Hands On: OmniPlan 3.9 is project management for complex jobs on the Mac and iPad

Posted:
in Mac Software edited February 2018
You tend to know when you need a project management app. You'd be a little crazy to plan a small, intimate dinner party with a project management app but you'd be insane to build an office block without something like OmniPlan.




There comes a time when even the best To Do app just can't cut it for you. It could be that you just have so very, very much that you need to get accomplished. It could be that you have to get other people to do a lot of it, or you're on a job that is complex and ever-changing. In that case, you need project management software and the newly updated OmniPlan 3.9 is the currently the best one for the Mac.




Whatever you do use it for, though, there tend to be two key elements of your work that this update aims to improve. One is just that you can be juggling so much detail that keeping the big picture in view is tricky. The other is that if the work is this big and this complex it's also that expensive and you've probably got a client asking you how it's going.

OmniPlan 3.9 takes two existing features, the Project Inspector and the Dashboard, and adds to them to help with both of these elements.

The Project Inspector has always been a panel that includes the basic details of the job like its start date. Now, though, it adds a Summary section that presents a kind of core overview that you can rattle off to your client when he or she phones.

It tells you and the client the current duration of the project plus how much that's varied since the original plan. It shows you how close you are to completing in terms of the percentage of the job done.

This Project Inspector addition also displays a measure of the effort that's been put into the work: that's a record of the resources like staff time when you're managing a lot of people.




Depending on how you've set up OmniPlan and whether you've really packed it with every detail possible, this Project Inspector also shows you the cost of the project. That's the actual cost, in dollars and cents.

As the person working in OmniPlan, you'll see that Project Inspector every time you want but you can also step further back to see the even bigger picture with Dashboard.

This is an OmniPlan feature that recognizes that no matter what we tell our clients, the truth is that we're probably working on multiple projects at the same time. The Project Inspector says what's going on with the client's particular project but the Dashboard tells us everything.

Say you're a freelance project manager and you're working with three clients on entirely separate projects. Each OmniPlan project is a document on your Mac and when you create a new Dashboard window in the app, you can drag all of those documents into it.

So now you're seeing an overview of each client's project and you can see where you need to put your effort next.

Unlike the Project Inspector's straight text summary, Dashboard is a visual tool and what's new is that you can drill down a little further than you could. Rather than showing you the entirety of each project, you can now tell Dashboard to show you the detail for this month or this range of weeks.




All of this helps you when you are deep into a project and especially when, inevitably, something is going wrong.

If you're actually on staff with a company and your many projects are all to do with them then you can use these tools to juggle your resources. OmniPlan tracks physical things like the raw materials used in construction or equipment like your office photocopiers. More usefully and actually more impressively, it also tracks what people are available to you.

When you first set up the project in OmniPlan, you can tell it that you've got five engineers, two accountants and a PA. However, you can also tell it that two of those engineers are only available to you on Thursdays and Fridays. The PA starts work at 7am so that he can leave at 3pm for the school run. Or maybe the two accountants are job sharing so actually you've only got the equivalent of one.

Depending on your point of view you can also be either pragmatic or cruel: you can tell OmniPlan that this engineer is only half as good as that one. Let's say the poorer engineer is just starting out while the other one has done the same project a hundred times. Whatever the reason, you can assign a measure of effort or effectiveness to a person and OmniPlan remembers all of this.

So right now you're fifteen weeks into your project and things are going wrong. You're maybe three weeks behind schedule. Lots of things are going to be hitting you right now such as, say, half your engineering staff are due to move to another project.

Starting with the new Dashboard and then drilling down, you can get an overview that shows you where your work is being done and where your resources like staff and equipment are not being fully used.

At the heart of every project is a series of tasks and you can then drag some to the engineer who's not busy and some away from one who is. You can see that you're going to lose the photocopier next week so you drag forward everything you can that needs to destroy some trees.

Since the Dashboard shows you all of your projects at the same time, you can start moving resources between them, too.




If you have the Pro version of OmniPlan then you can also get it to make predictions about how the project is going to go. Change your tasks around, drag resources back and forth, share people between projects and then click to have OmniPlan run what's called a Monte Carlo Simulation.

