Do's and Don'ts

The Do’s and Don’ts of Microsoft Project Part 1

By Ivan Lloyd, PMP

I can safely say that Microsoft Project is one of the easier of the tools on the market to use, having spent over 15 years implementing stand-alone and enterprise project scheduling systems working with a broad range of tools. However, this may well go against what many users of Microsoft Project believe!

Why is this? For me, the key factor is the belief that because Microsoft Project is part of the Microsoft Office suite then it should be just like Word. Simply insert a disk, click on the icon, and create your document. But this is clearly not the case. In order to use a scheduling tool, it is essential that Users understand basic scheduling techniques—like critical path analysis (CPA) — in order to make sense of the results produced by the scheduling engine.

I often hear people say: “I entered the information and then Microsoft Project did things to my schedule!” If you have an understanding of scheduling techniques then the reason that Microsoft Project does these ‘things’ will become much clearer. The other significant factor is that, in order to use Microsoft Project effectively, a degree of training in the tool is essential. Many users will have had little or no tool training, on top of having had little or no scheduling training. Combine these two factors and it is little wonder that the system starts to appear complex to users.

Would you expect an accountant to put together your accounts without any training? No! So why are project managers expected to produce quality schedules without the appropriate training? So the first DO is: DO have adequate training. What are the other key do’s and don’ts to using Microsoft Project? The examples are based on Project 2007, but earlier versions are not too dissimilar in what you should and shouldn’t do.

Over the next few months ProjectPro eNews will be publishing extracts form Ivan’s article which first appeared in Project Manager Today magazine.

o Do … Use a Template

The ideal way to start a new schedule is to start from a template you have created based on previous experience. The template can include elements such as key milestones and phases, the project summary line, and default task type.

o Do … Display the Project Summary

Use the following menu – Tools| Options| View tab| Show project summary task – display the project summary for your project on line 0. (I have no idea why the default is not to display this!) It’s all too common to see users creating their own project summary bar when they are a few clicks away from doing it.

o Don’t … Link Summaries

This is bad planning practice. Dependencies should be placed at the lowest level of your network. If you have two phases in your schedule that are dependent on each other, then link a finish milestone from the end of one phase to a start milestone at the start of the next phase. Using dependencies at both summary and task level will easily lead to confusion.

We will have more Do’s and Don’ts in our next issue.

ProjectPro offers Microsoft Project courses from introductory to advanced level. Enquire at ProjectPro on tel. 012 346 6674, fax 012 346 6675 or

Part 2 article
Part 3 article

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