Microsoft Project is project management software. It can be used regardless of which project management methodology is in place, and there are 2 separate phases where the software will be used
- Planning phase – Often referred to pre-live, this is when we organise the project’s tasks into the order in which they’ll be performed
- Actuals phase – Often referred to as the live phase, this is when progress and actuals are recorded so we can see how we’re tracking.
What does Microsoft Project do?
It performs an array of functions, but these can be boiled down to the following functions:
- It helps you develop a plan
- It allows you to assigning resources to tasks so you can see who should be doing what, and when
- It tracks progress, so you can see where you are versus where you should be as the project progresses
- It assists you in managing the project budget
- It analyses workloads so you can see if your resources are under or overused.
Points 1 and 3 above of most importance, generally speaking; while most people using project will want to use it to create a plan and track progress, less people will need to use the resourcing, costing and workload analysis tools. That’s fine, by the way – Microsoft Project is powerful software and you need only use the functions within it that will be useful when you manage your projects.
Microsoft Project is, above all else, a visual tool. The best way to understand what it does is to look at some examples of the points listed above.
Developing a plan with MS Project
Below you’ll see a Microsoft project plan, more commonly referred to as a Gantt chart. A table containing the tasks and phases is shown on the left, and the Gantt chart representation of those tasks, when linked together, is shown on the right.
We have 2 major phases in our project – Phase 1 and Phase 2. Both these phases live within yet another higher-level phase called My project.
Note that some of the Gantt bars are shown in red – Microsoft Project calculates that these are on the critical path. These are important; should any of these red bars take longer than planned, the project’s end-date will be delayed.
Assigning resources to tasks
It’s not mandatory, but you can create a pool of resources. These are the people, organisations and roles that are involved in your project. In the example below, we’re entered several resources into the Resource sheet within Microsoft Project.
We can now assign these resources to our Gantt chart, as shown below:
This will allow us to see which resources are scheduled to perform specific tasks, among other things. Note that Helen Rogers is assigned to both tasks 4 and 5. In the second column (marked “i”) Microsoft Project is alerting us to the possibility that Helen Rogers may be overallocated, or have more work scheduled than she is capable of performing.
While the plan shown above is useful for viewing a plan which is yet to start, we need a different tool once the project has commenced.
What will be valuable then is to be able to quantify where we are versus where we should be at any point in the project. In other words, are we on schedule? Are we slipping behind?
The Tracking Gantt view, shown below, allows us to see this clearly:
In the above image, we can see the baseline, shown as a grey bar resting underneath the blue and red bars. The baseline represents the original project plan, and was created before any actuals have been entered. Once we’ve established a baseline we can see the origin plan (the baseline) compared to where we actually are.
In the image above we are falling behind the baseline, and our project is therefore behind schedule.
Need a demonstration? It’s cost-free (sub-header)
It’s common that people new to Microsoft Project may not be aware of the features and capabilities of the software. We offer a cost-free demonstration in which we can run through the areas of Microsoft Project which will be important to your organisation.