It's only a projection but it's based on factors in the plan and comes back with a decent idea of whether you're going to complete the project on time. If you are, relax a bit. If you're not, try juggling the resources around until you do.

These are all features that have existed in OmniPlan for some time but are improved in this release by the refinements of the Dashboard and Project Inspector.




The weakness is in how you originally enter all of the thousands of tasks you might have to do in your project. You can type one, hit Return and type the next. However, organizing them, grouping them, seeing that this series of tasks must be done before you can even think about that next set, this is all quite tough in OmniPlan. Yet it's a doddle in OmniOutliner.

So open OmniOutliner, bash in every single thought you've got about the project and then take your time massaging it all into some kind of coherent shape. Now you can then select all of the tasks in OmniOutliner and drag them over to OmniPlan.

This is now true on the iPad too as this month's update to OmniOutliner brings iOS 11's drag and drop feature. You can drag back and forth between that and OmniPlan 3.8.2 for iOS.

You shouldn't need a separate app to do what could be done within OmniPlan itself and really you don't but the combination of the two is so powerful that you will.




If the initial entering and then organizing of your tasks is one weakness of OmniPlan, there are others. The biggest and one that will never be fixed is that OmniPlan is not Microsoft Project. That Microsoft app is the standard for professional project managers across the world and it is very, very powerful. It's also just very, very cumbersome and Microsoft won't tell you the price so you know it's very, very expensive.

Plus it's very, very absent on the Mac and iPad.

If you want to use Apple gear or perhaps you don't want to have to switch to Windows just to use one tool, then OmniPlan is your best option. It will open Microsoft Project documents and it will save your work in that format too.

Conversion like this is never ideal, though, and there will always be problems. The new OmniPlan 3.9 for Mac update includes fixes for bugs in that Microsoft Project import and export but invariably you're better off staying in one app and using its one format.

We'd just say that the one to use is OmniPlan.

OmniPlan 3.9 for Mac requires macOS 10.12 and you can get a two-week free trial either on the Mac App Store or direct from the makers. Either way, after the trial you can buy OmniPlan in one of two flavors: a Standard version for $149.99 or a Pro one which includes features like the Monte Carlo Simulation for $299.99

Given the work that OmniPlan is used for and given the type of job you probably have if you need project management, we'd recommend you go straight from trial to the Pro version.

You'll also want the iPad edition for when you're on site or at a client's office. Remember to hide the detail about which engineer is useless. Otherwise, it's the same thing of a two-week free trial via the App Store and then a choice of $74.99 for Standard and $149.99 for Pro.

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 18
    Thanks for the great review.

    I’m wondering why Merlin Project isn’t considered as the best alternative for MS Project?
  • Reply 2 of 18
    For that price, I would hope it would integrate with some sort of task management application. i.e. Trello, JIRA, basecamp, etc.
  • Reply 3 of 18
    dreyfus2dreyfus2 Posts: 1,069member
    "If the initial entering and then organizing of your tasks is one weakness of OmniPlan, there are others. The biggest and one that will never be fixed is that OmniPlan is not Microsoft Project. That Microsoft app is the standard for professional project managers across the world and it is very, very powerful. It's also just very, very cumbersome and Microsoft won't tell you the price so you know it's very, very expensive."

    Well, the price is available for all world to see: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/d/project-professional-2016/cfq7ttc0k5cm?activetab=pivot%3aoverviewtab

