24.7.06. OmniPlan Approaching

I’m not sure what this indicates about me, but I felt such an overwhelming air of excitement and relief that I almost - almost! - had a little tear in my eye when I saw this announcement from the OmniGroup. Omni’s new secret product that’s no longer a secret is (oh boy oh boy oh boy!): OmniPlan. Project management software.

Why am I so excited about project management software? Because there’s very little project management software for the Mac. I know this, because I recently looked for some. We were using an OmniOutliner document to try to capture all of the known things that we needed to do to get this big enormous project out the door, and to come up with some estimations on the time involved. OmniOutliner was OK for this, to some extent: it can have multiple columns, and the columns can be different types including durations. The duration column can be configured to calculate things in working days or 24 hour days, so you can say “that’s going to take 10 hours” and the document can turn that into “1 day 2 hours”. You can also have summaries, where a parent outline element can add (or average or mean) the values of the child nodes. However, with the way that we were entering data, we couldn’t take advantage of this.

As we were fleshing out the development plan, we were unable to easily spell dependencies. We got around this by adding another column, but it was just plain text. One couldn’t look at the list of things to be done and easily decide to do “that big scary thing that needs to be done so we can do these four other things.”

Turning that into a calendar so we could plan time and other commitments appropriately didn’t work out either. We did it manually, on paper, and then turned some of the big milestones into milestone entries in Basecamp. And while Basecamp excels at communication (insofar as everyone involved actually uses it), this level of task / timeline / dependency management is outside of its scope. And I’m glad for it. We seldom need this kind of MS Project style project management… Until this project came along.

So I downloaded a couple of demo versions of different Mac OS X project managers to see how easily I could turn our Plan into something that could better display time estimates, dependencies, and so on.

How easy was it? Not very. I didn’t want deep project management features. I wanted to be able to enter tasks as quickly and easily as I had with OmniOutliner and have the Plan start coming together on its own. But in everything that I tried, there were too many steps, too many dialog boxes, and so on. I don’t mind dealing with inspectors and details later, but I hate when they get in the way of doing simple data entry. And I also hate the tools whose simple data entry is too simple, so that if you enter a lot of items rapidly you then have to spend a lot of time in dialog boxes, tabs, etc, turning it into something real.

I don’t know what OmniPlan is going to look like, or cost, or anything. But Omni’s record of building good solid NeXTStep and Mac OS X applications that are fast, fun, intuitive, and flexible is nearly unbroken. I wish this application had been available a month or two ago, but better now than never. I expect we’ll see a tool that humble programmers such as myself can use without a degree in business or project management.