MS Project != design happiness

I was having lunch today with a former Adobe design manager at House of Kabobs in Sunnyvale (I highly recommend it!) and we wandered onto the topic of UI schedules and MS Project in particular. I’m just not a fan of MS Project: it’s bloated, ugly, tedious, heavy, bespeaks of micromanagement and bureaucracy (death by Powerpoint? how about waterboarding by Project!). But there’s something else irksome about it and until today I just didn’t know how to express it. But my friend said it just right: “MS Project is meant for deterministic projects, where you already know the result.” He’s right–If you already know what you’re going to build, then it’s just a matter of “construction”, getting the materials and resources and time to build the damn thing. And all that can be neatly, tidily inputted in and calculated out to the Nth degree.

But here’s the rub–design is fundamentally indeterminate! Meaning, there is no pre-determined outcome, there’s instead innovation, and ideation and hypothesizing, and fast-failing and iteration, and of course exploration of the boundaries and scopes/limits. (with the possibility of negotiating those limits) For instance, if you pre-determine yourself to make a 4-sided widget to be built as the “UI solution” and it turns out a 5-sided widget is better for whatever design rationale, you’ve cornered yourself in with an MS Project dictated schedule based upon that 4-sided widget. Now you have to re-work the schedule to fit in the new design, resourcing, materials, testing, etc. And in any multi-disciplinary context, that usually involves committees, approvals, etc. By the time it’s all done, you could have designed a few alternatives!!

So, I’m sure MS Project is great if you already know what you’re going to build. But if you don’t know and have yet to go thru the design process, I don’t believe MS Project is the way to go. The creative/iterative process is simply too organic and messy for something that is inherently stilted and over-structured to the point of being formulaic. MS Project was built for number-crunchers, not designers.

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