    MS Project is most definitely not "the standard for professional project managers across the world". People who are in international project management since 30 years, like me, would not touch it with tweezers. The only PM software I see in every single large project is Oracle's Primavera – and if you have ever used it, you will know why MS's unusable POS is not even on the map. While I agree with the praise for OmniPlan overall, I would not call it the best PM solution on the Mac at this point. They certainly got a lot better since version 1, but I would still call Merlin the clear winner.
    edited February 2018 xzucaladanian
  • Reply 4 of 18
    cloud based project management is better
  • Reply 5 of 18
    Interesting.
  • Reply 6 of 18
    dachardachar Posts: 330member
    I am looking for a simpler, cheaper Protect Management program for iOS. In the past l have created Gantt charts on Excel spreadsheets. Is there something that could be recommended that is better than spedsheets but not so sophisticated as OmniPlan?
  • Reply 7 of 18
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,934member
    dachar said:
    I am looking for a simpler, cheaper Protect Management program for iOS. In the past l have created Gantt charts on Excel spreadsheets. Is there something that could be recommended that is better than spedsheets but not so sophisticated as OmniPlan?
    Apologies in advance for expressing strong opinions on this topic. I’ve used a number of the heavyweight project management programs like MS Project, MS Project Server, and Scitor Project Scheduler (which made early versions of MS Project look like a toy). In general, if you’re only using Gantt charts in Excel for project management you probably don’t need a project management program. You’d probably be better off buying or borrowing a project management book that covers valuable project management topics like critical path method (CPM), critical chain  project management (CCPM), and program evaluation and review technique (PERT). These methods can actually be applied effectively on small projects without a dedicated application. Understanding and applying the methods is far more important than learning how to use an application that invisibility implements some of these methods. If you don’t understand the underlying methods it’s very easy to shoot yourself and your team in the foot in a very ugly way, especially when it comes to resource leveling and reaching assumptions about the individual performance of team members. If you are leaning on the software to produce some of the artifacts that the above program is claiming to serve you with, you are already in trouble. Gantt charts are okay as a pictorial snapshot for presentation/reporting purpose but they are nearly useless for actual project scheduling and project management. 
    JWSCwg45678
  • Reply 8 of 18
    ....
    The weakness is in how you originally enter all of the thousands of tasks you might have to do in your project. You can type one, hit Return and type the next. However, organizing them, grouping them, seeing that this series of tasks must be done before you can even think about that next set.
    ...

    I haven't done project management for a while (a good while).  But this was a failing that I found with every project management software I tried (Including MS Project).  Frankly, I seemed to spend more time trying to manage the project management software than I did managing the project  itself...

    So, I invariably ended up defaulting to my old standards:  
    -- Spreadsheet for detailed tasks (with subtasks indented in outline form) with the columns used for man power requirements, assignees, costs, etc...
    -- Graphic diagram showing the higher level and relationships & dependencies.
    Then, with those pinned up on my wall, I could just highlight each line or block (on the diagram) as it was completed.

    Their shortcoming was that they tried to do too much and do it for me.  But, I found that loss of control intolerable -- perhaps because I was always a more hands-on, feet on the ground project manager.  And, the result was that, the plan was mostly used as a planning tool.  And, once it was done, most of my project management was done face to face with the plan updated later to show completions and status.

    As for reporting, the high level diagram was my most effective tool.   With that, an executive could get a clear, visual of what had been accomplished and what was left to accomplish.

    KISS was law of my land.
    StrangeDays
  • Reply 9 of 18
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,985member
    Lisa Project was my first experience of using a pms and back then it was amazing, especially on that lovely white screen after years of green text on black screens.  I'm sure Bill Gates liked it too.
    edited February 2018
  • Reply 10 of 18
    Jira is an excellent project (and task) management system that’s supports ‘complex project management’. It’s way more expensive for sure, but unlike the article suggests Omniplan is really for smaller projects that don’t require larger teams to collaborate on shaping  project management itself.

    Omni has quite old fashioned tools honestly. First of all it’s just a desktop client. It’s not cloud based, or ‘self hostable’. I’m sorry, but I’m 2018 that’s unacceptable for professional use. Secondly, it has this waterfall planning methodology. Agile, SCRUM based project management is next to impossible on Omniplan. The days Gantt diagrams were at the core of any project are gone. At least for software/media development it is (which is my background).

    dewmespaceturtle
  • Reply 11 of 18
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,196administrator
    dreyfus2 said:
    "If the initial entering and then organizing of your tasks is one weakness of OmniPlan, there are others. The biggest and one that will never be fixed is that OmniPlan is not Microsoft Project. That Microsoft app is the standard for professional project managers across the world and it is very, very powerful. It's also just very, very cumbersome and Microsoft won't tell you the price so you know it's very, very expensive."

