Project management

Is Merlin Project a worthy replacement for your current project management solution?


Jack Wallen is throwing the tires on the macOS version of Merlin Project to see if it’s worth the cost of the software.

Image: Pixel-Shot/Adobe Stock

If you depend on Gantt charts and Kanban boards to keep your projects on schedule, you might assume your only recourse is to sign up for one of the many services available. You’re spoiled for choice, but when a project is more sensitive in nature or you prefer a more traditional desktop client type solution, what do you do?

One option is Merlin Project, which is a professional-grade project management system for macOS and iOS devices. With Merlin Project, you can plan, control and track all your projects. The feature set found in Merlin Project includes:

  • Gantt charts
  • mind maps
  • Kanban boards
  • Net packages
  • Costs and budgets with top-down and bottom-up planning
  • Resources with optional resource pools
  • Project synchronization with iCloud, Dropbox and other cloud services
  • Automated resource leveling
  • Modular reports
  • Import from MS Office and MindJet MindManager
  • Export to PDF, HTML, MS Project and more

SEE: Recruitment Kit: Project Manager (TechRepublic 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 which can be used by a single person or teams of users. You can try Merlin Project for free for 30 days. After that, you can pay 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 the Merlin project

When first running Merlin Project, my initial assessment of what I saw was a little pessimistic seeing a user interface that looked a bit outdated (Figure A). Considering the cost of the software, I would have assumed it was a nice user interface just as modern as the current macOS.

Figure A

The initial Project Merlin window looks a bit outdated by modern standards.

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 what features are available. To that end, I chose to use the general project management plan to see how many miles I could squeeze out of it.

After choosing the template, I was surprised to find it filled with demo data (Figure B).

Figure B

Demonstration data for the overall project management plan.

Right from the start, I realized that Merlin Project was serious business. It is not software that will guide you through the onboarding process. When you choose to use Merlin Project, you know your way around the Gantt charts better, otherwise you will be lost from the jump.

Not being a big fan of Gantt charts, I immediately wanted to know what Merlin Project had to offer as 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 was, when opening the Kanban view on the project, that Merlin Project was far from a traditional board. One thing you need 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:

  • Complete
  • The expected duration
  • Planned work
  • Milestones
  • On the critical path
  • Priority
  • Resources
  • Status
  • Key words

These 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 pane (Figure C).

Figure C

The Merlin project kanban pools window.

You have to be very careful when creating your first kanban board in Merlin Project. When you open the view, you will be greeted by a window with a button labeled Group By Status Field. Click this button and then, in the resulting pop-up window (Figure D), select By new field from template.

Figure D

Creating a new kanban board in Merlin Project.

Select the project type (such as Software Development) from the drop-down list and click OK. Your new kanban board will be created and you are ready to start.

The problem with using kanban with Merlin Project is that once you’ve created a board, you can’t really customize it. For this reason, you should perform any customizations after selecting your template (and before clicking OK). In this window, you can add, remove, and rename columns as needed. If you don’t customize the template before creating the table, you’re out of luck, because you can’t add or remove columns after the table is created.

If, however, you take the time and customize the board to suit your needs, I have found the Merlin project on kanban to be very powerful and useful.

Who is the Merlin Project for?

This is a difficult question to answer. Considering the cost and complexity of the app, I’d say Merlin Project is for those who are serious about Gantt charts and have already mastered the art. If you enter Merlin Project without knowing what you are doing, you will immediately be lost.

Merlin Project is one of the most feature-rich desktop applications of this nature that I have come across. It is also one of the most complicated. But if you’re looking for serious Gantt chart power, you’d be hard pressed to find a competitor more worthy of your needs. If the price isn’t too high for you and you’re already familiar with Gantt charts and Kanban boards, I highly recommend taking Merlin Project for the 30-day trial and seeing if it doesn’t respond ( and, most likely, exceed) your needs.

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