About Nathan

Nathan Black was on the founding team of OnePager, joining as a beta tester in 2005. The product was exciting — the lack of paycheck, exciting in a different way. So he went out into the world, working as a project manager, management consultant, and academic (he was most recently a research fellow in the Government Department at Harvard University). Everywhere he went, he saw a need for more and better project management, particularly by people who don’t call themselves project managers but end up filling that role on teams and ventures large and small. In 2014, he returned to OnePager as Vice President of Solutions. His primary roles are (1) helping customers use OnePager more effectively and (2) developing new versions of the software. He is passionate about getting project visualization and reporting right, and eager to hear from project managers (in title or in reality) who feel the same way! Nathan lives in Kansas City, Missouri with his wife Whitney and sons Ethan and Adam. They enjoy classical music, the outdoors, and politics. E-mail him at [email protected].

Tell Microsoft to fully support custom fields in Project for the web

If you use OnePager with Microsoft Project Online, take note: Project Online’s days are numbered. Although Microsoft has not committed to a firm date, it intends at some point to sunset Project Online in favor of Project for the web, a fully cloud-resident PPM offering that is built on the Microsoft Dataverse rather than on SharePoint.

OnePager will introduce an integration with Project for the web in its 7.2 release in 2023. Theoretically, when Microsoft flips the switch, OnePager users who previously brought in their data from Project Online will be able to instead bring in their data from Project for the web.

I say “theoretically” because Project for the web is far from a finished product, as I wrote in a recent MPUG article. That article detailed numerous deficiencies of Project for the web — the most important of which, for OnePager users, is the lack of third-party application support for custom fields.

Project Online has over 400 predefined fields; at last count, Project for the web has 16. That means a project of any complexity will require heavy use of custom fields to get the same information across. The good news is, Project for the web has a custom field capability that will look familiar to Project Online users. For instance, you can define a Yes/No field named “Flag20” and put “Yes” and “No” values in the column.

The bad news is, custom fields from Project for the web cannot be read by third-party applications like OnePager, and we need your help asking Microsoft to make these fields available.

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OnePager 7.1: Seeking Beta Testers

We are excited to announce that we’ll be releasing a beta of our new OnePager version 7.1 in the next few weeks. A lot of users have already reached out and asked to be a part of our beta program for version 7.1, but if this is the first that you’re hearing about it, there is still room for you to join.

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OnePager issued patent for Smart Text Optimization

We’re excited to announce OnePager was issued its seventh U.S. patent today, for Smart Text Optimization, a new feature available in version 7.0.

Numerous users of pre-7.0 versions of OnePager told us that their initial charts were full of text collisions, which required manual repositioning of labels to make them suitable for presentations. We honed an algorithm that sequentially applies a series of strategies to avoid these collisions, seeking to produce the best-looking output with the minimum user effort.

Our users’ feedback helped us refine this new technology, so thank you! Let us know how you’re using Smart Text Optimization and what improvements remain to be made.

OnePager 7.0: Seeking Beta Testers

OnePager is thrilled to announce we are a few weeks away from releasing our next beta version, 7.0.0. This new release will significantly upshift the reporting capabilities of OnePager, while making the user experience easier and the outputs more visually appealing to the consumers of OnePager charts. We are now looking for “a few good PMs” to beta test the release … more on that in a moment.

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OnePager Issued Patent for Non-Linear Time Axis

Last October, we told you about the non-linear time axis feature of OnePager version 6.1. This new feature allows you to call out a portion of your timeline — making, say, the third quarter of 2019 wider than the second and fourth quarters, so the tasks and milestones from Q3 stand out. OnePager users had been asking for this feature for years, and have been enthusiastic about this new capability.

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Introducing tips on Primavera P6 and more

Theoretically, we here at OnePager are experts on … OnePager. But, having been in the business of helping project managers present clear and eye-catching Gantt charts for many years, we have picked up a lot of tips and tricks along the way about the project and portfolio management (PPM) software that feeds data into OnePager.

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If OnePager is Catching On at Your Company, You’re Not Alone

Something exciting is happening at OnePager: We are seeing tremendous growth in our user base. And, of course, we have you to thank for it.

From September 2016 to September 2017, we grew our user base by 20%. Then, from September 2017 to today, we grew by another 22%. That’s a total growth of 47% over the last two years!

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Thanks for Helping Us #FixProjectServer

Back in April, we asked for your help in lobbying Microsoft to complete the technology that allows OnePager to import data from Project Server and Project Online. We are pleased to say that with your help, we have succeeded in convincing Microsoft to change course.

Our petition has to date received 298 votes, making it the top vote-getter among the petitions posted for all editions of Microsoft Project (Project Server, Project Online, and Project Desktop). A number of OnePager users left comments alongside their signatures, telling Microsoft of the importance of OnePager to their business and the criticality of the needed fix. We can’t thank you enough for your help. There is no doubt that this unprecedented outpouring of support from our user community got Microsoft’s attention and elevated the priority of our request.

We are now pleased to announce that beginning with OnePager Pro version 5.3.11, OnePager will be able use the following custom fields to create timelines in Microsoft Project Server and Online. Previously, these fields were available only if Project was installed on the desktop.

  • Flag1 – Flag20
  • Text1 – Text30
  • Number1 – Number10
  • Date1 – Date20
  • Start1 – Start10 (Start itself was always available)
  • Finish1 – Finish10 (Finish itself was always available)
  • Cost1 – Cost10
  • Outline Code1 – Outline Code10
  • The Project Summary Task (aka Task 0)

We will send a separate notification to everyone as soon as 5.3.11 is available for download, which should be very soon.

