~ By Dave Nielsen
I want to get to the specifics about using this tool, but first let me explain why I'm referring to a specific brand of project management tool. Most of us in the project management profession use Microsoft's MS Project to help us plan, organise, and track our projects. This is not to say that there aren't other, equally valuable, tools in use; there are, but MS Project has the largest user base and it's the one I'm familiar with, so it's the one I'm basing this article on. The tips in this article may, or may not apply to other scheduling tools.
By the way, this is not a training course, or tutorial on how to use MS Project. I'm assuming that you have attained some degree of proficiency with the tool, enough to at least have a few bad experiences with it. There are many courses available from Microsoft and others, which will teach you the fundamentals of using the tool. Try one of those if you lack fundamental skills in its use.
MS Project is intended to be a labour saving device. It is a feature rich tool which supports a great many simple and not so simple functions that all come in handy during the course of managing a project. The problem with the tool is that, like most feature rich software tools, it gives us enough rope to hang ourselves and I have. Getting the tool to work for you requires you to use its feature set judiciously. Just because the tool allows you to define a predecessor/successor relationship between two tasks doesn't necessarily mean you should. An over indulgence in using the features MS Project has to offer can make managing the tool into a very time consuming job, taking time away from more important project management work. Some organisations have suffered through this to such a degree that they have given up trying to manage the project and the tool and have hired a project "administrator" just to manage MS Project! The simple rules that follow this are intended to help you avoid this waste, and actually make the tool work for you!
You should be able to keep your MS Project file up to date and accurate in about an hour each day, with the exception of the day you do your reporting. This is a rule of thumb and the hour is an average - you may spend more some days and less on others. You need to re-visit how you are using MS Project if you find yourself spending significantly more time maintaining it. Remember, MS Project should work for you, not the other way around.