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Project Management

MS Project, Early and Often

99.9% of the project managers I know have at least heard of Microsoft Project (MSP), and all understand it to be a very capable, yet very complex environment for estimating and managing projects. But it’s Saturday evening and I’m a bit cynical tonight, so I’ll say that 50% of those people don’t really understand how it works – and have many reasons why they should not use MSP for this project or that …

  • … this is an iterative development effort – not enough requirements to lay out a work plan …
  • … gantt charts are inherently waterfall, and this is an agile project …
  • … there are too many other things going on, and I can’t (don’t want to) model everything that these people are doing …
  • … this is a simple effort – small team, tiny deliverables – MSP is overkill (the phrase “shooting rabbits with a bazooka” comes to mind) …

Cynicism aside, I think the last excuse is the most common; unfortunately, this sets up a no-win situation. If we only use MSP for large, complicated projects, when will we ever learn the basics? This negative line of thinking is sure to take you down an unfortunate path that ends in Excel task lists and endless emails looking for status updates. A better approach would be to see project management as it really is – not so tough once you learn the basics. (Add little to little and there will be a big pile – Ovid).

If you’ve ever used MS Project, you understand what I’m talking about – there are a large number of defaults to set up at the outset. Also, you need to understand the interplay between Resource assignments, Available Units, Task Type, Effort, Duration … and when (if ever!) to use the dreaded F9 (Level Resources).

Suggestion: start using MS Project now – even for the very small projects! It’s like any other complex skill – the more you practice, the better you get. Why not work out the basic mechanics and concepts on simple projects; when the more complex ones  come around, it will just be a step-function higher in difficulty. (Practice makes perfect, walk before you run, etc.)

Three follow-up ideas on this topic, building on stuff from previous posts …

Document Standard Process: As you develop your skills, you will undoubtedly develop preferences for options / defaults, ways to make your projects behave consistently. Take the time to document this stuff!

Templates Are Our Friends: With more projects under your belt, you should start to see reusable “components”, like standard blocks of tasks for server configuration, application testing, etc. Also – start to build your reusable list of resources, standard calendars that fit your organization, etc.

MSP and PowerPoint Are Not Friends: Gantt charts direct from MSP are too complicated. If you must deliver project updates via PowerPoint,  better to develop a simplified Gantt visualization using Excel or Visio (examples here and here).

    Note: I have an Excel sheet I use to create Gantt “pictures” – not useful to track a project, but very nice to add a simple visual to a slide deck …

Click to enlarge ...

    It’s not really ready for “prime time”, but let me now if there is interest – I’ll clean it up and post it here.

Remember, the intricacies of resource, task, and cost management with MSP are the easy part of project management – frees you up to work on communication and change management – where the Real Project Managers show their worth …

Discussion

One comment for “MS Project, Early and Often”

  1. […] You may be vaguely aware that people get certifications for this sort of thing, or that Microsoft sells some Fairly Expensive Yet Sophisticated Software that helps create Can’t charts (or something like that). […]

    Posted by Help for the Newly Minted Project Manager | Revolusionline | December 3, 2011, 11:43 pm

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