How do project managers first learn how to use MS-Project or another project-scheduling tool?
The answer depends on the project manager’s experience and an organization’s project management support and training. Some project managers have had formal training in project management tools such as MS-Project or Niku’s Workbench. Other project managers learn tool implementation through on-the-job usage, self-study or trial and error without the benefit of structured training.
New users to MS-Project often find themselves using MS-Project like a task list, assigning team member names, updating them to be 100 percent complete and changing start and finish dates as a project executes. New users often experience frustration when MS-Project’s start and finish dates change and the project manager doesn’t know why the change occurred. Once the original dates start to change, the project manager tries to change the dates back and the project schedule becomes jumbled, inaccurate and difficult to understand. Team members appear over-allocated, constraint-warning messages appear and the project plan is out-of-sync with the original timing. The project manager quickly becomes frustrated and concludes MS-Project is not an effective tool. Fortunately, experienced MS-Project users have written books, articles and lesson learned on how to avoid this situation.
To improve overall learning, lessons learned are shared formally and informally as organizations implement structured and repeatable processes. Over time, lessons learned and best practices have been collected and shared with other project managers. Experienced MS-Project users may view these lessons learned as common knowledge, however, project managers are encouraged to share these fundamental lessons with others. Below is the first in a series of Microsoft Project Tips.
Understand the different views and tables in MS-Project
MS-Project is comprised of Project Task and Resource data stored in various internal tables and project information is displayed across many different views. The default view in MS-Project is the Gantt Entry View. This view is used to enter the work breakdown structure, assign resources and dependencies. A graphical Gantt chart is built with every task in the work breakdown structure.
After the project schedule has been established, two additional views are helpful in tracking tasks, project status and assigned resources. The two views, the Task Management and Resource Allocation view, are found in the Resource Management Tool Bar.
To display the Resource Management Tool Bar:
- Select Views
- Select Toolbar
- Select Resource Management.
- The Resource Management tool bar will be displayed.
- Click on the Resource Management View icon or the Task Usage View icon to display the appropriate view.
The Resource Allocation View (Figure 1) displays all the resources and tasks assigned to each resource. This view is helpful to identify and communicate all assigned tasks by resource. The view displays work week with assigned hours per task. It also helps to identify over-allocated resources and determine if additional resource leveling is required. An over-allocated resource will appear red in the view. An over-allocated resource indicates the resource has been assigned more tasks than it has the capacity to complete within the resource’s availability. This commonly occurs when a team member is assigned two tasks at the same time without assigning dependencies between the two tasks.
Often, project team members request a list of assigned tasks. The Resource Allocation view is helpful in communicating all the assigned tasks by resource. Before printing the view, add the Baseline Start and Baseline Finish dates to the view. The project team will have a summarized view of each person’s individual tasks with expected baseline start and finish dates.
The Task Usage view (Figure 2) displays the work breakdown structure and hours per resource. This view is useful to assign resources to the plan and adjust individual calendars, add delays to tasks or view individual contributions to a task. After the project schedule has been established, the project manager can right click on the lower window pane and display the individual Resource Work, Resource Cost and Notes forms. All of these forms are helpful during project execution.
MS-Project contains a variety of views and tables to communicate project information. Learn how the views interact during the project lifecycle and leverage the multiple views that MS-Project provides. Project managers will improve their communication by leveraging the different views in MS-Project. For more information on the views in MS-Project, visit the “All About Views” topic in MS-Project’s Help section.