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Project Management: Access vs. Excel vs. Project

So which is better for tracking a large scale project with over a 100 tasks?  Access, Excel or Project?
Which is better at extrapolating data that is meaningful out of?  Which one is more stable?

Just wanted to get some experts views on a discussion we are having at work.

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Expert Comment

Netminder2015-07-10 09:15 AMID: 1742596
Just a humble opinion...

But the scenario you describe sounds like a lot of development work for not a lot of benefit when there's a product (Project) that does what you want it to do... and Excel can be manipulated (hiding columns, sums of ranges, macros to do this and that) so the information is readily available.

I've looked for excuses to use Access where Excel would probably be more appropriate because I'm more familiar with how to do things in Access than I am in Excel -- but that doesn't make it the best thing to do.

Rank: Prodigy

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Dale Fye2015-07-11 07:08 AMID: 1742732
I'm an Access MVP, so I am predisposed to Access, and I hate it when people attempt to use Excel as a database.  So, in this case, I agree whole-heartedly with Jim.  Why use Access when there is a tool designed primarily for what you want to do, Project.

I've used Project in the past, and while there is a steep learning curve, it has all the tools you might need, and with Internet videos to guide you, you should have no problem with Project.
Rank: Wizard

Expert Comment

David L. Hansen2015-07-27 03:01 PMID: 1745314
I'd become more familiar with the tools that already exist to help you with project management. There are literally dozens of very good pieces of software out there (web-based or otherwise) where development teams have spent years producing some very effective tools.  Get to know those first, the high-end, the low-end, and at least a few in between. Once you know their strengths and weaknesses, you'll be able to find one that fits your needs. If the project is large and complex, you'll save a lot of time and money by doing so.

Here are some to start with:

Project (my least favorite)
Podio (with Evernote)
Liquid Planner
Pivotal Tracker

PS. Beware the Gantt chart (at least for large projects)! True, It is a useful tool, but only as a consolidation view AFTER you've planned WHAT needs to be done and architected WHO will do what. USE the estimates your people give you then do not tell the pregnant woman that 9 months is too long to wait before getting the baby (hint: more women on the project won't help speed up the delivery time).  ;-)  Then, and only then, build your Gantt chart. If the deadlines won't be met - drop some of the deliverables or adjust the resources (remember you are not able to slow time down - do not try).  It is painful to ask for more budget, more people, more tools, or permission to drop features, etc. However, it is FAR less painful to do so early on than to press forward, ignoring facts, and face the inevitable crashing and burning later.

Author Comment

John Sheehy2015-07-28 07:03 AMID: 1745488
I guess I could of explained the scenario I am facing right now.  My manager, who uses Excel for everything, has this HUGE spreadsheet with at least 12 tabs full of data.  Each tab represents a task with-in the whole project.  He has everybody listed on the left and the tasks at the top.  He then assigns a head time to each task.  Like I am working on three task but my time is split as 4.5 hours for one task, 2.2 for another and 2.3 for the third.  That's everyday.  He then converts those hours into money.  So on the far right column is how much it cost per day for me to work on those three tasks.  He uses your salary broken down into daily amounts and divides the hours into it.  Obviously there are changes as not everyone gets paid the same.  He then tallies the amount up at the bottom for a daily expense report.  So you could have Project A with Task A costing 15K a day while Task B only cost $400 a day.

He asked me if there was a way to make that into a database so his boss can pull up just one task and see the cost of that one task.
 I originally said why not just have an extra TAB with those costs on it .  Turns out his boss runs multiple projects and wants the ability to pull up a project, select a task and see the budget for it.  Or he wants to be able to pull up a manger and see all the tasks assigned to that managers group.  Or pull up an employee and see all the tasks assigned to that employee as well as the cost expended on that person.

So I am not sure Project can do that.  

I played around with it a lot and I am able to get Access to do what he wants.  It's a whole lot of relationships.  I had to draw it out (Pencil and Paper) to figure out all the relationships and primary indexes.  But it seems to be coming along.

I did ask why we don't use project......We have it on the shelf right there.......And was told no one likes it.

So I will look into the products David mention and see how that pans out.

I have worked on small projects and have found that adding fluff time to a projects schedule seems to help with the time and money constraints.  Some tasks are dependent on others being complete and those tasks are dependent on resources being available on time.  And slight delay can set a project off by hours to days to months.  So using lessons learned you can kind of get an idea of where you will need to add that fluff or wiggle room.  If everything goes without a hitch, you could finish ahead of schedule and under budget.

Rank: Wizard

Expert Comment

David L. Hansen2015-07-28 09:18 AMID: 1745517

Yes, you are correct. With experience you get a pretty good feel for where the fluff needs to go and whether you are on target or not. However, It is far better to know if you are on target. You can if your planning is based on a formal estimation, planning, and tracking methodology. I think iDesign (google "Juval Lowy") has a great approach for project architecture and management. It's a good methodology to learn and imitate. They architect their projects to match closely with the actual product's architecture, get estimate comparisons out of a huge database of previous projects (in the same industry) and track it along the way.

Another place I go for Project Management inspiration is Note: "poker planning" can also help with getting good estimates. For larger projects the Critical Path (or Pert) chart is a great measuring tool (for me it's a must have).

From what you've said I think I'd try and influence the data that's being captured if you can. A risk analysis early on is just gold for larger projects and they don't have to take days to put together. If you only have time for an imperfect pre-planning analysis, you'll still be better off than having none and you'll at least know where the shadows are. Leaders will often track expenditures obsessively during a project where little project planning (not development planning) has been done. They have no idea if they're estimates are good, so they default into shaming those who take longer on tasks than they THINK is necessary and try and kill whole projects just to stop the bleeding. Far better to spend all that energy in doing good planning first.

I know I'm not really answering your questions here but I hate to answer questions in a way that boils down to "this is how you can hang yourself." Your boss is asking for better tools to help him shame people and kill projects. Not that the tracking of expenditures is bad...but when that's the main thrust for the project manager, it's a tale-tale sign of bad/no planning. Sorry if that sounds harsh. I've just seen too many train-wrecks (and been part of a couple myself).

Give him more than he asks for, give him the tools to do it right.
Rank: Prodigy

Expert Comment

Jim Dettman (EE MVE)2015-07-29 04:26 AMID: 1745654
With the explanation, it's a job suited to Access, but I think you could do it in any one of the three.  Excel would be on the bottom, with some type of project software in the middle, but I'm not very up on all the project software out there.   Most however are quite capable of tracking costs associated with tasks.

This is simply a T&M (Time and Materials app) without the materials.  If you decide to use Access, you might even be able to find one of the template DB's that would fit your needs, or at least give you a very good start.