One of the biggest challenges project managers face today is the lack of detail they cover in their project schedules. With the likes of Agile, DevOps, and the next fancy development methodology out there. Project managers use the excuse of “being more Agile” to not track the same level of rigor on their project schedules that they did in the days of Waterfall. Yep, back in the days of waterfall – and yes it still exists out there, project managers used to track at incredible levels of detail in their project schedules, but today that is becoming more and more of a lost art. I strongly believe that if we are going to manage our projects effectively, we need to get back to that level of tracking.
Well, ladies and gentlemen, you are in luck, because today I would like to introduce RiskyProject Professional, an MS Project add-in that will bring a whole new level of project schedule management. RiskyProject was developed by a small company out of Alberta, Canada, called Intraver Institute. For more information on Intraver Institute, check them out at www.intaver.com, where you can see downloads, videos, whitepapers, etc. It’s a great site that’s full of information.
I am going to formulate this review into two areas that I think are important. I believe by the end of this article you will have a good feel for the product.
But before we start, let me say that I am using an evaluation version of the product and I am not an affiliate, so if you do end up purchasing a copy of the product, there is no financial gain for me.
Why should you try this product?
Mostly, I wanted to try the product for the Monte-Carlo simulation abilities of the tool. I think that when we are actively managing our project schedules today, we are not considering the risks associated with our project schedule’s tasks enough. We certainly do across the overall project, but not at the task level. Over my 30 years in the industry, there was a time when we were adamant about tracking optimistic, pessimistic, and most likely values for our project tasks. Again, I see us slowly moving away from that kind of tracking because of Agile, DevOps…etc. That’s a shame, and this tool will force us to get back into the habit adding those three critical values for each project task. I firmly believe that running these simulations gives us a better understanding of the chances of finishing our projects on time and within budget. What is impressive about this tool is that once you set a statistical distribution for your project, the tool handles creating those three values for each task. Back in the day, I did this line by line in Excel and had a set of formulas to do these calculations for me. It was not fun, took forever and I never really did trust the results!
In the following chart, you see that once you run a Monte-Carlo Analysis on your project schedule, the results focus on three main areas: Cost, Finish Time, and Duration.
Figure 1.0 – Monte-Carlo Simulation Results – Sample Project
Ok, stop for a second there, see what just happened? You set the statistical distribution for the project, the Optimistic, Pessimistic, and Most likely values are added for you per task. Then, you hit the “Calculate” button and this Monte-Carlo simulation results are generated. How great is that? It is also super-fast, so regardless of the size of your project schedule, these results will be generated quickly. Now, you have risk applied to your project and you can set very different expectations on delivery dates with your customers and project teams.
The second reason I wanted to try this product was the built-in Risk Register functionality and the ability to track and tie those risks to individual project schedule tasks, that is brilliant! Project managers today don’t track project risks like that on their projects, and that’s not to say project managers don’t track risks, but not like this. Rarely do project managers look at their risks and tie those risks to project tasks, and this is a really smart way of doing it! Once again, this software creates that mind-shift to get project managers thinking differently about how they track project risks. Let’s look at this now in RiskyProject Professional.
Figure 2.0 – Tying Project Risks to Project Schedule Tasks
Here you have the project risks listed on the left and the project schedule on the right. Select a project risk as I did on the left, drag it onto the project schedule task on the right, and you have risks and project tasks linked. Brilliant isn’t it? This is a great way to start thinking about risk tracking your projects.
So, when you look at these two main functional aspects of the product, you can see how super excited I was to get my hands on this software!
What was my honest feeling when first trying it?
I have to tell you I was completely intimidated when I first looked at this software. To be clear, I have been using MS Project since the early ’90s and know it very well, but when I started to dive into this new to me, RiskyProject Professional software, I was scared to death that I had bitten off more than I could chew! But, after getting my “Google on,” I was able to find the Intraver Institute YouTube site, and I was in heaven. So, I put aside the software and started to watch videos. I also found the Risky Project User Guide PDF file, and between the two resources, my learning of the product was so much easier. The software if straightforward and easy to learn. Now I feel I know the software well and I am long past the initial learning curve – and intimidation. My advice though, is to try what I did, immerse yourself in their videos and get comfortable with the tool before you start using it in a production environment. Begin slowly, test the software with a simple project and learn how it works. This product is not something you will learn overnight, but after using it for a little while, like me you will find it easy to use, just don’t be afraid to start.
What Problem was I trying to solve with this product?
As PMO Manager, the problems I tried to solve with this software relate to understanding the realistic end dates of my project managers’ project schedules. I needed a tool that could take project schedules across my PMO and apply Monte-Carlo simulations on them to determine the likelihood of these projects finishing on time. As PMO Manager, my role is to ensure I have staff for upcoming projects and to load-balance my PMs so they can effectively manage all their projects. If a project manager tells me their project will be finished on day x, but I run a Monte-Carlo simulation on that same project and the tool says the project will finish four weeks later, then assigning that project manager to a new project before the current one ends would be a huge mistake. I would trust the tool results over the project manager’s estimate because the tool has factored in risks that the project manager may not have considered. It is a balance for sure, you can’t blindly take a tool’s output, but what a great conversation for you to have with your project managers about this project situation.
