210 one-off]

If you have used Microsoft Project on Windows you will understand Merlin – but I was bowled over by the sumptuous interface. It is truly a joy to look at on screen and I use it to this day, although not nearly as actively as I used to. As the image suggests, this is Gantt chart territory – where I put in the RIBA workstages plus more details from the Job Book. Add personnel, hourly rates and other resource costs and requirements and the future is laid out in front of you. A few quirks here and there but good exchange with Microsoft Project and very good overall.

  • credit card vote: yes
  • local / web: local
  • genuinely multi-user: server version available
  • add-on’s: yes
  • family of related products: no
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: no
  • iPhone app: yes


FastTrack Schedule

[$349 one-off]

I initially chose FastTrack (then version 9) over Merlin (version 1) because of better Microsoft Project exchange and better overall robustness, however the next version of Merlin fixed a lot of that – and this leads to why I do not use FastTrack now. I bought v9 in 2005, and they are still at v9 – shocking but true. Also I found that I simply did not launch the application very often. For all its great features (such as consolidation of multiple files into one chart) it reminded me that project management can feel like a chore

  • credit card vote: yes
  • local / web: local
  • genuinely multi-user: no
  • add-on’s: no
  • family of related products: no
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: no
  • iPhone app: no


OmniPlan

[$150 one-off]


Like Merlin, OmniPlan has a clean, intuitive and very mac-like user experience. For those who are familiar with the venerable OmniOutliner, ‘Plan’ is similarly well thought through. I am guessing that there was some cross-pollination with the development teams – since outlining is only step away from Gantt charting anyway. The software feels a little ‘light’ in comparison to FastTrack/Merlin but actually the 20% of project management requirements that the 80% use are very well implemented here. Not enough to pull me away from my existing workflows but a great product.

  • credit card vote: no
  • local / web: local
  • genuinely multi-user: no
  • add-on’s: yes
  • family of related products: yes
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: no
  • iPhone app: no


Daylite

[$189 one-off or $29 per month]

Daylite is actually a CRM application – ie. its foundation is your contact list which then links to events, tasks, projects, opportunities, notes etc. – although, to be clear, anything can link to anything independently of contacts if necessary. This was by far my most valuable application for three solid years, built to be networked and with flawless syncronisation with my old Treo  650. It now links in to Mac OS X’s SyncServices which means that it updates Addressbook and iCal in the background, and syncs with any device that iSync can. Daylite also has a Project Pipeline function which ironically I never used since its function overlapped with Merlin. Overall a solid all-round application.

  • credit card vote: yes
  • local / web: local
  • genuinely multi-user: yes
  • add-on’s: yes
  • family of related products: yes
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: no
  • iPhone app: yes


Mac OS X built in – Addressbook, iCal, Mail

[already paid for]

The reason that I have included this is simple – before I had ever launched a dedicated project management application Addressbook, iCal and Mail were it. Workflow is critical and unsurpisingly they operate well together. But they also extend out to other applications on your mac, directly to the web via MobileMe and to other devices via iSync/iTunes. Also critical is that they use standards such as vCard and CalDAV which makes information exchange a snap. The direct competition on Mac OS X is Microsoft Entourage but I stuck with the built-in apps because of superior interoperability.

  • credit card vote: yes
  • local / web: both
  • genuinely multi-user: sharing possible but best through Mac OS X Server
  • add-on’s: yes
  • family of related products: yes
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: no
  • iPhone app: yes


Basecamp

[from free, but I use the $49 per month plan]

Basecamp is the reason that I no longer use Daylite. I used them together for a while but even though they belong to different project management paradigms there is significant overlap. These last five applications are web-based – therefore accessible from any computer with a web browser, and all with a focus on collaboration. I am not sure if Basecamp was the first but it is probably the most widely used of them all – and for good reason. Management here revolves around communication, within the project with related tasks, milestones, file exchange and more. Basecamp is effectively your company’s extranet so it is available not only to your staff and external team but also your clients. It is a great way to keep everyone on the same page.

  • credit card vote: yes
  • local / web: web
  • genuinely multi-user: yes
  • add-on’s: yes
  • family of related products: yes
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: yes
  • iPhone app: yes


Goplan

[from free, but I tried the $35 plan]

Goplan is often described as a Basecamp clone but that does not do it justice, especially with the new Version 2. Admittedly ’1′ was lacking in certain feature departments and that is why it lost against Basecamp for me but there have been many improvements since then. I am particularly attracted to the calendar, file versioning and tags. Goplan is a very rounded and uncomplicated package. Apparently an iPhone app is also in the works.

  • credit card vote: no
  • local / web: web
  • genuinely multi-user: yes
  • add-on’s: no
  • family of related products: no
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: yes
  • iPhone app: no


ActiveCollab

[from $249 one-off]


ActiveCollab is the only web application of the five here that is hosted on your own servers. With the others you sign up and they take care of the rest, technically – storage, backup, upgrades etc (no they can’t do your work for you). AC began open source and free but recently became a paid-for product. This has put some people off and there is a new open source project that is based on a fork from the last freely available version of AC. However I am happy to pay for a good product if the cost is quickly matched by increased productivity. The developers come from the same school of thought as those behind Basecamp and Goplan so it feels quite familiar to me. If you want total control over your data then activeCollab is the way to go.

  • credit card vote: no
  • local / web: web
  • genuinely multi-user: yes
  • add-on’s: yes
  • family of related products: no
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: yes
  • iPhone app: no


Wrike

[from $9.95 per moth, but see website]


In the project management web application arena Wrike stands out with a unique approach. Their sales pitch is “If you know how to create emails, you already know how to use Wrike”. Other web-based options have the ability to ‘email in’ but Wrike is built on this approach. Users can genuine manage their integration with Wrike without going through their web browser. Having said that the web interface integrates the information together for easy access and assessment of the big picture. I would certainly recommmend trying Wrike alongside anything else that you already think you might go with.

  • credit card vote: no
  • local / web: web
  • genuinely multi-user: yes
  • add-on’s: no
  • family of related products: no
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: yes, but see website
  • iPhone app: no


Zoho Projects

[from free, but I tried the $35 per month plan]


I have to say that initially I was intimidated by Zoho – talk about a suite of products. I count 19 different web applications such as Zoho Docs, CRM, Mail, Meeting, and on and on – an entire ecosystem. But back to Projects, even though it is ‘only’ one of many it is quite comprehensive. Apart from the typical management of tasks, milestones, documents etc it also includes a ‘Project Wiki’, Gantt charts, group chat and integration with other Zoho products. Last but not least if offers direct import of Microsoft Project files. I would love to see the size of their development team because they have tried to cover all bases – and remember, this is only one of their 19 products.

  • credit card vote: no
  • local / web: web
  • genuinely multi-user: yes
  • add-on’s: no
  • family of related products: yes
  • tiered plans/features/pricing: yes
  • iPhone app: no


The Architect's Handbook of Professional Practice

Architecture Project Management

Guide to Using the RIBA Plan of Work

Design Management- RIBA Plan of Work 2013 Guide

You might also like ...

READING & RADIO: Monocle

Architecture as a Verb The experience of architecture is overwhelmingly visual – driving, particularly in Western traditions, a focus on methods of representation before a

Read More »

Responses

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!