    Well, the price is available for all world to see: https://www.microsoft.com/en-us/store/d/project-professional-2016/cfq7ttc0k5cm?activetab=pivot%3aoverviewtab

    MS Project is most definitely not "the standard for professional project managers across the world". People who are in international project management since 30 years, like me, would not touch it with tweezers. The only PM software I see in every single large project is Oracle's Primavera – and if you have ever used it, you will know why MS's unusable POS is not even on the map. While I agree with the praise for OmniPlan overall, I would not call it the best PM solution on the Mac at this point. They certainly got a lot better since version 1, but I would still call Merlin the clear winner.
    While what you're saying about "touch it with tweezers" is probably the case -- the best product isn't necessarily the world-wide standard.
    dewmelolliver
  • Reply 12 of 18
    cloud based project management is better
    Only if your use case demands it. If you're sitting down with your notebook or desktop everyday and don't need to go anywhere then local computing meets the use case just fine. 
    watto_cobralollivermike1
  • Reply 13 of 18

    ....
    The weakness is in how you originally enter all of the thousands of tasks you might have to do in your project. You can type one, hit Return and type the next. However, organizing them, grouping them, seeing that this series of tasks must be done before you can even think about that next set.
    ...

    I haven't done project management for a while (a good while).  But this was a failing that I found with every project management software I tried (Including MS Project).  Frankly, I seemed to spend more time trying to manage the project management software than I did managing the project  itself...

    So, I invariably ended up defaulting to my old standards:  
    -- Spreadsheet for detailed tasks (with subtasks indented in outline form) with the columns used for man power requirements, assignees, costs, etc...
    -- Graphic diagram showing the higher level and relationships & dependencies.
    Then, with those pinned up on my wall, I could just highlight each line or block (on the diagram) as it was completed.

    Their shortcoming was that they tried to do too much and do it for me.  But, I found that loss of control intolerable -- perhaps because I was always a more hands-on, feet on the ground project manager.  And, the result was that, the plan was mostly used as a planning tool.  And, once it was done, most of my project management was done face to face with the plan updated later to show completions and status.

    As for reporting, the high level diagram was my most effective tool.   With that, an executive could get a clear, visual of what had been accomplished and what was left to accomplish.

