Gantt charts and other Microsoft Project output can be intimidating to many people who are not familiar with reading these types of charts. The problem may be increasing because Visio is being installed more frequently on corporate desktops. Project, on the other hand, is often restricted to managers and project management staff.

Visimation ProjectPix is a third-party Project add-in that lets you view Project data via the Visio charting environment. Visimation is a Microsoft partner specializing in Visio solutions. This product review was written using their free 30-day trial download. (The download is currently available as a 10-day free trial with a $99 purchase price.) While the integration of Project and Visio has always been possible, Visimation ProjectPix takes the strategy further.

Introducing Visimation ProjectPix
While Microsoft does offer the WBS Chart Wizard as a free download, using ProjectPix offers a number of advantages:

  • ProjectPix enables data interchange between Project and Visio. Changes made to the Visio diagram are carried over to the Project source file.
  • ProjectPix offers many more options for the outputting of the WBS Chart.
  • After you install Visimation ProjectPix, it appears as a new menu option in Project and in Visio.

ProjectPix includes the following features:

  • Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) allows you to generate Visio diagrams illustrating the work tasks involved in a project.
  • Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM) allows you to generate a Visio diagram specifying the responsibility for project tasks to team members.

Visimation ProjectPix has the following system requirements:

  • Microsoft Windows XP, 2000, NT, Me, or 98
  • Microsoft Visio Professional 2002 or Standard 2002
  • Microsoft Project 2000 or 2002

Creating a WBS chart with Visimation Project Pix
First, launch Project and Visio, and open the Project file to be used to create the WBS chart. Next, in Project, go to the ProjectPix menu and select WBS and Generate WBS Chart.

Figure A shows an example of how the WBS Chart output appears in Visio.

Figure A

The output size varies with the size, detail, and complexity of the source Project file. When I used a Project file adapted from the New Product template in Project, the resulting WBS Chart output stretched across 10 8 œ x 11 pages.

That output is based upon default settings, but ProjectPix includes a number of features which let you manipulate the Visio output and avoid having to piece together your printouts. From the ProjectPix menu (in Visio), the following options are available:

  • Auto-arrange Tasks
  • Arrange Subtasks
  • Hide/Show Subtasks
  • Move Task Left/Up
  • Move Task Right/Down
  • Delete Task and Subtasks

You can also alter colors on the Visio WBS Chart via the Color Tasks and Subtasks and Re-inherit Color from Summary Task features.

Note that saving any changes to the WBS Chart output in Visio will be propagated to the Project file containing the original data. The data interchange works in the other direction as well. This is a big step beyond the functionality offered by the first generation WBS Chart Add-In from Microsoft.

Working with Project shapes in ProjectPix
The WBS Shape Wizard in the WBS submenu allows you to customize the WBS chart levels you want to show in the final WBS chart output. You can also customize the shapes in the WBS chart production. It offers enough flexibility to develop WBS chart output to meet your particular reporting requirements. Figure B shows the Project Shape Options dialog:

Figure B

Create a responsibility assignment matrix with ProjectPix
The Responsibility Assignment Matrix (RAM) feature illustrates the breakdown of project task responsibilities. You can assign project tasks from Project, and the RAM tool allows you to specify several levels of responsibility including resource, lead resource, sponsor, and stakeholder. Figure C offers a closer look at part of the Responsibility Assignment Matrix generated from the Project file I adapted from Project’s New Product template.

Figure C

To take advantage of the Responsibility Assignment Matrix, you must make all pertinent task resource assignments in the Project file. Figure D shows the Responsibility Assignment dialog box available from the RAM submenu.

Figure D

Documentation and support for Visimation ProjectPix
ProjectPix has online help that is accessible only from the ProjectPix menu in Project that is not accessible from the Project or Visio help system.

While some samples are provided with ProjectPix, you have to go to the ProjectPix directory on your local hard drive to find them. It would have been nice if ProjectPix offered samples of the Project file and resulting output as RAM and WBS charts.

Visualizing a project with ProjectPix
I recommend ProjectPix for project managers seeking a better way to communicate with executives, stakeholders, and project team members. Integrating Visio and Project as a project management tool helps you better communicate project status information than working from a Gantt chart. It offers an excellent level of customization with an easy learning curve for users already familiar with Project and Visio.