As a large firm that regularly undertakes multi-phase programmes, SMD has tried to implement Microsoft Project across their teams, in order to streamline project planning. They realised that although Microsoft Project is a powerful project management tool with lots of features, it is overkill for their particular needs.
This resulted in a confusing user experience, resulting in mistakes being made when designing programmes, or clusmy workarounds being used to mimic features that are not officially supported. As team members got frustrated, they would sometimes even forgo using the system, instead relying on paper, which is far less efficient.
The Desired Outcome
We were approached with the following brief: create a simple and robust application within Excel, that would allow the efficient creation of project programmes. It should contain only the features that SMD need, and leave out everything else, in order to minimise confusion. The application should also validate user inputs to minimise erroneous outputs, allow the programme to be locked for editing, and allow it to be printed in a way that it could be pinned up on the walls of their operations room.
In order to make the solution as robust as possible, we decided to use VBA to lock down as many features as possible, and only allow the user to interact with the application using forms and buttons. This would prevent the user from deleting critical formulae in cells, or modifying rows/columns that might cause the application to break.
We used userforms to make the solution feel like a bespoke application rather than Microsoft Excel, which also had the benefit of us being able to take advantage of dropdowns, text boxes and even custom-built calendar pop-ups, to make it extremely easy for users to enter data. This approach has the advantage of allowing us to validate the user inputs, again preventing erroneous data from entering the system.
SMD has noted that the tool has been widely adopted by their teams, resulting in improved consistency and quality of the project programmes.
Some of the main advantages of the new solution are:
- Faster production - by using the streamlined user interface, the team are able to produce programmes faster than ever before.
- Robustness - the locked-down application is far more robust than previous solutions, and therefore less time is wasted due to errors.
- Consistency - as all teams are using the same application, the programmes being produced are all consistent, making it easy to compare.
- Familiarity - as most of the users are already familiar with Microsoft Excel, they are more at ease with an application built within it.
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