MS Project: Tips and Tricks to Boost Your Productivity and Efficiency
What is MS Project and why use it?
MS Project is a project management software that helps you plan, execute, and monitor projects of any size and complexity. Whether you are a project manager, a team member, or a stakeholder, MS Project can help you achieve your project goals and deliver successful outcomes.
MS Project has been around for over three decades, and it has evolved to meet the changing needs of project management professionals. It is part of the Microsoft 365 suite of products, which means you can access it online or offline, on your desktop or mobile device, and integrate it with other Microsoft apps like Teams, Outlook, and OneDrive.
But why should you use MS Project for your projects? What are the advantages of this software over other tools? In this article, we will explore the features, benefits, and alternatives of MS Project, as well as provide a basic tutorial on how to use it.
MS Project features
MS Project has a rich set of features that cover every aspect of project management. Here are some of the main features that make MS Project a powerful and versatile tool:
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Create project schedules
MS Project allows you to create detailed project schedules with tasks, milestones, deadlines, dependencies, durations, and priorities. You can use pre-built templates or start from scratch, depending on your needs. You can also import data from other sources like Excel or SharePoint.
MS Project uses a robust scheduling engine that calculates the start and end dates of tasks based on various factors such as effort, availability, constraints, calendars, and resource leveling. You can also run what-if scenarios to see the impact of changes on your schedule.
Create and manage project resources
MS Project helps you manage the people, equipment, materials, and costs involved in your project. You can create resource lists with names, roles, rates, availability, skills, and other details. You can then assign resources to tasks and track their work and costs.
MS Project also helps you optimize the allocation of resources across your project. You can see the availability and utilization of resources in different views and reports. You can also resolve overallocations and underallocations by adjusting assignments or leveling resources.
Project timeline view
MS Project provides a visual representation of your project schedule in the timeline view. This view shows the key tasks, milestones, phases, and deadlines of your project in a simple and clear format. You can customize the appearance of the timeline by changing colors, shapes, fonts, and styles.
The timeline view is ideal for communicating the big picture of your project to stakeholders and team members. You can easily copy and paste the timeline into other applications like PowerPoint or Word. You can also create multiple timelines for different aspects or levels of your project.
MS Project reports
MS Project helps you monitor and report on the progress and performance of your project. You can choose from a variety of built-in reports that cover different aspects such as tasks, resources, costs, risks, issues, variances, earned value, and more. You can also create custom reports using charts, tables, text boxes, images, and other elements.
The reports in MS Project are dynamic and interactive. They update automatically as you change data in your project. You can also filter, sort, group, slice, and drill down the data in the reports. You can also export the reports to PDF, Excel, or other formats.
Different views and customization
MS Project offers a range of views that let you see your project data in different ways. You can switch between views such as Gantt chart, calendar, task board, resource sheet, network diagram, and more. You can also create your own views by combining tables, filters, groups, and fields.
MS Project also gives you the flexibility to customize your project according to your preferences and needs. You can change the options and settings of the software, such as language, currency, date format, default values, and more. You can also create custom fields, formulas, macros, and add-ins to extend the functionality of MS Project.
Manage multiple projects
MS Project enables you to manage multiple projects within a single file or across multiple files. You can create master projects and subprojects that link to each other and share information. You can also create consolidated projects that combine data from several independent projects.
MS Project helps you coordinate and align multiple projects with common goals and dependencies. You can see the overall status and performance of your portfolio of projects in different views and reports. You can also compare different versions or scenarios of your projects to evaluate alternatives and make decisions.
Share resources with a common pool
MS Project allows you to share resources across multiple projects using a common resource pool. A resource pool is a separate file that contains the list of resources and their details. You can link your projects to the resource pool and assign resources from it.
MS Project helps you avoid conflicts and duplication of resources by using a common resource pool. You can see the availability and utilization of resources across all linked projects in different views and reports. You can also update the information of resources in the resource pool and have it reflected in all linked projects.
Create custom fields
MS Project lets you create custom fields to store additional information that is not available in the predefined fields. Custom fields can be text, number, date, duration, flag, or outline code fields. You can define the name, type, formula, lookup table, graphical indicators, and other properties of custom fields.
