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Project Management on the HP Palmtop

Project Management on the HP Palmtop

Take a look at a number of programs to help you manage projects they all work on the HP Palmtop!

By Ed Keefe

Project management began with the creation described in the Old Testament. The timeline was seven days. The first day's activity was the creation of night and day, the second day's activity was the creation of heaven, and so on. The project was finished on time the individual managing the project had exceptional capabilities!

Mankind attempts projects on a much smaller scale, but the basic principles of project management still apply. Something's got to get done by a certain date, and someone's got to do it. We've developed sophisticated methods to help us plan and manage projects. We've even developed computer programs to help.

An article on project management techniques is beyond the scope of The HP Palmtop Paper. The subject deserves (and probably has) its own newsletter. If you're interested in the discipline of project management you can take a look at PROJ.ZIP on this issue's HP Palmtop Paper ON DISK and on Thaddeus Computing's Web site: www.thaddeus.com. It contains an HTML document that more completely discusses project management techniques. You might also look at How To Plan Any Project: A Guide For Teams (And Individuals), 2nd Edition, written by Thomas C. Belanger. This is a stand alone planning tool for projects, a companion to any project management software package. The Guide uses sample projects from sales, marketing, engineering and manufacturing, as well as a plan for a departmental summer outing to demonstrate a proven, step-by-step process for planning projects of all sizes. (Contact the Stearling Planning Group at 508-422-6611, or planner@tiac.com.

This article looks at some of the project management software that runs on the HP Palmtop. I've also included a brief glossary of project management terms (see sidebar, page 22).

Project Management Software for the HP Palmtop

There are quite a few project management related software programs available. This article focuses on those that I've tested on the HP Palmtop. A more complete list of PM software programs, including versions that run from Windows, is found in PROJ.ZIP described above.

The Mainline Program

If you're looking for an inexpensive text-based program that will run on both the HP Palmtop and a desktop computer and you want a PM tool that is simple to learn and use, then Mainline may be what you're looking for.

Mainline uses a Gantt chart paradigm. The time scales across the top of the worksheet can be toggled between a weekly and daily format. You can scroll the screen down for more activities. There's also a way to change the text and background colors.

Mainline figures out the critical path from the start and finish times and lets you move from one activity to another along the critical path by pressing the + or - keys. Mainline can create a few reports that are saved to disk as ASCII text files. There's not much else that Mainline can do. It works fairly well on a high-speed desktop but, on the HP Palmtop, the performance is sluggish.

 Sample screen from the Mainline program.

 Note: the shareware version of Mainline supports only 20 tasks per project. The registered version will let you have up to 150. Also, in the shareware version, the search menu option is disabled. If you need more than the maximum of 20 tasks per project, you may want to pay a few more dollars and get ProTracs Professional (described below).

Mainline is shareware, $29.95, and is available from Minuteman Systems, P.O. Box 152, Belmont, MA. 02178, Service Telephone (617)489-5639

ProTracs Professional

ProTracs is a mid-level project management program. It will not accommodate planning and tracking complex business projects. But if your needs are not super sophisticated, it should let you plan and track as many projects as you and your department can handle. It's relatively fast and easy to use.

ProTracs documentation comes in a pamphlet-style booklet of 30 pages. A separate sheet of paper gives instructions on how to install and run the program on the Palmtop. The instructions are not too clear on what it takes to run the program, however. They list 3 different ways to run the program. 1) from Filer however, to get this to work you'll need to close all other applications, otherwise you'll get an error message which will not indicate what went wrong. 2) from Application Manager however you'll have to append "|512" on the end of the Path field in the setup screen in App Manager. Even then, ProTracs will only run if you eliminate all your TSRs and other driver programs. The program apparently needs all the memory it can get. 3) from the DOS prompt. This is the preferred way to run the program. Exit System Manager by pressing (&...) Menu A T Enter. Switch to the directory that holds the ProTracs files, type protracs on the command line and press (ENTER).

When you start ProTracs an opening screen appears briefly while the program loads. Then you are presented with either an empty data entry screen or one that shows the data from your previous use of the program.