    KISS was law of my land.
    I tend to agree. The basics of project management are 1) making lists, 2) prioritizing those lists. Spreadsheets work pretty well for that. My current major government contract is run by multiple teams using spreadsheets, and a workflow process tool for routing the change-items/bugs/releases thru the needed teams (BA, security, dev, QA, etc).
  • Reply 14 of 18
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 280member
    dewme said:
    dachar said:
    I am looking for a simpler, cheaper Protect Management program for iOS. In the past l have created Gantt charts on Excel spreadsheets. Is there something that could be recommended that is better than spedsheets but not so sophisticated as OmniPlan?
    Apologies in advance for expressing strong opinions on this topic. I’ve used a number of the heavyweight project management programs like MS Project, MS Project Server, and Scitor Project Scheduler (which made early versions of MS Project look like a toy). In general, if you’re only using Gantt charts in Excel for project management you probably don’t need a project management program. You’d probably be better off buying or borrowing a project management book that covers valuable project management topics like critical path method (CPM), critical chain  project management (CCPM), and program evaluation and review technique (PERT). These methods can actually be applied effectively on small projects without a dedicated application. Understanding and applying the methods is far more important than learning how to use an application that invisibility implements some of these methods. If you don’t understand the underlying methods it’s very easy to shoot yourself and your team in the foot in a very ugly way, especially when it comes to resource leveling and reaching assumptions about the individual performance of team members. If you are leaning on the software to produce some of the artifacts that the above program is claiming to serve you with, you are already in trouble. Gantt charts are okay as a pictorial snapshot for presentation/reporting purpose but they are nearly useless for actual project scheduling and project management. 
    OMG.  I’m blown away.  Someone who really knows what they’re talking about.  Everyone else, listen to this guy.  I’ll repeat a snippet, “Understanding and applying the methods is far more important than learning how to use an application.”
  • Reply 15 of 18
    mike1mike1 Posts: 1,819member
    dachar said:
    I am looking for a simpler, cheaper Protect Management program for iOS. In the past l have created Gantt charts on Excel spreadsheets. Is there something that could be recommended that is better than spedsheets but not so sophisticated as OmniPlan?
    Check out SmartSheet. Works pretty well and I like it because everybody on the project can use it easily, not just the PMs.
  • Reply 16 of 18
    nhtnht Posts: 4,393member
    dewme said:
    dachar said:
    I am looking for a simpler, cheaper Protect Management program for iOS. In the past l have created Gantt charts on Excel spreadsheets. Is there something that could be recommended that is better than spedsheets but not so sophisticated as OmniPlan?
    Apologies in advance for expressing strong opinions on this topic. I’ve used a number of the heavyweight project management programs like MS Project, MS Project Server, and Scitor Project Scheduler (which made early versions of MS Project look like a toy). In general, if you’re only using Gantt charts in Excel for project management you probably don’t need a project management program. You’d probably be better off buying or borrowing a project management book that covers valuable project management topics like critical path method (CPM), critical chain  project management (CCPM), and program evaluation and review technique (PERT). These methods can actually be applied effectively on small projects without a dedicated application. Understanding and applying the methods is far more important than learning how to use an application that invisibility implements some of these methods. If you don’t understand the underlying methods it’s very easy to shoot yourself and your team in the foot in a very ugly way, especially when it comes to resource leveling and reaching assumptions about the individual performance of team members. If you are leaning on the software to produce some of the artifacts that the above program is claiming to serve you with, you are already in trouble. Gantt charts are okay as a pictorial snapshot for presentation/reporting purpose but they are nearly useless for actual project scheduling and project management. 
    On small projects you can do nothing and achieve success.  No real engineering required and a lot of the time it's overkill.

    It's like building a dog house.  You can just start measuring and cutting with only a vague plan and basic wood working skills and get a nice little dog house at the end.

    None of the heavyweight project planning tools perform well on small projects.  Estimation methods and project planning/tracking methods assume estimation errors cancel out over time and attempt to identify points where things have a real opportunity to go off the rails or when they have done so.
  • Reply 17 of 18
    nhtnht Posts: 4,393member

    Jira is an excellent project (and task) management system that’s supports ‘complex project management’. It’s way more expensive for sure, but unlike the article suggests Omniplan is really for smaller projects that don’t require larger teams to collaborate on shaping  project management itself.

    Omni has quite old fashioned tools honestly. First of all it’s just a desktop client. It’s not cloud based, or ‘self hostable’. I’m sorry, but I’m 2018 that’s unacceptable for professional use. Secondly, it has this waterfall planning methodology. Agile, SCRUM based project management is next to impossible on Omniplan. The days Gantt diagrams were at the core of any project are gone. At least for software/media development it is (which is my background).

    When you've decomposed a problem into sprints, in theory, these all become "small projects".  But you can't really tell me what's your critical path for delivery of your epics without adding dependency threads to your scrum board.  Gosh, once you map out inter-story dependencies for features across sprints what does that end up looking like?  Because there's nothing like realizing that you have blockers in finishing off a story because of incomplete dependencies.

    And start managing dependencies across multiple software and hardware teams and external deliverables and you understand why folks that scale agile to larger systems usually ends up with Gantt charts.  Because Gantt scheduling <> Waterfall.  Gantt is just another technique for the toolbox.  One that small projects generally don't need and where agile is most applied.

    You use gantt scheduling to capture fixed high level milestones and dependencies and manage inter-team dependencies as each team manages sequencing their backlogs and sprint planning to make sure they don't become blockers for the other team.  Then there's all the other crap that comes with a successful product launch that has to happen at certain times or you just screwed up something major...like not getting regulatory approval for your product or provide enough time for marketing or training.
Sign In or Register to comment.