Most of us can usually get by with tools such as Cultured Code’s Things or Hog Bay Software’s TaskPaper for managing to-do lists or other day-to-day tasks. But large-scale projects that involve the coordination of a multitude of resources over several months or years require something more, like the Omni Group’s OmniPlan. OmniPlan is designed to help you take in the broad view of a project while still keeping you focused on the details necessary to make sure all your resources are in place and the project is completed on time.
The concept behind any project management application is pretty simple. First, you create a project with a specific start and end date. Then you create the tasks necessary to take you from the beginning to the end of the project, and you consider the resources you need to complete those tasks. For example, if you were building a house, you’d set a planned start and finish date, break the project down into logical tasks (excavation, footings, foundation, framing, sheathing, roofing, electrical, etc.), coordinate the resources necessary to complete each of those tasks (excavators, masons, carpenters, roofers, electricians), and, finally, you need to create dependencies between each task and its associated set of resources. So, you can’t start roofing until the sheathing is complete, you can’t start sheathing, until the framing is complete, and so on.
OmniPlan makes quick work of the project management basics. Tasks, resources, and a complete project schedule are easy to create, and once you have the basics in place it’s easy to link, rearrange, and reschedule every aspect of a project. If certain aspects of a project are out of sync — for example, if something you’ve scheduled for tomorrow is dependent on something that will not be completed until next week — OmniPlan provides visual cues to help you see where the schedule won’t work. OmniPlan offers the option of colour-coding each segment of a project, including creating and applying styles so that each project you work on has a similar look and feel. You can also add notes, documents, or images to each task, making OmniPlan a potential repository for every aspect of your project.
OmniPlan offers a number of features that help to facilitate collaboration on large-scale projects. Projects can be synchronised with a centralised server repository. The program currently supports CalDAV, WebDAV, Google, MobileMe, and Omni Group’s OmniSync server, but, at the time of this review, there was no iCloud support. To track changes made while the documents are stored on the server OmniPlan offers change-tracking options similar to what you will find in applications such as iWork or Microsoft Office, so it’s easy to see and approve changes made by other collaborators on the project.
Equally as important as collaboration, OmniPlan offers you a multitude of import and export options making it possible for you to create and share project files with users working on other platforms. OmniPlan files can be exported in a multitude of formats, including everything from CSV, PDF, OmniGraffle, and OmniOutliner files to Microsoft Project’s XML and MPX formats. The latter is particularly important because Microsoft Project tends to be the £10,000 gorilla in the project management software department. I found that OmniPlan handled Microsoft Project files with no problem at all.
The only real downside to OmniPlan is not so much a problem as it is a challenge associated with most applications of this type. While it’s easy get started with OmniPlan, it offers a significant number of sophisticated features that may prove challenging to master. While you’ll find excellent documentation on the Omni Group website, you can expect to spend several days, if not a couple of weeks, learning where all the features are and putting them all to good use.
OmniPlan is a best-of-class project management application that offers up the kinds of features that make large-scale project management as easy as a simple to-do list. Centralized data management, file synchronisation, and change tracking combined with task and resource management make OmniPlan an excellent tool for anyone who needs to manage any major project, whether it’s large or small.