The screen below shows the first fifteen tasks in a Web page creation project with which I was involved. Press the down arrow key to scroll through the rest of the tasks. In this case, the Activity Descriptions came from a Project KickStart data file. All the dates and Responsibility Codes (RSP) have to be entered manually. This is the tedious part of using the program. However, ProTracs expedites this chore by letting you enter "8/1" as a date and then expanding it automatically. Neat!

 ProTracs Data Entry Screen.

 The lower left portion of the screen presents a legend of function key use. The F10 key will get you a screen of help. The F5 function key will open a menu that will let you use a built in calculator (oddly there are no date functions built in), scroll through the calendar, or toggle the color on and off.

There are seven different reports that ProTracs can generate. The reports are all patterned on the data entry screen. You can route the reports to either the screen, a printer or to a disk file. Since the reports are saved as ASCII text files, the best way to print them is to send them to a disk file, transfer the files to a desktop PC, import them into a word processor for reformatting and then print them.

Like most project management programs, ProTracs can produce Gantt charts (see glossary, page 22). Shown on the top of the next page is one of the four possible Gantt charts (with date from the Web page creation project). This chart is based on the Current Schedule. (See screen below.)

 ProTracs Gantt chart screen showing the Web page creation project's Current Schedule.

 The bottom of the screen indicates what the function keys will do. For example, the F2 key will temporarily widen the first column so you can see more of the activity description. The F3 key, called ZOOM, actually toggles between a monthly and a yearly view of the chart. The highest resolution you can get in ProTracs is the monthly view. You can't have it display as a weekly or a daily view. The F5 key creates a cross hair on the screen. You can move the cross hair to the start or end of an activity and press Ctrl + F1 or Ctrl + F2 to adjust the start and end times of the activity. However, this is tricky to do on a Palmtop, and will take some practice.


ProTracs is best thought of as a tracking tool. It will let you track the progress of activities and people. You could also use it as a deadline management tool, since it will let you see what has been done and what is still left to be done.

ProTracs omits such features as PERT charts and milestone charts. It does not deal directly with multiple resources such as money and equipment. For these features you'll need to look to high-end PM tools.

ProTracs: Professional costs $49.94 and is produced by:

 Experience In Software, Inc., 2000 Hearst Avenue, Suite 202, Berkeley, CA, 94709-2176, USA.; Phone: 800-678-7008 or 510-644-0694; Fax: 510-644-3823.

Project KickStart

Project KickStart claims that it can have you developing your project in 30 minutes or less. Unlike the other PM programs mentioned in these documents, KickStart is really a project organizer. Its sole purpose is to help you get your ideas down. There are no fancy frills to this program: it simply works.

The KickStart program contains a small on-screen tutorial which is available the first time you run the program. The main menu presents several choices. The first few of these choices do the same thing: let you organize your ideas about a project. After you've named your project, you can choose to break the project into phases. Within the phases you can key in the sub-tasks, as is shown below.

 Project KickStart lets you organize your tasks around the goals of the project.

 If you've done projects similar to the one you're just starting you can use previous KickStart files as the basis for this one. If you're a goal-oriented person, you can organize your tasks around the goals for the project.

On the other hand, if you're a firm believer in Murphy's Law, you can even use KickStart to try and beat Murphy at his own game by organizing your project with the "Develop tasks by anticipating obstacles" choice from the Main Menu.

Printing Reports /Transferring Files Kick

 Start lets you print reports of your work either to the screen, to a disk file or to a printer. I didn't test the printing capability of the program on my Palmtop. I was able to save the reports to several disk files and transfer those files to my desktop. Since the reports are straight ASCII text files, they can be imported into all word processors for further formatting and printing.

One of the more interesting features of Project KickStart is its ability to translate its files into the formats used by other project management programs, including: InstaPlan, MS Project for Windows, Project Scheduler, On Target, Primavera, ProTracs Professional, SuperProject, Time Line, and Lotus Agenda.

Project KickStart costs $49.94 and is available from:

 Experience In Software, Inc., 2000 Hearst Avenue, Suite 202, Berkeley, CA, 94709-2176, USA; Phone: 800-678-7008 or 510-644-0694; Fax: 510-644-3823.

