Issue #9 July 2005

Managing your projects with Planner

Project planning

Project management software is a useful tool in planning and scheduling a project. Planner is an application that attempts to make project planning easier by presenting your information in easy-to-read charts and tables.

The screenshots and examples in this article are taken with version 0.13 of Planner which is the version that is shipped with Fedora™ Core 4 and Red Hat® Enterprise Linux® 4. If you do not have Planner on your system, you can install it on Fedora Core 4 or Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4 with the following command:

up2date planner

Alternately, you can download the source from the GNOME FTP site.

Creating a project

Start Planner from the panel by selecting Applications -> Office -> Project Management. The Planner window appears as shown in Figure 1, Starting Planner.

Starting Planner
Figure 1. Starting Planner

Planner offers four views for a project. These four views are shown in the shortcut bar on the left of Figure 1. Starting Planner:

  • Gantt Chart — The default view, graphically shows the project information
  • Tasks — Lists the project tasks in table format
  • Resources — Lists available resources in table format
  • Resource Usage — Graphically shows when resources are free, used, and overbooked

As we have not entered any data yet, the views all appear blank.

The first step is to name the project. From the Planner menu, select Project -> Edit project properties. The window shown in Figure 2. Setting project properties appears.

Setting project properties
Figure 2. Setting project properties

Enter the name of your project in the Name entry. The Start entry has today's date entered by default. However, if your project has a definite start date, you can enter that date instead.

Important:
Not surprisingly, no tasks can occur before this starting date.

Enter the manager of the project and his/her organization in the appropriate fields.

Note:
This top-level manager is the only position in Planner where the person does not have to be listed as a resource.

The Calendar setting assigns the chosen calendar for all the resources associated with this project. The available hours in the default calendar are Monday through Friday from 8:00-12:00 and from 13:00-17:00 and no available hours on Saturday and Sunday. If you want to change the default calendar, you must create one. Refer to the section called Working hours for more details.

Creating custom properties
Figure 3. Creating custom properties

If you want to record project properties that are not listed on the General tab, click the Custom tab in the window. Select Add to display a window that prompts you for the Name, Label, Description, and Type. Valid types are Integer number, Floating-point number, and Text. Once you have named and described the property, select OK. The value can be edited by clicking in the Value field next to the property as shown in Figure 3. Creating custom properties.

Tip:
The custom properties area is a great place to record contact info on the client.

Click Close. The project has been named and described. The next step is to list the tasks. But first, you should save. From the menu, select File -> Save.

Important:
Planner does not have a recovery feature. In the event Planner is closed without saving, all changes made since the last save is lost. Remember to save often.

Creating a task

To start adding tasks for your project, select the Tasks view from the shortcut bar on the left. Although you can edit tasks from the Gantt Chart view, doing it from the Tasks view allows you to edit more task-related fields.

Click the Insert task button from the toolbar. A blank task appears in the window. Click in the Name field to enter the name of the task.

To move a task up or down the list, select the task and choose Actions -> Move Task Up (or Move Task Down) from the pull-down menu. To make a task a subtask of the one directly above it, select the task and select Actions -> Indent Task.

Note:
Planner's menus and toolbar buttons are different for every view.

Once you have created all your tasks, your task view should look something like Figure 4. Listing tasks. The tasks in bold are the top-level tasks and can be considered stages of activity. The tasks that are not in bold are the subtasks.

Listing tasks
Figure 4. Listing tasks

Work vs. duration

All the tasks in Figure 4. Listing tasks state that they take one day. Click on the Work field of the task to enter the correct amount of time the task takes. If you only enter a number, Planner assumes you mean days. To enter time in hours, enter an h after the number.

Note:
If a task has subtasks, the work time for that task is automatically calculated and cannot be manually entered.

Task settings can also be entered with the Edit Task window as shown in Figure 5. Editing task properties. Select the task you want to edit and select Actions -> Edit Task.

Editing task properties
Figure 5. Editing task properties

Every time you enter an amount of time for Work, Duration is recalculated. The Duration is the amount of work time divided by the amount of resources assigned to it. At the moment, the two numbers are equal as Planner assumes there is one person dedicated to the task when none are assigned.

If a task takes a set amount of time to complete regardless of the number of resources available, select the Fixed duration option.