MS Project helps you capture and display relevant information for your project using custom fields. You can use custom fields to store data such as risk level, priority, status, comments, or any other attribute that is important for your project. You can also use custom fields to filter, sort, group, calculate, or display data in your project. You can also add custom fields to different views and reports.
MS Project benefits
MS Project is not just a software, but a solution that can help you manage your projects more effectively and efficiently. Here are some of the benefits of using MS Project for your project management needs:
Improve project planning and organization
MS Project helps you plan and organize your project from start to finish. You can define the scope, objectives, deliverables, tasks, resources, costs, and risks of your project. You can also create a realistic and feasible schedule that meets the expectations of your stakeholders and team members.
MS Project helps you keep your project on track and on budget. You can monitor the progress and performance of your project against the baseline. You can also identify and resolve issues and changes that may arise during the project lifecycle.
Enhance collaboration and communication
MS Project helps you collaborate and communicate with your team members and stakeholders. You can share your project information and updates with them using different methods such as email, Teams, SharePoint, or OneDrive. You can also invite them to view or edit your project online or offline.
MS Project helps you keep everyone on the same page and informed about the project status and issues. You can also collect feedback and input from them using comments, notes, or surveys. You can also create and assign tasks and action items to them using MS Project.
Track progress and performance
MS Project helps you track the progress and performance of your project using various metrics and indicators. You can measure the completion, duration, work, cost, quality, scope, and value of your project. You can also compare the actual results with the planned results to identify variances and deviations.
MS Project helps you evaluate the success and outcomes of your project using different methods such as earned value analysis, critical path analysis, risk analysis, or stakeholder analysis. You can also generate and share reports and dashboards that show the key performance indicators (KPIs) of your project.
Make data-driven decisions
MS Project helps you make data-driven decisions that support your project goals and objectives. You can use the data and insights from MS Project to analyze the situation, identify alternatives, evaluate options, and choose the best course of action.
MS Project helps you justify and communicate your decisions to your team members and stakeholders. You can use the evidence and rationale from MS Project to explain the benefits, costs, risks, and impacts of your decisions. You can also use MS Project to document and record your decisions for future reference.
MS Project alternatives
MS Project is not the only project management software available in the market. There are many other tools that offer similar or different features and benefits for managing projects. Here are some of the popular alternatives to MS Project that you may want to consider:
ClickUp is a cloud-based project management software that claims to be the one app to replace them all. It offers a variety of features such as tasks, subtasks, checklists, goals, milestones, dependencies, Gantt charts, calendars, timelines, boards, lists, forms, docs, chat, and more. You can also integrate ClickUp with over 1,000 other apps using Zapier or its native integrations.
ClickUp is designed to be flexible and customizable for any type of project or team. You can create your own workflows, views, fields, statuses, and permissions. You can also use templates and automation to save time and effort.
ClickUp has a free plan that allows unlimited users and tasks, but with limited features and storage. The paid plans start from $5 per user per month and offer more features and storage.
Asana is a cloud-based project management software that helps you organize and manage your work. It offers features such as tasks, subtasks, projects, portfolios, goals, milestones, dependencies, timelines, calendars, boards, lists, forms, files, chat, and more. You can also integrate Asana with over 100 other apps using its native integrations or Zapier.
Asana is designed to be simple and intuitive for any type of project or team. You can create your own workflows, views, fields, statuses, and permissions. You can also use templates and automation to streamline your processes.
Asana has a free plan that allows up to 15 users and unlimited tasks and projects, but with limited features. The paid plans start from $10.99 per user per month and offer more features and support.
Smartsheet is a cloud-based project management software that combines the power of spreadsheets with the functionality of project management tools. It offers features such as sheets, rows, columns, cells, formulas, charts, reports, dashboards, workflows, automation, forms, files, chat, and more. You can also integrate Smartsheet with over 200 other apps using its native integrations or connectors.
Smartsheet is designed to be flexible and scalable for any type of project or team. You can create your own sheets, views, fields, formulas, charts, reports, dashboards, workflows, and automation. You can also use templates and solutions to get started quickly.
Smartsheet has a free plan that allows up to 10 users and 10 sheets, but with limited features and storage. The paid plans start from $14 per user per month and offer more features and storage.