The second problem I was tried to solve was around risk management and the maturity of how we track risks on our projects. You may recall what I noted earlier, that this tool has a significant risk tracking tool built into it, which forces you to be much smarter in tracking project risks. As a PMO Manager, I have found this to be a major learning curve for many project managers, so having a software product that forces this level of risk tracking becomes not only great for the project but an amazing learning tool for the project manager.
Screenshots from the RiskyProject Professional
It is important to see what the tool looks like before you demo or decide to buy. This is a very extensive tool, so I pulled out some of the more valuable screenshots so you can see what it looks and feels like when working in the software.
The first screenshot, Figure 1.0, shows the Monte-Carlo simulation results. Keep in mind that before you can get that to work, you must apply statistical distributions to your project. Figure 3.0 shows you a screenshot of just how easy that process is. Here I am applying the distribution on project costs.
Figure 3.0 Applying Statistical Distribution within the tool
Another, very cool aspect of RiskyProject Professional software is the Risk Register and the corresponding Risk Matrix. The Risk Matrix is one of the most valuable communication tools for project managers and I write about in great detail in my Project Management Communications Tools book. Take a look at this example of the Risk Matrix in RiskyProject Professional. As you load up your risk register, the risks are plotted onto this matrix and are immediately available for utilization by the project team and customers. If you are unhappy with where a project risk falls on the matrix, no problem, update the risk information and the risk automatically moves around the matrix. No need to recreate this matrix in PowerPoint or Excel, it is generated automatically for you within the software and with a simple right-click to export to a graphic file, this can be incorporated into your weekly status reports in minutes.
Figure 4.0 Risk Matix
Another significant view offered by this tool is the risk assignment view. “At a glance” you can see the risks, the task assignment, chance %, the possible impact, …etc. This is a very valuable view for all project managers to have about their project risks.
Figure 5.0 Risk Assignments
One of the things I like best about this tool is the integration into MS Project. I love MS Project, and when I can get software that works directly with it, there is nothing better. RiskyProject Professional and MS Project work great together.
I like the fact that the Monte-Carlo functionality is integrated into this tool and it is straightforward to use. MS Project has ignored this functionality to date, but hopefully we will see it in the future. I think the preloading of optimistic, pessimistic, and most-likely tasks onto each project task with one button, is extremely beneficial and something that is missing in MS Project today.
The built-in Risk Register is remarkable. The number of fields and information captured on each risk this tool allows is impressive. Once you start playing with it and see the information youve captured, you will be inspired as well.
Now, on the flip side, the product is not perfect, it has some growing to do in some UI changes, some navigation functionality, and additional reports., but certainly not enough for me to not highly recommend it. Trust me, the positive aspects of this software far outweigh the negative, and as the product matures, we will see more drag and drop functionality, more UI features, and more reports.
- Uses of the product on projects
When I consider how the product could be used on our projects, I see it as a must-have tool for project managers.
Imagine this project scenario for a second. You have just been assigned a massive, very complicated project and your management layer have asked that you have a detailed project schedule, and that they want a weekly review of this schedule throughout your project. From the very beginning you know you have a level of management visibility that you have never had before on a project and so your project schedule has to be tight. In this scenario, RiskyProject Professional is invaluable.
You build up the project schedule to the best of your ability, lock dates, resources and durations, and you have a perfect don’t touch it schedule. Your project schedule is complete and you are feeling good about it. When you run some reports and you see that your project is going to finish in 180 days and you are 100% confident you are going to share this date with management because you worked with every resource, they gave you the durations, and you entered them in. You feel great about your schedule and now you run RiskyProject Professional against your schedule and the results come back at 266 days. There is an 86 day difference in the schedule that you locked and nailed and felt 100% confident about before running the tool. Now, based on the results of the tool, you have a management review in 2 days and an 86 day gap . What do you do? Do you tell management that after running the Monte Carlo simulation your 180 days is not possible? How do you explain the 86 days? Why did you get that 86 day difference in the first place? Well, this all comes back to not factoring in any risks into your project tasks, aka the magic of the Monte-Carlo simulation. This lack of factoring in risk management on our projects is one of the biggest mistakes project managers make on their projects today. Not factoring in those unexpected events that occur on projects every day happens at the project task level. I will let you decide how this project scenario ends, but imagine now that with this tool in hand, these conversations are now possible!
I have a strong buy recommendation for this tool. As I mentioned, the two biggest aspects of this software(Monte-Carlo & Risk Management at the task level) along with the business scenario I just described, I believe this is a must-have tool for every PMO and Project Manager. I wanted Monte-Carlo and detailed risk tracking in a software product, and this tool delivers. I find this tool to be an extremely valuable asset to any PMO or project manager on how they manage their schedule and their project risks. I also see this software as a teaching tool, and the areas covered throughout the tool will only make project managers stronger. Are there other tools out there that offer the same sort of functionality, yes there are, but few have the ease of use of RiskyProject Professional. I have tried and purchased some of these tools, so this is not my first time using this kind of software in my career. Years ago I purchased and used a product called @Risk that had a lot of this same functionality and was a solid tool as well.
- Where do you find it?
The easiest and fastest way to get your hands on this tool is to download a 30-day trial version from their website: www.intaver.com. They have an excellent support team in place who are there to help you use their tools successfully. I highly recommend picking up a copy today – and don’t forget to watch their videos to get ramped up on this extremely valuable tool.
What do you think?
Bill Dow, PMP