Facilitating Your Project with Microsoft Project

Because a project involves a myriad of tasks, resources, assignments, dates, and more, it's clear that you need some kind of tool to help you keep track of the details. By using a spreadsheet or word processing program, you could create a table that lists your tasks, durations, start and finish dates, and assigned resources. In fact, that might very well get you started. But it's likely that you'll end up working harder than you have to in an attempt to make the tool work right. Such a table would not be able to perform the following functions:

• Calculate the start and finish dates for you.

• Indicate whether assigned resources are actually available.

• Inform you if assigned resources are underallocated or overworked.

• Alert you if you have an upcoming deadline.

• Calculate how much of the budget you've spent so far.

• Draw your project tasks as a Gantt chart or network diagram so you can get a visual picture of your project.

To do this and more, you can create a similar table in Microsoft Project. You can then use the project database, schedule calculation, and charting capabilities to help facilitate your project management processes (see Figure 2-2).

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Task Name

Duration

Start

Finish

Figure 2-2. The project plan helps you manage your project.

Although Microsoft Project can't negotiate a more reasonable finish date, it can help you determine what you have to sacrifice to make that date. Although Microsoft Project won't complete a difficult and time-consuming task for your team, it will help you find extra time in the schedule or additional resources for that task. And although Microsoft Project can't motivate an uninspired team member, it can tell you if that team member is working on critical tasks that will affect the finish date of the entire project.

In short, Microsoft Project can help you facilitate all processes in the project management life cycle, from developing your scope, modeling your project schedule, and tracking and communicating progress to saving knowledge gained from the closed project. Furthermore, with Microsoft Office Project Professional 2003, project management standards can be established and disseminated throughout your enterprise.

Creating a Model of Your Project ™

You can use Microsoft Project to create a model, or blueprint, of your project. This model reflects j|

the reality of your project. You enter your tasks, resources, assignments, and other project- °

related information into Microsoft Project. You can then organize and manage the copious and very detailed bits of project information that otherwise can be quite overwhelming.

With all the necessary information stored in Microsoft Project, the exact project information you need at any given time is always available at your fingertips. You can manipulate and analyze this information in various ways to solve problems and make decisions to successfully manage the project. As you take action and move forward in your project, you update information in Microsoft Project so that it continues to reflect reality (see Figure 2-3).

Move forward

Figure 2-3. Model your project's reality.

Move forward

Figure 2-3. Model your project's reality.

Specifically, in the planning process, you use Microsoft Project to do the following:

Create your project phases, milestones, and task list. Microsoft Project uses your task list as the basis for the project database it creates for you. You can organize tasks within phases or subtasks within summary tasks so you can break your project down into manageable segments.

Estimate task durations. One task might take 2 hours to complete; another might take 4 days. Microsoft Project uses these durations to help build your schedule.

Link tasks with their appropriate relationships to other tasks. Often, a task cannot begin until a previous task has been completed. For example, for an office move project, you schedule the "Design office space" task before the "Order new furniture" task. The two tasks are linked because the second task cannot be done until the first task is complete. Microsoft Project uses these task relationships to build your schedule. The durations and task relationships are also shown in the Gantt Chart and Network Diagram views of your project.

Enter any imposed deadlines or other date constraints. If you know that you must be out of your current office space by the end of August, for example, you work with that date as one of the important constraints of your project. Microsoft Project schedules according to such constraints and informs you if there's a conflict between a constraint a and the durations or task relationships you have also set.

® Set up the resources and assign them to tasks. Not only does Microsoft Project keep track

0 of which resources are assigned to which tasks, it also schedules work on assignments according to the resource's availability and lets you know if a resource is overloaded with more tasks than can be accomplished in the resource's available time.

Establish resource costs and task costs. You can specify hourly or monthly rates for resources. You can specify per-use costs for resources and other costs associated with tasks. Microsoft Project calculates and adds these costs, so you can get an accurate view of how much your project will cost to execute. You can often use this calculation as a basis for the project budget.

