I’m currently developping my project planning and tracking methodology based on mind maps made with MindManager and I am determining both what specific maps I’ll use and what are the exact client deliverables I’ll create from them. One particular aspect I’ve often had trouble with is determining a project’s schedule. I’ve now found the perfect tool to help me with this pocess and it is a plugin for MindManager called JCVGantt Pro.
As the name implies, JCVGantt Pro creates Gantt charts which are a staple of project management methodologies. I had never used Gantt charts previously eventhough I knew what they were (my other project tracking application Studiometry has them) but I had never used them before because, for me at least, they were a pain to create directly.
The amazing thing with JCVGantt Pro is that it ties directly into MindManager maps and updates you make in one app are directly reflected into the other. What this means is that, from a specifications map for example, I can separate each item into smaller specific tasks which I can time estimate more easily and create dependencies between them using relationships. When I then sent that to JCV Gantt Pro it creates a timeline for the project as a Gantt chart and I can track tasks as they get done.
But the really great thing I discovered which I didn’t know about previously is that, in JCV Gantt Pro and probably in other similar software, I can give each task a "resource". Resources can be anything from specific items like fonts or stock images you need to purchase (whose cost goes towards the project total) but, more importantly in this case, "human resources". The human resource concept is very significant because it defines how much time a "human resource" can devote to tasks within each week and the hourly cost of each "resource". The time per week concept is important for me because I am a one man operation and I can devote only a specific amount of hours each weekday to Web work and slightly more on weekends. What that means is that, not only does JCVGantt Pro calculates the cost of the project based on all the tasks and their allocated resources but it "spreads" the work across the timeline according to the time constraints of each resource.
In short, if a project required 100 hours to complete in total and I could work 40 hours a week on weekdays and not on weekends then it would require 2 1/2 weekes to complete the project. Since, in reality I can only devote about 22 hours a week to Web work (at best) spread on all 7 days of the week, the same project would take me over 4 1/2 weeks to complete and JCVGantt Pro will determine that automatically and draw the Gantt chart accordingly. It even goes further into spreading resources across concurrently running tasks and moving tasks that depend on the completion of previous ones further on the timeline.
I really wish I had discoverd all those incredible tools earlier. Not only do MindManager maps help me keep track of all project specific info in one place but, with the help of JCV Gantt Pro, I can now give clients realistic schedules and get much better cost estimates than ever before. My first project using this new methodology is taking me longer than usual to complete but from that project I will be able to create the map templates I will re-use on every future project..
There is a significant time investment in the learning process in addition to the cost of the software the software for a one man shop like mine but I would really encourage other freelancers and small Web shops to explore similar methodologies if you are not already using them. It’s really proving to work very well for me and will remove a lot of the tedium of project management tasks that used to slow down projects for me. Not only that, it will help me create better early clients deliverables (specification documents, creative briefs, proposals/quotations, etc) but it will also help me create better quality projects.