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-- by Joel T. Patz
For managing a project, SureTrak 2.0 is hard to beat. The latest version, which we reviewed in beta, incorporates a variety of new features, including Project KickStart (a wizard-like feature to get you started), communications tools with e-mail capability, a simplified activity form, a revised Page Setup, and consistent shortcuts and menus. SureTrak 2.0 is packed with high-level features, yet it's easy enough for a novice or occasional manager to use productively.
Project KickStart is a great help when you're building a project plan for both simple and complex tasks. There are no Gantt or PERT charts to distract you, though they are available. Instead, Project KickStart enables you to think about all aspects of a project-it even asks you to consider obstacles to success, and then prompts you to create tasks and assign resources to overcome them and ensure timely project completion. Using a series of questions and pick lists, you can quickly assemble phases, tasks and people into a coherent project. You can also include tasks from a similar project or create your own.
Many people will find that Project KickStart meets all their needs for creating a project-management plan, but the more experienced user may opt for the project templates that provide default codes for specialized fields. SureTrak 2.0 includes 15 project templates, including construction, engineering, manufacturing, pharmaceutical, publishing and software development. You can also save any template you modify or create as a project file to reuse as a template in the future.
After entering tasks (either using Project KickStart or manually from the Gantt or PERT chart views), you'll find SureTrak is phenomenally flexible. You can adjust the timescale, view only the tasks for a specified time period (Week 10, for example), and adjust the status of individual or multiple tasks. You can even change the columns in your Gantt view, add constraints and apply filters (several predefined filters, such as Overbudget Activities, are particularly useful)
A much-needed revision to Page Setup lets you stretch or shrink a chart to fit a desired number of pages (both wide and tall). Version 2.0 also adds consistent shortcuts and menus and a customizable toolbar, though we found the defaults suited our needs just fine. A simplified activity form lets you revise task duration, change start and finish dates, or reassign task responsibilities, all using drag-and-drop.
SureTrak's interface is anything but dull. After you've categorized tasks, assigned responsibilities and resources, and established relationships, you can use color to indicate hierarchies, a most effective organizational tool. A new PERT view feature lets you select a task, then quickly display the predecessor(s) and successor(s) in a mini-PERT chart. Drag-and-drop and right-mouse menus are available everywhere. (SureTrak's reports look like Gantt and PERT charts, not the more familiar columnar layout, which may take a while to get used to.)
Other options allow you to suspend work on a task and specify when activity will resume. When you double-click on any group item, the Gantt chart compresses to a summary view. If no work on a task is taking place, the horizontal line becomes thinner to indicate the task has been started but no activity is currently scheduled.
Once work is under way, you can use the program's new e-mail capability to send entire projects or selected activities to team members, who can comment or log status updates with an e-mail reply. This, as you'd expect, updates your project plan. "Worker bees" can view their assignments or do a status update (indicating which projects have started, which are finished and the estimated remaining duration by task) using their own copy of SureTrak or an applet included in version 2.0 called Primavera Post Office. You can also e-mail screen captures to executives interested in the big picture.
E-mail isn't the only communications tool new to this version. SureTrak's Web Publishing Wizard offers project managers a mechanism for delivering assignments, as well as deadline and project status information, in the form of HTML pages or Adobe Acrobat PDF reports. Included are hyperlinks to allow drilling down for more information. You select the categories, projects and reports you want published and let SureTrak handle the details. The report output, such as the predecessors/successors report in tabular format, is highly readable.
Try as we might, it was tough to find a typical project condition that SureTrak couldn't handle well. It performs resource balancing so you can assign a worker to more than one project and balance the workload accordingly-something most project-management software handles poorly, if at all. SureTrak can display histograms (graphical depictions) clearly highlighting overused resources. You can track resources by hours or hourly cost, and you can apply a standard or custom calendar to each resource's available time. Experienced users can also create customized reports and layouts (you can modify just about everything, from the Early Finish symbol to fonts)
Project KickStart provides excellent ongoing assistance, but beginners might also enjoy SureTrak's tutorial. This well-designed program explains all the basics: setting up a project, changing the display, assigning resources and printing reports. If you're new to project-management software and would like to see what SureTrak's all about, you can download a demo of version 1.5 at http://www.primavera.com/products/stwin.html.
Project-planning software often seems to be more hindrance than help in managing a project. SureTrak's closest rival, Microsoft Project, offers less flexibility, is more tedious to use and doesn't offer Project KickStart-like setup assistance. With its power, adaptability and excellent project-building features, version 2.0 of SureTrak Project Manager will help keep your project on track without being a burden-which is why it replaces SureTrak 1.5 on our WinList.