Jack Wallen kicks out the macOS version of Merlin Project to see if it lives up to the cost of the software.
If you rely on Gantt charts and kanban boards to keep your projects on track, you can rest assured that you can only sign up for one of the many services available. There are plenty to choose from, but if a project is more sensitive in nature, or if you prefer a more traditional desktop client-type solution, what do you do?
One option is Merlin Project, a professional project management system for macOS and iOS devices. With Merlin Project you can plan, control and monitor all your projects. The feature set in Merlin Project includes:
- Gantt Charts
- mind maps
- Kanban boards
- Net subscriptions
- Costs and budgets with both top-down and bottom-up planning
- Resources with optional resource pools
- Project sync with iCloud, Dropbox and other cloud services
- Automated Resource Leveling
- Modular reporting
- Import from MS Office and MindJet MindManager
- Export to PDF, HTML, MS Project and more
TO SEE: Hiring Kit: Project Manager (Tech Republic Premium)
One thing to keep in mind is that Merlin Project is not free. There are two different versions of Merlin: Merlin Project and Merlin Project Express. Express is for private project management and Project is their flagship application that can be used by one person or by teams of users. You can try Merlin Project for free for 30 days. After that, you can pay either an annual ($169.99) or monthly ($16.99) subscription fee. But is the software worth it, given the number of free options available? Let’s take a look and find out.
First impressions of Merlin Project
On the first run of Merlin Project, my initial assessment of what I saw was a little pessimistic at seeing a UI that seemed a little outdated (Image A). Given the cost of the software, I would have assumed it had a beautiful user interface that was as modern as current macOS.
Of course, I’ve learned over the years not to judge a book by its cover, so the real test will be how easy the software is to use and the features available. That’s why I chose to use the General Project Management Plan to see how many miles I could get out of it.
After choosing the template, I was surprised that it was full of demo data (Figure B).
Right out of the gate I realized that Merlin Project means serious business. This is not a piece of software that you keep handy during the onboarding process. When you choose to use Merlin Project, you better find your way around Gantt charts or you will be lost at the jump.
Not being a big fan of Gantt charts, I immediately wanted to know what Merlin Project had to offer in terms of kanban boards. I’m not going to lie, it took me a while to figure out how to open the Kanban View (go to View | Net Plan | Kanban). My next surprise, when I opened the Kanban View on the project, was that Merlin Project was far from a traditional board. One thing you have to work with is the idea of groupings. With Merlin Project, groupings allow you to dynamically group the contents of the current view based on certain rules, such as:
- Expected duration
- Expected work
- On a critical path
Those are just the out-of-the-box groupings. You can create your own custom grouping by opening the Groupings section and clicking + at the bottom right of the panel (Figure C).
You should pay close attention when creating your first kanban board in Merlin Project. When you open the view, you are greeted by a window with a button labeled Group by Status Field. Click that button and then, in the resulting popup (Figure D), select On new field from template.
Select the type of project (such as Software Development) from the drop-down list and click OK. Your new kanban board is created and you are ready to go.
The thing about using kanban with Merlin Project is that once you create a board, you can’t really customize it. Therefore, you should make adjustments after you select your template (and before you click OK). In that window, you can add, delete and rename columns to suit your needs. If you don’t modify the template before creating the board, you’re out of luck, as you won’t be able to add or remove columns after the board is created.
However, if you take your time and customize the board to your needs, I’ve found the Merlin Project kanban to be very powerful and useful.
Who is Merlin Project for?
This is a difficult question to answer. Given the cost and complexity of the app, I’d say Merlin Project is aimed at those who are serious about Gantt charts and have already mastered the art. If you get into Merlin Project without knowing what you’re doing, you’re instantly lost.
Merlin Project is one of the most feature-rich desktop apps of this nature I’ve come across. It is also one of the most complicated. But if you’re looking for some serious Gantt charting power, you’d be hard pressed to find a more worthy contender for your needs. If the price isn’t too high for you and you already know your way around Gantt charts and Kanban boards, I highly recommend taking Merlin Project for the 30-day trial and see if it doesn’t fit (and most likely , exceed) your needs.