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Articles Reviews Review PM Software Open Workbench
Thomas Brandstetter

Open Workbench was originally released by Niku in 2004 as an open-source project-management package. When Niku was bought by Computer Associates (2005), the open-source activities, as well as the Clarity PPM solution, were taken over by CA. Open Workbench is available in English, French, and German for the Windows operating system only. This package can be used as a stand-alone desktop planning tool or as an integrated element of Clarity, the company-wide PPM solution from Computer Associates.

 
WBS
.
Planning
.
Resources
.
Reporting
.
Import Export
.
User Interface
.
Documentation
.

WBS

When the work breakdown structure is created, the standard view that is preconfigured is the “WBS Definition” view, in which all WBS elements are entered into a table. The hierarchical arrangement is indicated by selecting the appropriate level (and not by indentation). In its standard version, Open Workbench calls the first level a “phase”, “activity”, or “task/milestone”. These designations and levels can be changed by the user, however. WBS elements can also be identified as “key tasks” and filtered accordingly in the various views. Open Workbench also recognizes sub-projects and can manage relationships between WBS elements of different projects. No graphic representation of the WBS is provided.

Planning

Planning options are the key strength of Open Workbench, particularly in comparison with other free project management tools. Like most project management tools, Open Workbench recognizes all four standard relationships and can present the dependencies as a network diagram. Furthermore, this tool provides a fully-developed planning algorithm. The duration of a task is determined based on the amount of work remaining and the availability of employees. Open Workbench can calculate a schedule, taking into account other restrictions (task relationships, fixed start and end dates, priorities). The range of functionality offered is very powerful (“baselining”, work profiles, critical path, earned value, and variance analysis), although there is a fairly steep learning curve for beginning users.

Resourcen

There is a typical master file to which resources can be added, in detail, throughout the duration of the project. They can be arranged in categories. Only the categories can be arranged in a hierarchy. The employee workload is clearly presented.

Reporting

No reporting is supported. But the tool does offer several monitoring views which make it possible to get a good actual-versus-target comparison.

Import/Export

The package has the ability to import XML files from MS Project. Export of files in other formats (in particular, export to a spreadsheet) is not possible. However, all table views can be transferred to other applications via the clipboard (copy-and-paste).

User Interface

Open Workbench, like other Java-based project management tools, has some minor deficits in its user interface. This means it can take a while for a new user to find the appropriate functionality. After a few hours with this tool, though, the user will learn how to deal with it (although, during our testing, we never really enjoyed the user interface).

Documentation

It is obvious from the documentation that Open Workbench comes from a commercial background. The online “help” and the freely-available manual (both in English) provide comprehensive explanations of how the tool functions. The short introduction in German, by contrast, is inadequate. Computer Associates also offers paid support as an option. There is also a training CD which is available from CA for $150 US.

Conclusion

This project-management package is aimed at the demanding planner. While its navigation and “look and feel” may spoil the fun initially, this tool offers very good support for planning. In particular, when the duration of a given task matches the estimated work remaining and the current availability of employees, Open Workbench provides good support for the project leader. In contrast with MS Project, the user can trace the calculation of the schedule at any time, and the schedule can be deactivated for individual activities. Given its range of functionality, it is surprising that Open Workbench has such a small market share among project-management tools: 100,000 users is a relatively small number for a tool that costs nothing and is this good.

translation by George Alexander (thank you very much!)

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