Milestones

Milestones can be set by selecting the Milestone checkbox under the Name field. Milestones do not have any duration and should be reserved for checkpoints in your project. In the example in Figure 4. Listing tasks, I would change tasks 1.3 (Project approval) and 3.6 (Building complete) into Milestones.

Tracking progress

As work progresses on your tasks, you can increase the percentage in the Complete field as shown in Figure 5. Editing task properties. Progress bars are shown in the Gantt Chart using these numbers.

Keeping note

Selecting the Notes tab gives you a text window for you to keep any notes on the task. Clicking the Time Stamp button enters the current time into the text field in case you want to date your notes.

Viewing the Gantt chart

Now that your task list is complete, select the Gantt Chart view from the shortcut bar. The Gantt Chart appears as shown in Figure 6. The Gantt Chart

The Gantt Chart
Figure 6. The Gantt Chart

The Gantt Chart is a project timeline. The dates can be read at the top of the chart. The tasks are named on the left with the corresponding bar to the right. Tasks with subtasks appear as a bracket, tasks without subtasks are shown as a colored bar, and milestones are represented by a diamond.

Note:
The colored bar in Figure 6. The Gantt Chart for task 1.2 is partly shaded. This is because the completion percentage of that task is set to 30. A fully completed task would be entirely shaded. See the section called “Tracking progress” for more details.
Tip:
Even though the menus are different in the Gantt Chart view from the task view, you can still edit tasks here. Select Actions -> Edit Task Properties... to open the Edit Task Properties window.

Setting dependencies

Because we have not established any dependencies, the Planner sets all steps to start as soon as possible. For most projects, this is not possible. To create a dependency, move your pointer to the middle of the first task in the Gantt Chart view and click. Drag the arrow that appears to the dependent task.

Warning:
If your pointer icon is a two-sided arrow, clicking and dragging changes the duration of the project. Make sure you have a regular pointer icon before clicking. If you are having trouble because the bar is too small, zoom in by selecting View -> Zoom In.

Planner assumes a finish to start dependency. This means the second task cannot start until the first one is finished. To change the dependency to a start to start dependency (the two tasks must start simultaneously) or to add a lag or lead time to the dependency, select the dependent task and open the task properties editing window (Actions -> Edit task properties...). Select the Predecessors tab. The dependencies you have created for this task are shown in the list. To change to a start to start dependency, click in the Type field and select SS. To create a lag time between tasks, click the Lag field and enter the amount of time needed. To create a lead time, enter a negative number in this field.

To remove a dependency, go to the Predecessors tab, select the dependency, and click Remove.

Using your resources

To create a list of resources, first select the Resources view from the shortcut bar. Here you can enter your human and nonhuman resources. A sample of a resource page is shown in Figure 7. The resource view.

The resource view
Figure 7. The resource view
Tip:
Resources do not necessarily have to be human. You can set the type to Material if you want to track tools or meeting rooms.

Creating a new resource

Clicking Add Resource in the toolbar creates a new blank resource. Click in the Name field to enter the name of the resource. All the fields in the table are editable. Some useful ones include:

  • Short Name—Initials or abbreviation to use as labels in the Gantt Chart.
  • Type—Select Work for human resources or Material for nonhuman ones.
  • Email—The person's email address

If you want to enter multiple resources, select Actions -> Insert Resources from the menu. An Insert Resource window appears as shown in Figure 8. Adding resources. When you click Insert, the entry shows up in the resource view window and the Insert Resource label clears its entries. When done, click Cancel to close the window.

Adding resources
Figure 8. Adding resources

Working hours

Every resource has a calendar associated with it. This calendar shows when the resource is available for work. The default calendar that comes with Planner has a typical work schedule: Monday through Friday, from 8am to noon, and from 1pm to 5pm. However, this calendar does not include holidays or consider different shifts (or time zones).

Adding resources
Figure 9. Adding resources

To change the available times for a resource, you must create a calendar. First select Project -> Manage calendars. The Calendar Editor appears as shown in Figure 9. Adding resources. Select New... to get the New Calendar window.

Adding resources
Figure 10. Adding resources

When creating a new calendar, you have three options. You can have the new calendar:

  • Derive from a calendar—Your new calendar is a subset of the calendar selected on the left. Any changes made to the selected calendar in the future will be reflected in this calendar.
  • Copy an existing calendar—A duplicate of the calendar selected on the left is created. However, new changes made to the selected calendar will not be reflected in this calendar.
  • Create a new calendar—A blank calendar is created.

