FastTrack Schedule 9.1

Many people approach the task of project management with a clunky combination of Microsoft Excel and a calendar, either iCal or something more accurate like Daylite 3.

Using these tools can often feel like an exercise in futility because they are, in fact, inadequate tools for the job. Excel and a calendar don’t provide a way for you to track the use – or overuse – of your resources. FastTrack Schedule 9.1, from AEC Software, is a project-management tool that can handle your most challenging project or schedule. But such power doesn’t come cheap – or without a little self-training.

FastTrack Schedule is for people who are serious about planning and executing projects. It provides newcomers with excellent starting points, such as templates and examples, but to harness all the power of this application you’ll want to spend a few hours following the many tutorials and reading the extensive printed manual. The program’s complexity is a testament to its profound features and flexibility, but it’s not easy to learn.

To get started, add a project’s tasks and their durations – weeks, months, or years. Then define the start and end dates for the project and decide on the resources you’ll need (people or items) for each task. After that you can fiddle with the generated charts and lists to your heart’s content. However, save often. In some situations, often when you need it most, FastTrack doesn’t offer an undo function.

Control freaks
The program is designed to be easy to use, with drag-and-drop features and attractive icons and buttons but some of these features simply don’t work that well. For example, the Draw Link tool – which links two bars – is a great idea, but linking the bars can sometimes feel as difficult as trying to hit the bullseye of a tiny dartboard.

You can export schedules to iCal, publish calendars directly to .mac, and send a schedule file as an attachment, or as a PNG picture file via email. Most of this worked well except when we tried to remove an iCal schedule from .mac. The dialog box that popped up was empty, leaving us with no way to proceed. AEC’s tech support suggested a useful workaround, and the company says they are working on fixing this problem. FastTrack Schedule’s new ability to consolidate schedules is invaluable. If you’re a manager, you can ask your staff to submit their schedules and then view all the schedules in one document. This enables you to identify over or underused resources and keep tabs on your team’s work.

It’s now much easier to print a schedule than it was in the previous version. FastTrack Schedule opens MPP (Microsoft Project) files directly, instead of simply providing a converter application. And while you can’t export a FastTrack Schedule file as an MPP, you can export to Microsoft Project XML format, and then import it into Project.

FastTrack Schedule’s interface can be a little awkward and clunky. For example, you may want to reorder values in the Value List box, which lets you create groups of your resources. To accomplish this, you have to Tab-click and then drag and drop the resource names. It’s not reasonable to expect users to remember how to make these kinds of changes, and the program is full of odd key combinations that accomplish relatively simple tasks.

OUR VERDICT

For experienced project managers who are escaping from Microsoft Project, FastTrack Schedule 9.1 is the program to trust. It has some interface oddities and relies on unintuitive key combinations to perform some tasks, but it’s hard to fault a professional-level program that does just about everything related to project management. If you’re a beginner looking to get out of Excel and into something designed specifically for project management, you may want to check out demo versions of other project-management tools before you shell out the £316.

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