Adjust the plan to achieve a targeted finish date or budget amount. Suppose that your project plan initially shows a finish date that's two months later than required or a cost that's $10,000 more than the allocated budget. You can make adjustments to scope, schedule, cost, and resources in order to bring the project plan in line. While working through your inevitable project tradeoffs, Microsoft Project recalculates your schedule automatically until you have the result you need.

For more information about using Microsoft Project to plan your project, see the chapters in Part 2, "Developing the Project."

In the execution and control process of the project, use Microsoft Project to do the following:

Save the baseline plan. For comparison and tracking purposes, you need to take a snapshot of what you consider your baseline project plan. As you update task progress through the life of the project, you can compare current progress with your original plan. These comparisons provide valuable information about whether you're on track with the schedule and your budget.

Update actual task progress. With Microsoft Project, you can update task progress by entering percent complete, work complete, work remaining, and more. As you enter actual progress, the schedule is automatically recalculated.

Compare variances between planned and actual task information. Using the baseline information you saved, Microsoft Project presents various views to show your baseline against actual and scheduled progress, along with the resulting variances. For example, if your initial project plan shows that you had originally planned to finish a task on Thursday but the resource actually finished it on Monday, you'd have a variance of 3 days in your favor.

Review planned, actual, and scheduled costs. In addition to seeing task progress variances, you can compare baseline costs against actual and currently scheduled costs and see the resulting cost variances. Microsoft Project can also use your baseline and current schedule information for earned value calculations you can use for more detailed analyses.

Adjust the plan to respond to changes in scope, finish date, and budget. What if you get a directive in the middle of the project to cut $5,000 from your budget? Or what if you learn that you must bring the project in a month earlier to catch a vital marketing window? Even in the midst of a project, you can adjust scope, schedule, cost, and resources in your project plan. With each change you make, Microsoft Project recalculates your schedule automatically. t!

Report on progress, costs, resource utilization, and more. Using the database and calculation features of Microsoft Project, you can generate a number of built-in reports. For example, there are reports for project summary, milestones, tasks starting soon, overbudget tasks, resource to-do lists, and many more. You can modify built-in reports to suit your own needs or create custom reports entirely from scratch.

For more information about using Microsoft Project to report progress, see Chapter 12.

In the closing process of the project, use Microsoft Project to accomplish the following:

Capture actual task duration metrics. If you track task progress throughout the project, you end up with solid, tested data for how long certain tasks actually take.

Capture successful task sequencing. Sometimes, you're not sure at the outset of a project whether a task should be done sooner or later in the cycle. With the experience of the project behind you, you can see whether your sequencing worked well.

Save a template for the next project of this kind. Use your project plan as the boilerplate for the next project. You and other project managers will have a task list, milestones, deliverables, sequence, durations, and task relationships already in place that can be easily modified to fit the requirements of the new project.

For more information about using Microsoft Project to close a project and create templates, see Chapter 28.

You can also use Microsoft Project to work with multiple projects, and even show the task or resource links among them. In the course of modeling your project in this way, Microsoft Project serves as your project information system. Microsoft Project arranges the thousands of bits of information in various ways so you can work with it, analyze your data, and make decisions based on coherent and soundly calculated project management information. This project information system carries out three basic functions:

• It stores project information including tasks, resources, assignments, durations, task relationships, task sequences, calendars, and more.

• It calculates information including dates, schedules, costs, durations, critical path, earned value, variances, and more. 49

For more information about using Microsoft Project to track and control your project, see the chapters in Part 3, "Tracking Progress."

• It presents views of information you're retrieving. You can specify the views, tables, filters, groups, fields, or reports, depending on what aspect of your project model you need to see.

Project Management Made Easy

Project Management Made Easy

What you need to know about… Project Management Made Easy! Project management consists of more than just a large building project and can encompass small projects as well. No matter what the size of your project, you need to have some sort of project management. How you manage your project has everything to do with its outcome.

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