~ By Marvey Mills
I have been working in the field of Project Management of systems and software delivery for many year and for many employers. A common theme running through most of that experience has been the use of Microsoft Project (MSP) to plan the project before it starts and to track progress against it during the project.
Most project managers I have met in that time that use MSP have a love-hate relationship with the application. At times and in certain circumstances it seems to provide exactly what a project manager needs to do their job. At other times it seems to conspire against us almost wilfully to make ostensibly the simplest task impossible to complete.
I have seen and experienced myself vital project plans, that took many hours of work to create and maintain, thrown away in disgust and frustration because the plan got tied into a knot and the poor project manager was unable to unpick the resulting mess.
Long ago I learnt some practical lessons and easily repeatable techniques on how to use Microsoft Project to achieve what I needed as a project manager, whilst avoiding the pitfalls and elephant traps that the application sets for the unwary user. Since then I seem to have spent many hours and days passing this information on to other project managers in every organisation I have worked for.
Finally, I took the obvious step and wrote it down in order to make my life easier in the future. I do not claim to be an expert in the use of MS-Project, there are many areas of the product that I don't know how to use. Nor do I claim that these simple techniques are all you need to know to manage software projects effectively, are some kind of "best practice" or represent the pinnacle of Microsoft Project user guide perfection. All I claim is that these techniques have been honed in the course of real software project management and work for me; I use them all every day in my real job. I am passing them on in the hope they may provide some small comfort to a frustrated fellow project manager tearing their hair out because Microsoft Project has mangled their latest work of creative genius!
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This document is designed to be read in a linear fashion alongside setting up a new project in MSP. It starts with what to do as soon as you have created the new project and ends with tracking progress against that plan. Microsoft Project has an incredible amount of features and functionality and furthermore allows the project manager to use any of it they want to, mostly in any order they desire. Mis-application of tools and features at the wrong time is one of the key ingredients of a mangled project plan. Following this guide in the order the tasks are presented from the moment you first create the new Project will help you to avoid "death by MS-Project!"