Home > Features > Product Review: FastTrack Schedule 9.2

It has been several years since we last reviewed FastTrack Schedule 8 and for more than two months now we have had the latest version FastTrack Schedule 9.1 (then 9.2) running in our studio. FastTrack Schedule 9.2 is a cross-platform project scheduling program that rivals Microsoft's famous Microsoft Project application—famous for Mac users in the sense that MS Project used to be a Mac program until in the 90's Microsoft decided to take it away from the platform.

As it turns out Mac users have never really been that hurt by the unavailability of Microsoft Project; though some will argue that its disappearance on the Mac killed the platform in their organizations. Others will argue that their organizations should have kept both their Macs and switched to FastTrack Schedule, by AEC Software.

We are clearly in agreement with the latter way of thinking.

Making the Case for Gantt

In our previous review we spent some effort making the case that project scheduling software is the type of tool all AEC firms should be using. Clearly construction companies make good use of "project-ware" apps, and the Gantt chart is no stranger to large engineering and architecture firms either. But one must remember that the vast majority of AEC firms are smaller businesses (less than 20 people) working on smaller work of less complexity and duration. In these cases gantt chart scheduling may seem less compelling—but it shouldn't. The challenge for software firms like AEC Systems is to prove this case by making the software easy to use for infrequent use but still powerful enough to reap the full benefits of sophisticated scheduling.

So in this review we are going to spend less time on making that case ourselves (you can always read our previous review here) and more time on focusing on "what is new" in FastTrack Schedule 9.2.

FastTrack Schedule Basics

Before we launch into what is new since version 8, let's cover the basics. Our last review goes through more step-by-step on how you use FastTrack Schedule so that might be a useful primer.

QuickTime : QT-1 - Watch this movie file to see some basic operations in the FastTrack Schedule 9 interface.

For those familiar with Microsoft Excel or other spreadsheets they will find working in FastTrack Schedule immediately comfortable. Both work with cells (row and column) data—but, uniquely, FastTrack Schedule has far more graphics and text capabilities. For instance, text is not restricted to a cell or range of cells. (see QuickTime animation qt-1).

There are three fundamental interface views of your FastTrack Schedule data: Schedule view, Calendar view, and Resource view. (see image 01-03 below).

Schedule View. The Schedule view is the heart and soul of your work in FastTrack Schedule. It's where you view your Gantt chart and do your scheduling graphically or via numeric input. As you can see from the QuickTime (see QT-1) movie it's easy to draw your bars, with a popup window providing date-duration data. Optionally, you can select Start Date or Finish Date column cells and a popup calendar appears. Choosing a date will alter the graphic bar that represents that activity (see QT-1) automatically.

To begin you setup your activities in the Activity column. Individual activities can be broken down into indented sub-activities; thus, you can start with a phase number and then break-down your project into its various phases and the component activities that make up that phase.

Calendar View. Calendar view is just what you think it is: a mapping of your schedule activities across a normal monthly calendar. An Outline level drop-down menu offers visual control over how much of your schedule appears on the calendar, thus simplifying the project information on this type of view. (see image 04).

01 - Schedule View: main workspace for scheduling happens here.
02 - Calendar View: you can edit bars by double-clicking them here.
03 - Resource View: this is where you create, editor and delete resources. 04: Outline drop-down menu in Calendar view breaks down what you see based on the level of indent/outline in your Schedule view.

Resource View. Where time and money meet in this application is in the Resource view. Here you assign resources such as people, companies or equipment to your project activities. (see QuickTime QT-2).

When you assign a resource to an activity this resource's Use Cost, Standard Rate and OT Rate are automatically calculated based on the percent of assignment. You can assign staff to various activities of a job by clicking on the activity bar in the Schedule view and right-clicking to the Information form. (see QuickTime QT-2). Double clicking on a bar also brings up the Information form where you can alter date data, links and assignments. (see image 06).

QuickTime : QT-2 - This movie shows operations in the Resource view. Adding new resources via the Information form.

From the Schedule view you can choose the Cost Layout from the drop-down menu to see the graphic and numerical implications of your assignments to various activities of the project. (see image 05). Total cost and total resource cost per activity are in the rows to the left of the bar for that activity.

05 - Cost View shows financial implications of various resource assignments.
06 - Double-clicking on a bar brings up the Information form for editing dates, links, etc.

This is a general quick over-view and you might want to read our prior review to gain a better understanding of the application. If you are new to project scheduling software we would recommend that read. Now let's get into what is new in version 9.


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