Five Tips for Using Microsoft® Project

99 Tips and traps for microsoft project - ebookMicrosoft® is one of the leading companies offering high-quality office tools and software that can help you manage your projects very effectively if you know how to get the most out of the software.

Here are five tips to help get more out of MS Project:

Create the Projects from Scratch

With Microsoft Project, all you need to have in order to create a project are your project name, target dates (both start and finish), your client’s name, and your client’s information such as location.

If you have these needed prerequisites, then you can then start defining your calendars as regards the tasks you have added that are involved in your project. For each project, you can also add logic and constraints as well as schedules. When all of these are done, you can now start formatting your output and distribute your project plan.

Use Alt Key and Keystrokes for Commands

To save time, familiarize yourself with the shortcuts or make use of the Alt command key and keystrokes to be able to view the letters assigned in most of the tabs in the menu bar and in other functions of the interface.

For example, pressing Alt followed by the letter R brings you to the Project tab of the menu bar. Furthermore, if you press the Alt key quickly followed by letter H and number 1 will bring you to the save icon from the Task tab.

You can use these shortcuts and Alt key commands to minimize the use of the mouse (or in cases where the mouse in not available or dysfunctional) and save time.

Understand and Use Filters

Like any other project management tool, understanding and using filters can help managers in a great way.

With filters, users can display a particular task with specific criteria. Meaning, users can use the filter function to choose which criteria of a specific task he or she opts to display at the specific moment. This would further help him or her understand the data in a task more. There are two types of filters in Microsoft Project.

These are the following:

  1. Built-in. Built-in filters are filters that are embedded into the software by default.
  2. Custom. Custom filters are those uploaded and customized by the user.

Track Your Progress

Microsoft® Project comes with a function that permits users to track the progress of different activities of a particular project. Three labels or stages of a project are usually used in tracking progress. These are the following:

  1. Not Started. The dates are set for the project; however, no so-called Actual Start and/or Actual Finish is inputted.
  2. In-Progress. This stage contains an Actual Start which signals that the project has already started but has not been completed or is in the process of completion.
  3. Complete. Finally, activities or tasks in the Complete stage has both the Actual Start and Actual Finish dates to serve as a proof that it has passed the completion stage.

Assign Costs to Tasks

Finally, a user can assign a cost to a specific task(s) by using the Fixed Cost function in Microsoft® Project. This Fixed Cost is added to the total cost of your project which is then further illustrated using Resource Graph function. This function enables a user to keep track of the actual cost of each task and can use such costs in providing cash flows if needed.

Eastwood Harris produces project management training materials and online training courses on Primavera P6, MS Project, PMBOK and Prince2.

How to Set the In-Progress Task Finish Date Calculation – MS Project Tips

ms project 2010 training manual - spiral editionIn-Progress Task Finish Date Calculation in Microsoft Project

Many planning and scheduling packages calculate a task Finish Date from the Data Date plus the Remaining Duration over the Task or Resource Calendar, whichever is applicable.

Unlike most planning and scheduling software packages, Microsoft Project ignores the Current Date and Status date when calculating an in-progress schedule. Instead it calculates the Finish date from the Actual Start Date plus the Duration and effectively ignores the Remaining Duration for normal calculation.

There is an in-built proportional link between Duration, Actual Duration, Remaining Duration and % Complete. It is not possible to unlink these fields (as in other scheduling software) and therefore not possible to enter the Remaining Duration independently of the % Complete.

setting the in progess schedule date in ms project

Thus % Complete reflects the % of Duration of a task.

Current Date and Status Date

Microsoft Project has two project data date fields that may be displayed as vertical lines on the schedule. These dates may be edited from the Project, Project Information… form:

  • Current Date – This date is set to the computer’s date each time a project file is opened. It is used for calculating Earned Value data when a Status Date has not been set. The time of the Current Date is set by default to the start time of a day, see the picture below.
  • Status Date – This field is blank by default with a value of NA. The Status Date will not change when the project is saved and reopened at a later date. It overrides the Current Date for calculating Earned Value data and is set by default to the finish time of a day, see the picture below.

setting current date status dates in microsoft project

I recommend that the Status Date is set and displayed as a vertical line on a progressed schedule and the Current Date not displayed, because the Current Date represents the date today and does not normally represent any scheduling significance.

Paul Harris writes training manuals for MS Project and Primavera P6 and Delivers Project Management Training Courses Throughout Australia and the world.  His books are available on Amazon and Kindle.

How to Fix Calculations Options in Microsoft Project – MS Project Tips

99 Tips and traps for microsoft project - ebookWhy Do Calculation Options – Move end of completed parts…Not Work in MS Project?

