MS Project is a project management software program to assist with planning and managing a project. You can develop a plan, assign resources to tasks, track progress, manage a budget and analyse workloads.

Why use Microsoft Project?

microsoft project screenshot

Even with a systematic approach such as DMAIC (Define, Measure, Analyse, Improve, Control), there are instances of tasks within one phase that can be initiated before the prior phase has been completed. Detailing the dependencies and resource requirements provides an effective means of leveraging resources and speeding up project progress. Using a project management software program, such as the widely used Microsoft Project, greatly assists with doing this effectively.

Background

Microsoft Project (MS Project) is designed to assist with the Control element of a project.

MS Project handles the required project management elements such as tasks, resources and costs, as well as milestones and slack. Its calendar features allow easy scheduling of working and non-working time.

Report options include overview, current activities, costs, assignments and workloads. Visual reports are a means of creating graphs, pivot tables and various diagrams that can be opened using Excel or Visio. These include reports for task usage, resource usage, assignment usage, task summary, resource summary and assignment summary.

There is a quick project management history lesson available in the Help section.

Since MS Project is designed specifically for detailed tracking of all aspects of project management, it has a full set of features beyond the basics and gives a project manager a robust means of managing projects.

How we do it

[Adapted from Review of Microsoft Project for Six Sigma]

For people who are accustomed to working with Gantt charts, the MS Project interface is fairly straightforward.

Double-clicking on a task brings up the Task Information dialog box, which provides the opportunity to modify details such as Resources and Predecessors.

For those unfamiliar with Gantt charts and the ins and outs of project tracking, expect to work through a learning curve. The attempt to find appropriate help and information when getting started may be confusing and the Help section is not organised in a user-friendly way.

A large amount of material is lumped together in a way that does not seem very helpful, with videos, articles as well as humorous versions of tutorials, all combined by high-level categories. The videos in the Help section launch a web browser.

The troubleshooting options provide no useful information for solving the problem, so copying the URL and pasting into a web browser is the only option. The set of eight "Up to speed" videos are helpful for covering the basics such as tasks, resources and using the Project interface.

Project has a multi-level undo feature, which is a huge improvement in usability. It also has a Task Drivers view, which shows constraints that drive the start date for a specific task. This will be especially helpful for situations where you are being asked why some part of a project has not happened yet by the project Sponsor or the Quality Leader.

The Change Highlighting allows the user to see what other elements are changed by a modification to one specific element such as a task end date or a resource assignment.

Users can easily switch among views using the View menu, with options including resource graphs and sheets, a calendar view, a network diagram and, of course, the default Gantt chart. Turning on the Project Guide feature via the View menu displays a basic explanation of what you can do in a certain view with links to how-to details for specific options.

The most time-consuming part of using MS Project is entering the vast amounts of information required to properly manage a project, including the tasks in each phase of a project, the resources and allocations and the task dependencies and relationships.