Project: VISION

Project: VISION also works on both a desktop computer and the HP Palmtop. Its unique feature is the way it views the relationships of the various activities that make up a project. It alone of all the PM software tools lets you zoom the display to go from an almost indecipherable overview of the project to a full-screen view of single activities.

 Project: VISION First-level zoom.

 Project: VISION Third-level zoom.

 You can view the screen as if it were a spreadsheet made up of rows and columns. Each cell actually contains a record of an activity, which includes text information along with date fields, cost fields and links to other fields, shown by the connecting lines. You can scroll the display to the left and right and up and down to bring different parts of the project into view. You can move, copy, or delete single cells or whole blocks of cells in Project: VISION. You can even attach a memo to each cell.

The spreadsheet turns out to be a PERT chart with the critical path shown as darkened cells or cells with their ID labels darkened, depending on the zoom level.

 Project: VISION The Critical Path of a house building project.

Project: VISION Help and Tutorial Project:

 VISION comes with a file project file called HELP.NET which you can load. It contains all the functions of the program. Each of the cells has a memo field that contains a description of the function and what it does.

Project: VISION Charts and Reports Project:

 VISION goes beyond such programs as ProTracs Pro and Mainline to create both Gantt charts and resource usage histograms. The View | Barchart menu option will show you a Gantt chart in the upper part of the screen and a resource histogram in the lower part. The charts can be zoomed in and out to show a year-at-a-glance, a monthly view and a daily view of the project. Times may be adjusted from within the graph using sliders and a combination of the S(tart), F(inish), and T(ime) keys.

Small Nuisances

 One disconcerting thing about Project: VISION on the HP Palmtop is the choice of a menu key. Rather than use the MENU key on the Palmtop's keyboard, PVN uses the [/] key on the numeric keypad to activate the pull-down menu. I suppose this key is familiar to early spreadsheet users. However, for a lot of Palmtop users, whose first encounter with a spreadsheet was on the Palmtop, the use of the / key would be hard to get used to. It was for me.

A bigger nuisance -- one that forces you to reset the Palmtop -- happens if you use the Print menu option and try to print from the Palmtop. The README file that comes with the registered version of the program warns against doing this, obliquely, by saying that you'll need a serial to parallel converter attached to the Palmtop to send a worksheet or bar chart to the printer. If you make a mistake and press the wrong keys, the program will hang the Palmtop indefinitely. The only recourse is to do a "hard reset" (press (CTRL)- (SHIFT)- (ON) and answer No when asked if you want to reformat the C: drive). Be sure to run the DOS command CHKDSK /F on both the A and C drives after a hard reset. I found that files had been corrupted on both disks after the hard reset.

 Gantt Chart: Yearly View of a house construction project.

 Gantt Chart: Monthly View of a house construction project.

 Gantt Chart: Day-To-Day View of a house construction project.

 Project: VISION comes closest to rivaling the detailed reports and charts of the full desktop program Primavera. It has the ability to produce multiple reports and both Gantt and resource usage charts. The charts and the "network" can be exported to DXF file that can be used in some Computer Assisted Drafting programs and, supposedly, in one or more word processors.

Project: VISION is available in Europe from

 Mr. Gunter Fucke with WW Leipzig at FAX:+49 341 2219233.

The last quoted price I saw from WW Leipzig was $179DM including VAT. You may also contact

 Inmax Publ. Ltd, 2673 Terrace Avenue, North Vancouver, British Columbia V7R 1B5, CANADA.

A Stand-Alone Project Manager?

It's possible to use the HP Palmtop as a stand alone Project Management tool. There are sufficient programs available to suit almost every level of project manager from the novice to the professional. However, the field of project management has advanced considerably in the past ten years. The DOS-based tools that run on the Palmtop reflect the state of PM from 5 to 10 years ago. To practice project management today you may need more than these DOS-based programs. You really need to move up to a computer that supports presentation quality graphics, seamless communications, and ease of use. A real Palmtop wizard might be able to add other applications to the Palmtop that would let you approach the capabilities of a desktop/laptop tool like Primavera. Most people are not that patient. Perhaps the next generation of palmtops will provide more of what it takes to do the job.

Project Management Glossary

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