Trello is a cloud-based project management software that uses boards, lists, and cards to organize and manage your work. It offers features such as tasks, checklists, labels, due dates, attachments, comments, votes, power-ups, and more. You can also integrate Trello with over 100 other apps using its native integrations or Zapier.
Trello is designed to be fun and easy to use for any type of project or team. You can create your own boards, lists, cards, labels, and power-ups. You can also use templates and inspiration to find new ways to use Trello.
Trello has a free plan that allows unlimited users and boards, but with limited features and power-ups. The paid plans start from $9.99 per user per month and offer more features and power-ups.
MS Project tutorial
If you want to learn how to use MS Project for your projects, here is a basic tutorial that will guide you through the main steps. You will need to have MS Project installed on your computer or access it online through Microsoft 365.
How to create a new project
To create a new project in MS Project, follow these steps:
Open MS Project and click on File > New.
Select Blank Project or choose a template from the list.
Enter a name for your project and click on Create.
Save your project file in a location of your choice.
How to add tasks and dependencies
To add tasks and dependencies in MS Project, follow these steps:
In the Gantt chart view, enter the names of your tasks in the Task Name column.
Enter the durations of your tasks in the Duration column.
To create dependencies between tasks, select a task and drag the link icon to another task. Alternatively, you can enter the predecessor task number in the Predecessors column.
To create milestones, enter 0 in the Duration column for the milestone task.
To create summary tasks, select the subtasks and click on Task > Indent. Alternatively, you can use the Indent button on the toolbar.
How to assign resources and costs
To assign resources and costs in MS Project, follow these steps:
Click on Resource > Resource Sheet to switch to the resource sheet view.
Enter the names of your resources in the Resource Name column.
Enter the type, rate, availability, and other details of your resources in the corresponding columns.
Click on View > Gantt Chart to switch back to the Gantt chart view.
Select a task and click on Resource > Assign Resources. Alternatively, you can use the Assign Resources button on the toolbar.
Select the resources you want to assign to the task and click on Assign.
Repeat steps 5 and 6 for other tasks as needed.
How to use different views and filters
To use different views and filters in MS Project, follow these steps:
Click on View > Task Views or Resource Views to select a different view for your project. You can choose from views such as calendar, timeline, board, network diagram, resource usage, resource graph, and more.
To customize a view, click on View > Tables or View > Filters to change the table or filter for the view. You can choose from predefined tables or filters or create your own.
To create a new view, click on View > More Views and then click on New. Enter a name and description for your view and select the type of view you want. Then select the table, filter, group, and other settings for your view. Click on OK to save your view.
How to generate and customize reports
To generate and customize reports in MS Project, follow these steps:
Click on Report > Dashboard, Resources, or Costs to select a category of reports for your project. You can choose from predefined reports such as project overview, task status, resource overview, cash flow, and more.
To customize a report, click on the report elements such as charts, tables, text boxes, images, and more. You can change the data, format, style, and layout of the report elements using the options on the ribbon or the right pane.
To create a new report, click on Report > New Report and select the type of report you want. Enter a name for your report and click on OK. Then add and customize the report elements as needed.
To export or print a report, click on File > Export or File > Print. You can choose the format and settings for your output.
MS Project is a comprehensive and powerful project management software that can help you plan, execute, and monitor your projects. It has a rich set of features that cover every aspect of project management. It also has many benefits that can improve your project planning and organization, enhance your collaboration and communication, track your progress and performance, and make data-driven decisions.
However, MS Project is not the only option for managing your projects. There are many alternatives that offer similar or different features and benefits for different types of projects and teams. You should compare and evaluate different tools to find the best fit for your needs and preferences.
In this article, we have provided an overview of MS Project features, benefits, and alternatives, as well as a basic tutorial on how to use it. We hope this article has helped you learn more about MS Project and how to use it for your projects.
Here are some frequently asked questions about MS Project:
How much does MS Project cost?
MS Project has different pricing plans depending on the version and features you want. The current plans are:
Project Plan 1: $10 per user per month. This plan includes online access to MS Project with basic features such as grid view, board view, timeline view, collaboration tools, and pre-built templates.
Project Plan 3: $30 per user per month. This plan includes online and desktop access to MS Project with advanced f