Why is Microsoft Project so difficult to learn?

Here’s why self-taught Microsoft Project learners struggle…

We know hundreds of our clients who successfully taught themselves Microsoft Excel. We did as well, by the way. We’re betting that you probably did, too.

It’s the same with Microsoft Word. Reasonably easy to learn, to the point where you can put together a half-decent report or well-formatted letter. As a matter fact, if you think about any Word document, you can create a professional-looking document without using the most appropriate set of formatting tools, even though it may not be the best way to do it. Or (and I’m sure many of us have done this) you can fudge it to the point where it looks OK.

As long as it looks OK by the time you print it, it’ll often do.

Microsoft Project doesn’t work that way, and most people we know who try to learn Project by themselves really struggle with the software.

Here’s why. Microsoft Project is a relational database package. It’s more like Microsoft Access or MYOB, the accounting package. Project comprises several tables, containing tasks, resources and calendars. They all need to work together. Use them incorrectly and you’ll wind up with a jumble of data.

That’s different to Excel and Word. With both these packages, you can use only those aspects of the software that you need in order to get the job done, and ignore the rest.

Taking Word as an example, if you were to put together a poorly constructed document which looked acceptable on the screen, as long as it holds together long enough for you to hit the print button, you’re fine.

Project’s different. We call a well-constructed Gantt chart a living document. It’s got to be put together correctly from the start, but once that’s done you’ll be able to expand it, modify it, drag meaningful reports from it and use it the way it was meant to be used – as a forward-looking management tool.

Use it incorrectly, and you’ll be creating nothing more than a static picture of your project. It’ll be no different to using Excel. As a matter of fact, that what most self-taught Project users wind up doing – moving back to Excel to organise their projects, by putting their tasks in column A, dates across row 1, and colouring in the cells to represent tasks.

There’s an additional problem that entry-level Microsoft Project users have to overcome that Excel users probably won’t – in most environments there are usually a large percentage of people using Excel in a fundamentally correct way; they’re creating formulas that calculate correctly. So their colleagues have good models and templates to look at and learn from. That’s invaluable.

With Microsoft Project, however, we’ve encountered environments where there really isn’t anyone using the software correctly to build Gantt charts. And that means that there is a huge base of people trying to use Microsoft Project who’ve never seen a Gantt chart structured correctly enough to be used as a forward-looking management tool.

And as a novice Microsoft Project user can’t see what a good Gantt chart looks like, it’ll be a lot harder to learn to put one together.

Need a copy of a well-structured Microsoft Project Gantt chart as a reference point? We’re happy to help. Send us an email and we’ll be happy to send one across to you. There’s nothing like a good example to help you on the way.

Check out our other posts for information on how to tell if you’re using Project correctly, and how you can make your Gantt charts even better.

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