Managing Projects with Merlin2 for MacOS

Background

We start with two sad realities:

  1. I am the only person I know that has been to training for Microsoft Project.
  2. MS Project creates a project schedule, not a plan. A sequenced WBS that can be viewed as a network diagram or a GANTT Chart is not a project plan.

Seven years after completing my training, and four years into my PMP, I have yet to encounter another project schedule that calculates dates correctly, levels resources, or shows what is on the critical path. Who actually uses that baseline thingy anyway?

Senior management in every organization I’ve worked demands a project plan schedule, but does not know how to read it. The lack of visibility leads to a desire for control, at which point MS Project Server or Sharepoint enter the discussion. With the caveat that I have not implemented the most recent versions of Project and SharePoint, every prior attempt was an expensive failure to meet user requirements.

Since 2005, my daily-driver has been a Macbook Pro, but I have maintained a Windows VM to run MS Project. The two development teams I manage went Mac 1+ years ago, and we have discussed using a Mac Project Management tool since then. This past October, I switched cold turkey to Merlin2 and challenged myself to run an entire project with correctly built schedules that can calculate dates and dependencies. What follows is not a feature-by-feature comparison, but my experience developing and managing schedules using Merlin2.

UI-Activities

Activities View

UI-NetPlan

Network Plan

Resources View

Resources View

UI-Utilization

Resource Utilization View

 

Look and Feel

Merlin2 looks like a typical Cocoa application, and is able to import non-XML MS Project files. For my current project, one schedule was imported from Project 2003, the other built from scratch. Both share a resource sheet, and one imports the other for viewing and task dependencies. While the subject matter is familiar to me, it was less than hour before I realized how much easier it was to get around. Simple layout changes like the Activities/Net Plan/Resources/Utilization tabs at the top made navigation quicker. Within days, I had abandoned MS Project and have not looked back.

Cost

In a word: cheap.

I have purchased MS Project and SharePoint licenses enough ways to know that now two transactions are the same, so I will leave the price comparison to the reader. Merlin2 has very straightforward pricing on their website that breaks down like this:

Project Author 1 $210.00
Web Sharing 10 $140.00
iPhone Sharing 1 $65.00
Server + 10 Web/iPhone Sharing 10 $995.00

Deployment

Authors of project schedules each need their own project author license, which is no different that Microsoft. A single web sharing license allows 10 simultaneous users to connect to a project you are sharing over the web (using your project author license on your project author machine) and view/edit your schedule. The iPhone Sharing license on same machine allows 1 user to connect using the free iPhone application and view/edit your schedule.

A distinction I see in Merlin2 that I do not see in MS Project is the deployment model. Small workgroups can deploy with little overhead (far less than a separate SharePoint deployment), and an Enterprise can leverage a slightly beefed-up version of the Workgroup deployment to scale up.

Workgroup

My test deployment includes (2) Project Author licenses, Web Sharing (10 users), and iPhone Sharing (1 user). An instance of Merlin2 runs on my Mac Mini server, sharing two project schedules (one has a dependency to the other). Configuration Management of the schedules is controlled through subversion (the same repository our code lives in). When I make changes to the schedule on my local machine, I check them in to subversion, the remote checkout on the server is updated, and the schedule reloaded. Likewise, if a change is made Web Sharing, the schedule is saved and checked in to subversion.

Enterprise

Deployments with 10+ users should consider the fourth pricing option above. The Server license for Merlin2 still requires a Project Author license to share, and includes 10 Web and iPhone Sharing license (save $5). The benefit is that the Server license publishes projects as a preference pane to Merlin on Mac OS X.

Collaboration

Web Sharing

Merlin Web View

Merlin Web View

The challenge in writing this blog post is how similar the Web Sharing looks to the Merlin2 thick client. The Web Client has all the key features of the thick client (Activities/Net Plan/Resources/Utilization) without any bloat. The response time across the Internet adds less than 1 second per click. iPhone-GANTTiPhone-Medly

iPhone Application

The makers of Merlin2 have also built an iPhone Application to interact with your project schedule. I am not as likely to make changes to my schedules through the iPhone App (though it is pretty quick and not too cumbersome). The real benefit is that it’s a real-time executive dashboard that senior management can read and understand.

Merlin2 iPhone Screen Shots

Merlin2 iPhone Screen Shots

When viewing a Task List, turn the iPhone to view the GANTT Chart:

iPhone Task List and GAANT Chart views

iPhone Task List and GAANT Chart views

+1 Accelerometer

Summary

Merlin2 is a straightforward and cost-effective way to manage complex programs with federated teams whose deliverables have cross-project dependencies. With the caveats that I did not receive any compensation from the makers of Merlin2, nor have we yet completed the project that started this, I can assure you I will not be returning to Microsoft Project anytime soon.

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jeisenschmidt