TechTip: Need a Project Management Tool? Open Workbench Is the Answer

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Why pay for a project management tool when you can get a better one for free?


Do you ever have a need for a project scheduling and tracking tool? If so, this article is for you!


My organization often deals with projects that require a means of organizing tasks, scheduling, and tracking project activity. The need is common in businesses. Projects require proper management to be successful, and having tools to assist makes management much easier.


I have encountered instances in which there were no other common tools than Excel to use for project scheduling and tracking, which of course is greatly lacking in capability for this use. In other cases, there weren't enough licenses for everyone on the team to be able to use the selected tool, or we had issues with not everyone having the same version of the tool being used.


Several months ago, I was introduced to Open Workbench, which was released in March 2006. Open Workbench is a free, open-source, Windows-based desktop application that provides project planning, project scheduling, resource management, project review, and more. You can't beat the price! Free is always a plus. Better yet, the robust functionality provided is comparable to tools that have a price tag. Like many others, I used to feel a bit unsure about open source. Open Workbench has definitely improved my regard for open source. The download is quick. It is easy to install and doesn't require any special configuration. We have used the tool on a PC with both XP and Vista.



Figure 1: This is the Open Workbench home page. (Click image to enlarge.)


I'm quite familiar with Microsoft Project and found that much of the functionality provided within Open Workbench was very similar. Some of the Open Workbench functionality required a little effort to figure out, but Open Workbench has help support, documentation, and a forum that makes it easy to find answers. I've found the response time great and am glad to see there is obvious enthusiasm for enhancing the tool. The software for the most part is very intuitive, but if you don't readily find the answer within the software help, you can ask a question through the forum and quickly get the answer. See Figure 2.



Figure 2: Quickly find answers to your questions in the Open Workbench forums.

Creating and Assigning Resources

One of the tasks that took a little effort to figure out is creating and assigning resources, but the answer was pretty easily found through the Open Workbench forum. Click on the Planning tab and then the Resource Assignment tab. At the very bottom are the resources. Right-click on a line down there, and click Modify. Then enter your resource's name and a number. Next, go back to the tasks. Right-click on the task you wish to assign resources to and click Modify. Click on the Resources tab and then double-click on the resources you want. The numbers that correspond to the appropriate resources should appear next to the task in the Resource ID column. A list of all the resources you created will be at the bottom of the screen.

Viewing and Sorting

Workbench provides Gantt Chart view, CPN Network view, and a phase-level Gantt view. In addition, to sort your project tasks, you are able to use favorites; planning, executing, and controlling views; and filters.


Following are screen shots that represent  some of the functionality provided through the tool.



Figure 3: This is a typical project Gantt Chart view.



Figure 4: These are the CPM Network, Dependency Definitions, Dependency Status, and Gantt Chart views.



Figure 5: These are Phase Level Gantt, Resource Assignment, Revise Schedule, and Schedule views.



Figure 6: These are Status Update, Unused Availability, Variance Analysis, and WBS Definition views.


As you can see, the tool is quite robust. Other great features of Open Workbench include the ability to import Microsoft Project files and the ability to save the project document as an XML file.


We have been able to make great use of the tool and hope you do too!