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Twiddlebit Plan: Planning on a Nokia Communicator Print E-mail
Written by Richard Bloor   
Tuesday, 30 November 2004
Twiddlebit has a long history of providing project planning tools for Symbian OS going back to the Psion days before Symbian OS in fact. Now Plan is available for the latest Series 80 devices, the Nokia 9500 and Nokia 9300. We put Plan through its paces on a Nokia 9500.

Even the most basic project schedules can generate a huge amount of data. Between the task tables, Gantt charts and Pert diagrams carrying a useful working version of a schedule can require a lot of paper. By the end of a typical day these papers can be heavily annotated with notes which need to be entered back into a desktop project scheduling tool.

Now, whether you are running a complex project using a fully featured desktop scheduling tool or something smaller, it is possible to exchange schedule information between a PC and a Nokia Communicator then view and maintain that plan while on the move with Twiddlebit’s Plan For Nokia Communicator.

Plan For Nokia Communicator provides a comprehensive range of plan scheduling features and includes task, Gantt, resource and calendar views. While plan can be used as a simple schedule viewer it can also be used to create schedules from scratch by:

  • defining a projects tasks.
  • structuring those tasks into logical groups.
  • defining task dependencies.
  • assigning resources to do the work.
  • monitoring and recording progress.

Tasks can be defined and edited in the Task List and Gantt views (more on these shortly) using either menu or command button options. Each task is created using a multi-paned dialog supporting the entry of a comprehensive set of task information, including scheduling, resource, dependency, tracking and cost details.

Each task can be calculated in one of three ways, using:

  • Work & Rates, where the effort and resources, with their percentage allocations, are entered and Plan calculates the tasks start and end dates.
  • Rates & Dates, where a task’s duration is provided, as start and end dates, along with resource allocations, from which Plan calculates the work to be done by each resource and the task as a whole.
  • Dates & Work, where the start and end dates are entered with the work to be done by each resource then Plan calculates the work rate percentage allocation for each resource.
  • Once tasks have been created they can be structured using nesting, which can be indented to seven levels.

Plan’s resource handling allows for a resource pool that can either be unique to a project or shared between several projects. Each resource is defined by basic name and cost details along with default working hours. It is also possible to record additional notes about the resource.

Finally Plan allows non-work or non-standard work day details to be maintained for individual resources in the Holiday view.

There is no global or default calendar in Plan, rather as new resources are created their calendar is copied from the Standard resource. It is therefore prudent to record any public holidays or standard non-work days in the Standard resource’s calendar before creating individual resources.

As details are entered into Plan the schedule can be automatically recalculated or calculation can be done manually. The schedule is based entirely on project dependencies and each tasks duration, there is no resource leveling in Plan (more on this shortly).

Once all the basic information has been entered Plan provides several views to allow the schedule to be reviewed. A Task List provides a basic view for a project’s tasks. It shows all the tasks key entered attributes with additional information on a task’s baseline, earliest and latest start dates and cost details. The only viewing option is to zoom in or out.

The Gantt view has the task list view on the left and the familiar Gantt chart on the right. Plan provides a number of options for adjusting the view. With the Task List selected zooming adjusts the font size, while with the Gantt selected (tab toggles between the two) zoom adjusts the time scale. The currently selected task or tasks can be optimally fitted to the Gantt window by pressing the space bar. There is also the ability to set the width of the Description field, this is the only control available over the Task List layout.

Preference options allow the color of the Gantt bars, background (work and non-work days) and any text displayed (leading or following the bar) to be controlled as well as whether the baseline is visible.

Once a project is underway Plan allows a baseline to be set (with options to include selected, new, all or not started tasks) and tracking information to be maintained for each task. Progress information is displayed in the Gantt view.

Although Plan provides a robust environment to create and maintain project plans on a Nokia 9500 there are obvious limitations in using a handheld for creating and maintaining larger projects. Plan offers two options here, firstly a version of the Plan application for Windows PCs is available and secondly Plan has the ability to exchange data with Microsoft Project.

Plan for Windows provides largely the same features as the Nokia 9500 version of Plan but with a few extras. One of the obvious extras is the ability to manipulate tasks and views with the mouse. Some actions, such as adding task links, can be performed by selecting tasks and activating options. There is an additional resource graph view and the ability to filter tasks. Project tasks can also be exported to tasks in Microsoft Outlook. Plan for Nokia Communicator and Plan for Windows share the same file format so exchanging data is a simple case of copying files between the two machines.

The second option is to exchange data with Microsoft Project. In the Nokia 92x0 version of Plan this is a simple exercise in dragging and dropping Project files from the PC to the Nokia 92x0, although to get files back to Microsoft Project they need to be exported from Plan in MPX format and imported into Microsoft Project. Unfortunately because Nokia has changed its PC Suite between the Nokia 92x0 and Nokia 9500/9300 the plug-in is no longer available. Currently the only way to exchange data is by reading native Microsoft Project files in Plan for Windows,save them to Plan’s format and then moving them to the Communicator. Twiddlebit is working on a PC based converter to simplify the process for those who only own Plan for Nokia Communicator.

As Plan can open and save MPX format file data can also be exchanged with any other MPX capable Project Management tools.

A lack of resource leveling obviously limits the complexity of schedules which can be created in Plan alone, but as any project scheduling where there is a requirement to level resources is almost certainly going to be so much better supported by a full desktop package (no disrespect to Plan for Windows intended). The Desktop version of Plan includes a resource usage graph which allows some evaluation of resource usage to be done, it would be nice to see this resource graph on the Communicator version.

There are a couple of features which Plan would benefit from – particularly as a viewer for large projects. Firstly a find capability, this would make finding tasks in large projects, particularly if the plan is not well structured or the position in the structure the task is not known, much easier and eliminate a lot of frustrating scrolling to find a specific task. Secondly there is no task filtering; a useful mechanism to hide completed tasks. Filtering is provided on the desktop version of Plan so it may migrate to Plan for Nokia Communicator.

Despite a couple of minor deficiencies Plan should be an indispensable tool for anyone who needs access to project scheduling information while on the move. The level of functionality is just about right to make it usable and practically useful without making it overly complex or having complex functions impact performance. It is well presented and makes good use of the Series 80 interface. Plan, coupled with the Desktop version, is also sufficiently powerful to be a practical tool for creating and tracking small projects. For larger more complex projects it is best used a portable project viewer, something it does very well.

Plan for Nokia Communicator is a Symbian Signed application and can be evaluated for 30 days. Registration is done through Regsoft for US $29.95 or UK 16.95 or Handango. If you have a registered copy of Plan6 for your Nokia 92x0 your keys will activate Plan on a Nokia 9500.

More information on Plan can be found on Twiddlebit's web site: www.twiddlebit.com. Plan for the Nokia 9500 can be found here in the SymbianOne shop, while the versions for the Nokia 92xx is here and for UIQ here.

SymbianOne's review of Plan for UIQ is here.

Last Updated ( Monday, 19 December 2005 )


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