9 Foolproof Planning Tips with Microsoft Project 2019Donna Marie Padua
Keeping projects on track can be extremely arduous for project managers, especially when it comes to constantly changing additions and requests. When project managers don’t implement the proper strategies and expectations with their clients, team, and senior management before starting the project, deadlines can crumble.
Almost 98% of desktop planning software use worldwide is Microsoft Project. It is the defaqto standard project scheduling tool yet so many people receive limited or no training. It has a familiar Microsoft Office look and feel, although it is not formally part of the Office suite.
The majority of users make limited inroads into the true functionality of Microsoft Project and I would strongly encourage anyone to go on a formal course to really understand how powerful the tool can be.
The biggest weakness of so many project professionals is the ability to build and use a reliable, practical, and fully functional project schedule software. Most people use Microsoft Project to build a schedule and project planning documents. And it’s a wise decision since Microsoft Project is one of the leading software for this function.
Its features are for general project planning purposes, but if you need a special software or a certain niche or industry, you can find tons of them too online.
Microsoft Project 2019
Microsoft Project 2019 is the software that’ll help you organize and keep track of your projects. You can profit from flexible features, which make it easy to get started. Work efficiently and productively by using it. Create sound reports about project progress and forward project details efficiently to your team and anyone else involved in the project.
Microsoft Project 2019 has all the features you already know for easy project management plus several improvements and new features. It combines Project Management, Portfolio Management and Resource Management so you can keep track of your projects successfully.
While it is already a big advantage for you to have this software, we have here some more tips on how you can leverage it to up your project planning game.
Microsoft Project Planning Tips
Plan the Project Structure and Member Roles
Build a high-level plan using post-it notes with team members, then translate this into a Microsoft Project schedule. Use a hierarchical structure with phases and stages broken down into tasks. Add milestones for the start and end of each phase or stage.
Keep it simple!
Plan the Project Details
Do you need to track what Bob is doing next Tuesday afternoon at 3pm? If your project is a one-week shutdown then probably yes; otherwise no. Don’t try and mirror every individual task team members will perform. For example; a six-month project should be made up of tasks lasting 1 to 10 work days, not a few hours or a few weeks.
Agree how long a task should be finished. The actual hours worked on that task is a different thing to consider.
To gage productivity, you should compare your allotted time with the actual time spend on the tasks. But of course, your allotted time should be reasonable, based on how much hours your members have been doing a certain task in the past or do some research to find out the average time spent by other teams on similar tasks.
The majority of users should stick with auto scheduling. Manual scheduling is more useful if tasks are not yet finalized, agreed or still being scoped out and you want to have some sort of placeholder. For a real project with approved scope, stick with auto scheduling.
Link Tasks and Milestones
Where possible do not use constraints. Link tasks and milestones together and avoid linking between items that are different levels of hierarchy. For example, do not link a summary task to a detailed task. Links should happen at the lowest level of your task hierarchy (or WBS or work breakdown summary).
This is a nice little feature. Double click on a task name to open the ‘Task Information‘ window. Click on the ‘Advanced’ tab where the option to enter a ‘Deadline’ will appear. This date then appears as a small green arrow on the Gantt chart (there is nothing significant about it being colored green) hopefully at a date after your task is scheduled to complete.
If tasks get pushed out beyond the agreed deadline then a red warning appears in the first ‘Indicators’ column to highlight this problem. This helps you to track any dates you may have committed to, as well as the actual dates you are working towards.
Resources (people) can be assigned using these three methods: fixed duration, fixed work, or fixed units. Then there is the option for the effort driven check box so in total there are five different ways to setup how Microsoft Project deals with your resource assignments.
Why does this matter? As some of you might have already experienced, if you edit the duration, it impacts work hours, if you add more people it can shorten the duration and then we get confused and you end up with tasks having a duration of 3.18 days and you can’t understand why.
Once you have assigned people and edited their work hours you often find the elapsed time of a task may vary but the total work hours don’t. For example, member A needs 10 hours to complete a task but she might finish it sooner or later. It’s this finish date that’s the most important
Maybe you need to update the plan with this revised date, but you don’t want this to automatically mess with the total work hours member A undertakes. If this sounds sensible then in the ‘Advanced’ tab of the ‘Task Information’ window select ‘Fixed Work’.
Your project plan may not be perfect but it serves as a benchmark you can use later for comparison with the actual work progress. You need to save this benchmark – this is the Baseline feature. Save the baseline. In our recent The State of Project Management annual survey, over 1/3rd of all project schedules are not baselined. This is poor project schedule management.
Progress the Plan
Enter task progress in the schedule. You can do this simply as 25%, 50%, 75% and 100% complete, but this should be part of a weekly or maybe fortnightly review of progress. The schedule should drive the agenda for the next progress cycle, not be an afterthought for the PM to update every now and again to try and keep up with the project. The schedule should drive the progress meeting discussions.
Leveraging a project planning software in your team can bring tons of benefits to you and your members. It makes the work highly organized and minimizes the chances of missed tasks. Hence, productivity rate is improved. And from those, other benefits like project success and client retention come next.
So if you have a project coming up, consider using a project planning software like Microsoft Project Pro that will support you in your activities and managing the whole team.