Microsoft Project Software Review: CH2MHILL
The decision about which construction scheduling or project management software program to use often comes down to the client's preference.
That was the case for Jim Berg of CH2MHILL, a $5 billion construction management and design firm, which was asked to use Microsoft Project to manage a power plant project currently underway. Personally, Berg prefers Primavera's suite of competing products, but he found it easy to get up to speed on Microsoft Project and familiarize himself with the feature set.
"It identifies tasks, the relationship between tasks and helps identify the plan. It also lets you assign resources, identifies man hours and overload situations, critical path activities and earned value," Berg said. "This software is not as intuitive as others on the market, and the schedule calculations and results are not typical of other software, but the basics are the same."
Berg gave Microsoft Project a 6.5 out of 10 rating. "While Microsoft Project didn't give me many benefits, it could be a good product for people who are used to Microsoft products but new to construction project management," he said.
How long have you been using this tool?:
We used Microsoft Project only for one client -- a local government agency.
What kinds of construction projects do you mostly work on?:
Various projects, actually. I'm currently working on a power plant project. Our mainstay, however, is water wastewater. The company does architecture and planning; decontamination and decommissioning; energy management and planning; enterprise information management; security and emergency management; engineer-procure-construct (EPC) and design-build; lean enterprise solutions; operations and management (O&M) and facilities management; program and construction management; environmental management and planning; site/infrastructure planning, and sustainable solutions.
Where did you obtain it?:
How are you using this product?:
I have been using Microsoft Project for construction scheduling on a local government project. This project was the first time I used this product.
Why did you pick this product?:
It was the client's preference. It was a local government agency and, I think, there's a certain ease associated with Microsoft Project as opposed to Primavera, a construction project management solution designed specifically for the construction industry.
Did you look at other tools on the market before picking this one?:
Comparing the way you work now with the way you worked before you bought this tool, what has changed? :
I use Primavera software typically, as it has been around since I was in the workforce. The only thing that really changed was that I needed to develop a better understanding of the differences between the two products -- Microsoft Project and Primavera. It's somewhat similar but not exactly the same. Microsoft Project identifies tasks, the relationship between tasks and helps identify the plan. It also lets you assign resources, identifies man hours and overload situations, critical path activities and earned value.
Can you give us an example of a job where this tool really made a difference?:
This scheduling software has not made a difference in the way we do business -- if the user hadn't specified the use of Microsoft Project for this contract, I'd have used Primavera, our de facto standard for construction scheduling. Since my expertise lies in Primavera products, I had to change direction and get up to speed on Microsoft Project, which the client was used to. It could be considered a negative because it actually added time to the process. But, in the long run, it could be considered a positive because it extended my knowledge base to include a new, well-known application.
Can you estimate how much time or money you saved or other measurable benefits your firm realized using this tool?:
The money they saved would probably be the difference in the cost of the application -- Microsoft Project vs. Primavera;. Primavera costs more than Microsoft Project. My unfamiliarity with Microsoft Project actually made my job take longer, but, because Microsoft Project uses an approach similar to its other products, such as Microsoft Office, it is more intuitive to new users than other more specific construction programs. So while Microsoft Project didn't give me many benefits, it could be a good product for people who are used to Microsoft products but new to construction project management.
What are the best features (for your business) in this tool?:
I think the fact that Microsoft Project has many of the features and the appearance of its Office products is its biggest benefit because it would take most users less time to get used to the application. If you're used to Microsoft's software it is relatively easy to move to another Microsoft products because the menus, help and so forth have a similar look and feel. In my case, it was the opposite scenario because of my history of using Primavera construction project management software.
Do you think it's a fair value for the price you paid?:
I am not sure because I do not know how much we paid. It does cost less than Primavera, the program my company uses unless a client wants us to use something else.
What would you change about the product if you could?:
This software is not as intuitive as others on the market, and the schedule calculations and results are not typical of other construction scheduling software. The basics however, are the same and it mostly comes down to personal preference.
Are there features that you don't use?:
There are many features I do not use, simply because they are not necessary for my business. Also, I don't use this software enough to become familiar with many of its features. On this particular project, I didn't use the resource loading function, the leveling function or anything associated with cost because it wasn't a requirement of the job or the contract.
Who would you recommend use this tool?:
Smaller engineering, construction, and consulting companies that are not as sophisticated or do not have professionals performing construction scheduling functions.
How much computer experience do you think someone needs to use this tool effectively?:
Minimal; however, being somewhat computer literate certainly helps.
Did it take much training (or studying) to learn to use this tool?:
My formal training was minimal, about 40 hours.
Have you ever called the company's support lines and asked for help?:
How would you rate the user documentation? :
They have good documentation. It is helpful, but it needs to be because there is no customer support to speak of.
When the next version of this software comes out, will you upgrade to it?:
That would be a client-driven decision.
Overall, on a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate this tool?: