If you are a Project Manager or you are studying to be one, the PIMBOK guide mentions that one of the tools that you will use is some sort of software to assist in tracking the tasks. The fact is that, it is essential to use software. This is not to manage the Project, but to manage the information. If you are a part of the PMO, then you are dealing with multiple projects, so having software is the key to staying organized. If you are using Microsoft Project, then you are well on your way. If you are not, then you will need to start. Not only is Microsoft Project the industry standard, it is also easy to use once you get the hang of it.
So you may be one of the PMs that uses Excel to manage your projects. REALLY? If this true, you are missing out on many of the Microsoft Project benefits. This program was created specifically for your job, so don’t you think you should be using it?
This post will offer a comprehensive Microsoft Project review, so after reading this, you may want to see if your budget will allow you to purchase the software.
Here is a breakdown of the Microsoft Project benefits:
Planning is by far the most important task you face as a Project Manager. One of the Microsoft Project benefits is that if you plan correctly, the software will give you all of the important information that you will need. You can access this information in real time, or you can create reports that you can analyze.
This is the first thing you will need to do. This is the backbone of the project itself. When you open new project, you will need to define a project start or project end. You will then assemble all of the relevant information. This will include the “players”, the resources with their associated costs, and their availability. Defining the calendar is also completed in this phase. Here you will create the calendars for each type of resource. For example, if you have team members that work Monday-Friday, you create a calendar specifically for them. For the team members that work weekends, you create a calendar for them. If you have a material resource that will be used, create that specific calendar, etc.
Once this is complete, you go to the Resources page, and input the individual project team members. There you can specify the calendar for each resource. After completing this, you can then go to the specific resource, Bob for example, then adjust his individual calendar. If Bob has vacation days scheduled in the middle of the project, you simply select those specific days, and mark them as non-working time. This part of the planning is important because you do not want to be in the middle of the Project and then realize Bob is going on vacation. This may affect other tasks, especially the ones that are on the critical path. This can eventually lead to the Project not being completed on time, or having to pull resources from other projects to fill in.
Trick: If you have a pool of resources that you use consistently, you can create an individual Project file and input all of the resources that you use. You can then import the resources from that master file to any of the Project files that you are managing. This way, managing more than one project will be easier.
Creating and organizing tasks
Here is where you input all of the tasks, their durations and relationships, and also the resources. The Gantt Chart view is the best place to do this. The most important tip I can give, is that even though there are Start and Finish columns for each task, you do not want to input hard dates in these columns. You want to input the durations and set the relationships and lead/lag times (Finish to Start/Start to Start-2d). This way, if you need to adjust the durations of a task. it will automatically adjust all of the other tasks that are connected to it. If that task is on the critical path, then the end date will also be adjusted. If you enter in dates in the Start and Finish columns, you will apply a constraint to that task. This will lock it in, and it will not move like the other tasks.
If you want to place a constraint, however, you can double click the task, then apply a constraint in the Task Information Box.
I mentioned the task relationships. You input those in the Predecessors column or the Task Information Box. There are four different relationship types:
- Finish to Start
- Start to Start
- Finish to Finish
- Start to Finish
In addition, you can specify lead or lag time.
You will also assign resources in the resources column. Here you can also input their availability (percentage of working time) for each task. This is helpful if the project team is a part of a functional matrix, and they are not working on the project full time.
If you need to create a work breakdown structure, you can easily do that.
If you are managing a large project, you can also create summary tasks. This will make it easier to read.
Once all of this is complete, you can set a baseline and you are good to go!
The reporting in Microsoft Project is really robust. Some of the canned reports that you can create include:
- Cost overview
- Project overview
- Upcoming tasks
- Overallocated resources
- Earned value
- Critical tasks
- Milestone report
You can created your own reports based on the any of these, or you can create reports from scratch.
I cannot even to begin to show all of the features for Microsoft Project in this blog post. The program is so robust, that when I teach it, it is a full 2-3 day course. You may not even use most of the features, but if you manage any type of project, this software is a must have. It will save you time.
If you are using Excel to manage your project, you are probably not getting the visibility that you need.
Hopefully this post gave you a little taste on Microsoft Project, and also some reasons why you should pick it up. The Microsoft Project benefits are a time saver, and you can spend your time managing your projects instead of managing eat software.
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I am a Microsoft Project Consultant and I am also available to help you fix any issues you may have with your project plan. Just email at