Merlin Project tutorials — the basics: First steps

This article is the first of a series of 10. The introductory series on Merlin Project is meant to show you the basics of working with the application and to familiarise yourself with its interface and capabilities. Every two to three days, a new article will be published so you can take the series at a comfortable pace or wait until all 10 have been released and take them all at once.

Project management starts with brainstorming and conceptualising. The concept becomes a project when it can be split up into tasks and the order in which they need to be executed.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step”, a famous Chinese philosopher is claimed to have said. A project is a journey and Merlin Project enables you to take the first step and every next one until you reach the end-result.

Brainstorming is done with the help of software. In some parts of the world, people use mindmaps or Rico clusters, which are freeform graphic representations of one’s thoughts while concentrated on the problem at hand. In others, people use more structured means (lists, diagrams, flowcharts, organisational charts, etc.) to collect ideas and create a concept project from them.

While you can use mindmapping software like MindManager or NovaMind, or apps like OmniOutliner or OmniGraffle to collect your thoughts on the Mac, you don’t really need them when you’re working with Merlin Project. If for some reason you absolutely must use them, you’re fine as Merlin Project opens OPML, MindManager, NovaMind and a whole range of other file formats. However, if you are not under any obligation to use them, you can manage your brainstorming stage in Merlin Project itself — in fact, it might be better to.

There are two features to collect and manage your early project ideas and other data in Merlin Project. Under the NetPlan View, you will find a “MindMap” and “Organizational Chart” view. In both views, Merlin Project shows you a starting item — the name/title of your project — and by clicking the large “Plus” button in the upper left corner, you can add activities. Clicking the triangle next to the Plus button enables you to add milestones, children, predecessors and successors in both views. Alternatively, you can also right-click the circles/blocks and select “Insert” from the context menu. What you enter in these views will immediately be entered in the Gantt chart and other activity views such as the Netplan > Flow View or Work Breakdown > Entry views as well.
Merlin Project mindmapping

The Organizational Chart view is a structured alternative to the mindmapping view. It behaves more like a hierarchical organisation chart than the MindMap view. Both views allow you to add a title for a new step or activity in the project, right in the main working window. You can also fill in the remaining settings and parameters for each of these entries in the Inspector, but in a brainstorming phase it’s all about visualising/conceptualising, not yet planning, and so it’s best not to go into too much detail yet.
Hierarchical map

While brainstorming in a dedicated mindmapping app is probably better to let your thoughts flow freely, doing it in Merlin Project has several advantages:

  • The mindmap or organisational chart is immediately available by switching to the Work Breakdown View, where it will show up without any scheduling or task dependencies applied.
  • There is no need to convert the imported file and match ‘fields’ in the mindmapping app or OPML file with fields in Merlin Project.
  • It’s obviously faster and allows you to start planning in parallel with idea generation. For example, if part of the concept is good to go, you can continue to think of further ideas while simultaneously adding resources and a basic timing for the part that has already been approved.