If you’re a frequent user of OnePager, many of these fields will look familiar. For instance, many users employ these fields to filter which tasks from their Project plans they want to display in OnePager — it’s how you turn a 1,000-line Project plan into a 25-line OnePager. The Text fields are also crucial, because they allow users to import custom data for use in OnePager’s conditional formatting feature. For instance, if I was collaborating with ABC Pharma and I wanted all tasks in the ABC Pharma workstream called out on my chart, I would put “ABC Pharma” in the Text30 field, then conditionally format all tasks with ABC Pharma in Text30 to be red.

Microsoft’s omission of these fields left a gaping hole in our usability that could only be worked around by installing Project on the user’s desktop — which, of course, defeats the purpose of using a cloud app like Project Server or Online in the first place. We are delighted that Microsoft listened to our customers and closed the gaps, which will make for a better user experience not only in OnePager but also in Project, and in other apps that integrate with Project.

We continue to work with Microsoft on a small number of fields that are still inaccessible to OnePager in Project Server/Online, including Baseline1 – Baseline10 (Baseline Start and Baseline Finish can be read), and Duration1 – Duration10 (likewise, Duration can be read). If you are having difficulty because of an inability to use these fields from Project Server/Online, please reach out to us at [email protected] and we will pass your concerns on to the appropriate Microsoft engineers.

Once again, we truly appreciate your support, and we hope you are as inspired as we are about what a few (hundred) good project managers can do! Please keep the feedback coming.

If You Use Microsoft Project Server or Project Online, You May Be in Trouble. Here’s What to Do.

OnePager has been a proud Microsoft Partner for many years. We both build and integrate with Microsoft technology. So we are generally pretty pro-Microsoft. But in this case, we think Microsoft has messed up big time, and it will negatively impact thousands of our customers. That’s why we’re asking you to get involved.

To make a long story short, starting this year, it may no longer be possible to use OnePager to make graphics from Project Server 2016 without also doing a desktop installation of Microsoft Project Professional. That means our customers who want to pull project data directly into OnePager from Project Server or Project Online, without using Microsoft Project on the desktop, will be out of luck. If that bothers you, good — we discuss at the bottom of this post what to do about it. First, a little detail.

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The Quest for Graphical Excellence: Part 3 of 3

For the last two weeks, we’ve been exploring the ideas of data visualization expert Edward Tufte and applying them to project charts, aka Gantt charts. Two weeks ago I introduced Tufte’s theory of graphical excellence; last week, I discussed what Tufte has to say about project charts. This week, I’ll discuss what I have to say about Tufte.

He is, of course, a smart fellow, and has done project managers a tremendous service by coming up with an academic theory with applications to project graphics — the kind of task few of us have time to do (most days, I barely get through my e-mail). I think he’s absolutely right about maximizing data-ink and minimizing chart-junk. In other words, a good project chart has only the graphics it needs to tell the story of the project, and nothing else (no extraneous gridlines, colors, shading, etc.). He’s also a fan of horizontal swimlanes to organize project tasks visually, and so am I:

Tufte's sketch of a "project management interface," aka project chart. From http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=000076

Tufte’s sketch of a “project management interface,” aka project chart. The entire chart is 8 panels (shown in tiny insets at the top), and the first panel is blown up to show detail. From http://www.edwardtufte.com/bboard/q-and-a-fetch-msg?msg_id=000076

Where Tufte and I part company is on the value of simplicity. As we saw last week, one of Tufte’s principal objections to Gantt charts is that they are too simplistic. He really likes charts to show complexity — just think of the train schedule from last week’s post, or the project chart above (notice it’s just one of 8 panels meant to be mounted on somebody’s wall!).

Unlike Tufte, I happen to think simplicity of communication has an important role in project management. I’m sure many of the Japanese train engineers learned to make great use of that schedule, but to the uninitiated it is just a puzzling line drawing. Likewise, the chart above is beautiful to look at, but if I was the “Vice President/General Manager” of that company and someone put it in front of me, I would probably go ballistic.

“What’s the story here?” I would snap. “What’s ahead of schedule? What’s behind? What’s an overall percent-complete of this project that I can take to my manager?” Any of this sound familiar?

The point is, as I said last week, audience matters. In most cases, executives at large organizations only need and only want to see high-level details of a project:

Sample project chart for executives

Whereas individual contributors — engineers, scientists, testers, and so forth — need to see more detail, but probably only the detail that is relevant to their workstream:

Sample project chart for the Engineering team

Maybe somebody (besides you) should have to look at the whole gory plan, or maybe it should be trotted out in a quarterly meeting so people get a sense of, quite literally, the bigger picture. But the idea of visualizing the whole project plan for everyone at every meeting is, in my view, a waste of everyone’s time. It’s also a waste of your time, since there are software tools that make it easy to show different versions of your project plan to different audiences.

Another objection I have to Tufte’s theory, and its application to project charts, is that he seems to hate Gantt charts for their conformity. Gantt charts have, he said, “regressed to Microsoft mediocrity.” That could mean a lot of things, but one thing he says it means is that they all kind of look the same. They all have time along the top, and tasks/resources down the side.

Sure, but what’s the problem with that? The reality is, the average worker changes jobs 12 times in her career (and for millennials that number will probably be closer to 20). It is perfectly understandable that in many industries, project charts have an agreed-upon format. Otherwise, the new guy or gal doesn’t know what he or she is looking at. How’d you like to be a Japanese train engineer in your first day on the job, and get a chart like the one we saw last week? I would need to go find a secluded conference room to cry.

Like all theories, Tufte’s is imperfect, but better than what we had before (which as far as I can tell was nothing). He’s right that project charts should communicate clearly, without clutter; he’s wrong, in my view, that all project charts should be both complex and uniquely formatted. But that’s just my opinion. What is yours?