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Using Open Office For Project Document Creation

By Edited Nov 13, 2013 0 0

Open Office Should be Your Next Project Document System

Many organizations lack the sophisticated tools that are used to document projects. This is an unacceptible situation since the Open Office suite of applications is available and can be used to generate most types of project documentation. While it will assist with manuals, presentations and charts, it can also be used for database diagrams, use case diagrams, work breakdown structures and more. Best of all, the applications are easy to use and free for both commercial and personal use.

Open Office is a suite of computer applications which is available free from openoffice.org. There is a work processor, a spreadsheet, a presentation and a drawing application contained in the release. Simply download and run the installation package on your own machine. This process is very easy but it does take some time. After it completes, the applications are available. Each can read and write popular document formats such as those used by the Microsoft Office programs. Note that it is not possible to save documents in the new "DOCX" or "XLSX" formats but the older "DOC", "XLS" formats are fine. Open Office defaults to its own file formats but this can be altered if necessary.

With Open Office installed, project documentation can be created. The word processor, "Write", is very capable of creating large manuals, user guides and other reference material. The spreadsheet, "Calc", can be used to track project expenses. The presentation application can be used to create project demonstrations and the drawing application is useful for several purposes. Together, these free programs give the project team a completely capable set of document producing tools.

Notice that there is no project tracking application within Open Office. Large project efforts will want to use the standard commercial applications. If requirements are lighter, Open Office can be used for project tracking. Small project plans can be developed in the spreadsheet tool. Similarly, project work breakdown structures can be developed as spreadsheets. These may be able to handle the job for small projects or even small teams. The ability to generate critical path analysis, and other more advanced management reporting, will be limited if Open Office is used for task tracking.

Using Open Office to Create a Project Plan
While you could use the word processor to create a basic project plan, the spreadsheet tool is likely best. This is, of course, only for those smaller projects which have a relatively low number of tasks and/or team members. Simply establish your base line of requirements that need to be tracked. For example, the following may be reasonable items to include in a project plan spreadsheet:

Task Name
Start Date
Duration
Deliverables

This basic plan might look like this:    

Task Name Start Date Duration Deliverables
Initiation Jan. 4 10 weeks

Project Plan

Develop
Reports

Feb. 10 20 weeks

Std reports

System
Interface

Feb. 20 5 weeks

UNIX connection

This type of simple plan can easily be represented in Open Office. This plan is something of a hybrid with this amount of detail. It could be used as the start of a work breakdown structure simply by adding these fields:

Team Member
Dependency

Here is a sample work breakdown structure:

Task Name Start Date Duration Deliverables Team
Member
Dependency
Initiation Jan. 4 10 weeks

Project Plan

Bill

Funding

Develop
Reports

Feb. 10 20 weeks

Std reports

Sue

Initiation

System
Interface

Feb. 20 5 weeks

UNIX connection

Karen

n/a

Creating Other Project Documentation With Open Office
With a rudimentary project plan and work breakdown structure created with Open Office, you could easily add other documents. A database entity relationship diagram can be developed in Draw. Use case diagrams can also be developed in Draw. Meeting minutes can be recorded in Write. Practically any documentation requirement for projects can be developed with one of the Open Office applications. As mentioned above, this is mainly appropriate for smaller projects but larger efforts can benefit from the free set of tools as well. The main point is to have a valid set of project documentation produced for each project.

It is a fact that many projects do not adequately document their results. PMI specifies that maintaining project documentation is a requirement when finishing a project. The opposite is also true: the project isn't finished until it is documented. While many large organizations have all of the project tools, the use of documentation tools is not always specified. This is a problem, of course, as subsequent project managers often do not have the benefit of knowledge that was gained during the execution of similar projects. Whether an organization has commercial project tools, or they use the Open Office suite, the result should be the same - fully documented projects.

Open Office provides a suite of applications that allow project team members to develop project documentation. Open Office is free for all uses, commercial or personal. The Write application is a standard word processor which will be familiar to anyone who has used similar tools. The Calc application is a spreadsheet which is also easy for experienced computer users. The Draw and Presentation programs are very easy to use, even by people who have little prior experience. Together, these applications give organizations the tools necessary to develop documentation. Since price is no longer an obstacle, there is no reason why projects can't be fully documented in the future.

Users of Open Office may want to consider the file formats of their created documents. The default file types of the applications is an open specification. This is adequate for sites that never send documents to other users but these formats are not always compatible with other applications. If compatibility with Microsoft Word or Excel is important, you may want to change the default file types in Write and Calc to those used by the familiar commercial versions. The "DOC" file type can be used for all saved documents. "XLS" can be used for saved spreadsheets. Note that the newer "DOCX" and "XLSX" file types can be read by Open Office but these cannot be saved. Instead, useres will have to save in the "DOC", "XLS" or other file formats. This is not a particular concern, but it is an issue that may be noticed.


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