To mark holidays on a calendar, select the date from the Calendar Editor window, select Nonworking from the Set day type to menu, and click Apply.

To change hours, select Working Time... from the Calendar Editor window. Select the type of day (the default ones are Working and Nonworking), enter the hours in military time, and click Apply. To create more types of days (such as half day), select Project -> Edit Day Type from the main Planner window and click Add in the Edit Day Types window.

Warning:
If you make a change, remember to click Apply. Otherwise the change is not recorded.

Once you have created your calendars, you need to associate your resources to them. Select the resource and select Actions -> Edit Resource Properties... from the Planner menu. In the new window, select the Calendar tab and choose the calendar you want.

Assigning resources

Now that you have resources, you can assign them to your tasks. Return to the Gantt Chart view by selecting the Gantt Chart button in the shortcut bar. Select a task on the left, select Actions -> Edit Task Properties..., and select the Resources tab. Select one or more of the resources and click Close. Note that the resource's short name is shown to the right of the task in the Gantt Chart.

Resource usage

Now that your tasks have all been assigned, how do your workers' schedules look? Select the Resource Usage from the shortcut bar. An example of the resource usage view is shown in Figure 11. Resource usage view.

Resource usage view
Figure 11. Resource usage view

Each resource has a bar that spans the entire timeline of the project. Green areas are times that the resource is free. Blue areas are times the resource is assigned a task. Red areas are times that the resource is overbooked. Underneath each resource is a list of all the tasks which has been assigned to the resource. In Figure 11, Resource usage view, Mr. Rochester has been assigned to purchase materials and clear the site at the same time.

Using the Gantt Chart

Now that all your project information has been entered, return to the Gantt Chart. This view is the most useful in seeing all the information at once. An example of a complete Gantt Chart is shown in Figure 12. A complete Gantt Chart.

A complete Gantt Chart
Figure 12. A complete Gantt Chart

What's overdue?

Planner draws a dotted vertical like to represent the current day. Any projects to the left of this line should be completed. If you have been updating the completeness percentages as the project progresses, all the bars to the left should have gray shading. Any bars that are to the left of this line and are not completely shaded are overdue. Figure 12. A complete Gantt Chart shows that the project is behind as task 2.1 is behind schedule.

Critical path

The critical path of a project is the path of tasks that must be completed in time so the project is not delayed. To see these tasks, select View -> Highlight Critical Path. The tasks in the critical path are shown in red. To turn off the critical path view, select View -> Highlight Critical Path again.

Moving tasks

If you want to reorder your tasks in the Gantt Chart, select the task you want to move and select Actions -> Move Task Up or Move Task Down.

Note:
Subtasks can not be moved above the task that owns it nor can it be moved below another Task.

Showing others

Planner currently offers a couple of ways for you to share your plans with others: printing to paper or exporting to HTML. Each method produces different results. Printing allows you to choose between three of the views (Gantt Chart, Tasks, and Resources) while exporting to HTML shows all the data on one page.

Printing

From the main menu, select File -> Print. The print window appears. Select the Select views tab and choose one or more views. The views are the same as the views in the Planner window. Select your printer and paper options. Click Print Preview to see what your printout looks like.

Tip:
If you select Print Preview and the preview window appears blank, make sure you have at least one print view selected.

Since Planner's printing options only print out three of the available views, the printouts lack some vital information. For example, the name of your project and all the project properties are missing.

Exporting to HTML

To export the file to HTML format, select File -> Export -> HTML. Planner prompts you for the name of the HTML file.

This HTML file contains the project properties at the top as well as the three views (Gantt Chart, Tasks, and Resources) all on one page. However, the export process does not seem to retain the critical path information, nor, more importantly, does it draw the dependency arrows.

OpenOffice.org Calc

Plans are underway to allow exporting the data to OpenOffice.org Calc, the OpenOffice.org spreadsheet program. This feature is slated to be released in the next version of Planner.

Further reading

About the author

Rosanna Yuen is an avid computer user who often finds herself surrounded by computer programmers. She co-wrote AisleRiot and is a dabbler in the GNOME project. In her spare time, she reads, knits, and experiments in her kitchen.