These new functions were introduced in Microsoft Project 2002 intended to assist schedulers to place the new tasks as they are added to the schedule in a logical position with respect to the Status Date. This function is difficult to use and some practice is required to make it work properly.

Here are some tips if you are unable to get it to work:

  1. Select the Tools, Options…, Calculation tab and these options are found under the Calculation options for ‘Project Name’:
  2. If the Status Date has not been set then the Current Date is used.

For all these options to operate all four of the following parameters must be met:

  • The Split in-progress tasks option in the Schedule tab must be checked, and
  • The required option on the Calculation tab must be checked before the task is added or edited, and
  • The Updating task status updates resource status option on the Calculation tab must be checked, and
  • These options may NOT be turned on and off to recalculate all tasks. The options only work on new tasks when they are added to a schedule or when a task is updated by changing the % Complete.
  • This function will ignore constraints even when the Schedule Option Tasks will always honor their constraint dates has been set.
  • This function may not be applied to existing schedules, but only to new tasks if the options are set before the tasks are added or when a task % Complete is updated.

This function has some restrictions:

  • Existing schedules may not be opened and the function applied.
  • When the Move start of remaining parts before status date forward to status date is used, it will change any Actual Start date that you have entered prior to entering a % Complete. Changing an Actual Date is not a desirable event.

Note: This option should be used with caution and users should ensure they fully understand how this function operates by statusing a simple practice schedule multiple times.

Paul Harris writes training manuals for MS Project and Primavera P6 and Delivers Project Management Training Courses Throughout Australia and the world.  His books are available on Amazon and Kindle.

How to Use Baselines to Update Your Project – MS Project Tips

ms project 2010 training manual - spiral editionUsing Baselines and Updating a Project Using Microsoft Project

After a schedule has been reviewed and approved in MS Project, it should be baselined.  Setting the Baseline copies the Early Start and Finish, the Original Duration and each resource’s Costs and Work into Baseline fields

Once the Baseline is set up in MS Project, you will be able to update your plan and compare the progress with the original plan and be able to see:

  • If the planned progress been achieved,
  • If the project is ahead or behind schedule, and
  • By how much in time and cost.

A Baseline is set by selecting Tools, Tracking, Save Baseline….

There are number of options and forms available to update project tasks after setting the Baseline.  Irrespective of which forms are used there are two main methods to update a project:

  • Auto Status the project schedule by allowing the software to automatically update the tasks, as if the project progressed exactly according to schedule. Then, if required, adjust tasks to reflect actual events and revisions, or
  • Update each task one by one.

Which Baseline Should Be Used?

After a project has progressed it may be necessary to set a new Baseline.

This may occur when the scope of a project has changed and a new baseline is required to measure progress against, but at the same time you may also want to keep a copy of the original baseline.

A new Baseline may be used to display the effect of scope changes on a plan by setting a Baseline, adding the scope change and comparing the revised schedule with the Baseline.

The Baseline data may be reviewed in some Views such as the Task Details Form, in columns and on the Bar Chart. You will be able to display the Baseline 1 to 10 and Interim Plan dates and durations in columns and as a bar on the Gantt Chart but not in the forms. Baseline 1 to 10 also do not have variance columns.

Therefore, it is recommended that the current baseline be saved as the Baseline since the data is more accessible from the Baseline than Baseline 1 to 10. Previous baselines should be copied to Baselines 1 to 10 and preserved as a record.

Eastwood Harris Supplies Project Management Training Manuals, Project Management Training Presentations and Consulting on Primavera P6 and Microsoft Project 2010 across Australia.

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Microsoft Project – Task Type and Effort Driven Options

Task Type and Effort Driven Options in MS Project

If you are not sure which option to use thenms project 2010 training manual - spiral edition. This option prevents changes to Task Durations and/or existing Resource assignments as Resources are added or removed from a task.

– Select Fixed Units for activities when the Units per time period must stay constant as either the Duration or Work is changed. For example, a crew of 1 Excavator and 3 Trucks must stay constant as the Duration or Work is changed.

–  Select Fixed Duration for activities when the duration must not change as either resource Units per time period or Work is changed.

–  Select Fixed Work if you wish the Work to stay constant as the duration is changed. The Task will be made Effort driven automatically with the Effort driven option grayed out.

For example, a programmer assigned full-time for a week will have 40 hours’ work. When the duration is doubled to a week, the programmer will work 50% of the time over 2 weeks but still work 40 hours.

If you assign another person to help then the total Work will remain at 40 hours and the Duration not change.

The default for new Tasks is set in the Tools, Options…, Schedule tab. Click on the  icon and new projects will have these as their default options.

Eastwood Harris Supplies Project Management Training Manuals, Project Management Training Presentations and Consulting on Primavera P6 and Microsoft Project 2010 across Australia.

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