Throughout your career in project management, no matter the industry or size of the projects, you will come across a variety of tools that will assist you. Technology is advancing at record rates and it seems like every week there’s a new program or system that you can utilize and learn.
However, most project managers that currently use software, new to the field and those that have been around the block, prefer Microsoft Project. Even if you have worked in the program, there may be functions that you don’t use, or haven’t used. That is why training is so important.
Over 90% of companies currently engaged in projects use Microsoft Project. It’s user friendly, has a wide variety of functions and features, and overall, it provides project managers a tool box that permits them to use the components within the program to be effective and produce quality end results.
Being successful isn’t just about profit margins. In order to stay on top, a corporation has to produce a quality product in a timely manner. Whether it’s a software application, a construction project, or a new widget, companies rely on project managers to keep all of the tools in a row.
When projects are large, being able to work through the knowledge areas and process groups within a software program, allows project managers, sponsors, stakeholders, and team members to input the data to minimize risks. From start to finish, and all points in between, utilizing MS Project keeps that information at hand, at the ready. It keeps all of the tools organized in one box so that you can work more effectively.
It allows projects to flow more rapidly and more efficiently. What used to reasonably take ten years, now has to be accomplished in six to nine months to stay ahead of the curve. Knowing how to do this and having access to the right tools to accomplish it are what companies rely on you for, the Project Management Professional.
Project Management Software’s Importance
Project Managers in today’s workplace are under more constraints than in the past. Ten years ago, a project manager had more time and less competition. Now they don’t only have to be on the curve but ahead of it. MS Project can give you the edge that you need.
Throughout your MS Project certification training, you learned the best practices of project management. The knowledge areas, and process groups were the first bits that you had to put in the box. But in order to use those tools, they need to be quality and in working order.
With demanding projects, increased demands, and challenging scenarios, corporations and clients rely more heavily on the project manager and project management team. Being organized allows you to be more informed and provides you with the opportunities to produce the best service, or product, in the most cost effective, timely manner to deliver valuable end results. Using the most up to date technical and collaborative tool is one way to keep your current projects, and future ones, on track.
Time, scope and cost management aren’t the only concerns. Safety, environmental impacts, governmental compliance, organizational and industry goals and trends, all are considerations in today’s marketplace, and all are issues that a project manager and project management team needs to be able to address. MS Project can help to keep all of that in the tool box, making clean up easier.
The Project Management Environment
In order to keep from becoming irrelevant, project managers have to be consistent and current in their position. Each project presents different variables, different tasks, resources, and techniques. In order to keep up with the trends and the changes within industries, and the world as a whole, a project manager must know how, when, and what adaptations are required. Updating your skills is as important as updating your software.
Most updates don’t require a complete overhaul of your knowledge. It’s essential that once you have mastered the current program, you continue to adapt. The ability to switch between versions and modify your projects to new information is vital. This is one case where being a tool isn’t a bad thing.
The Tool Box
Gantt charts to track progress, file sharing, chat, schedules, are all tools within Microsoft Project that allow project managers and teams to track progress. The tools should be:
- Simple to use,
- Flexible for any project, no matter the size or industry,
- Clear and viewable throughout the organization.
Each tool in the tool box should need to be clean, organized, and in working order. MS Project offers a wide variety of tools, not just for the project manager or management team, but tools that may be used throughout the project, by team members and resources. Each tool can be customized to work within the individual tasks, or to look at the project as a whole.
The Tools – MS Project Project Management Tools
Project Planning – Whether you require a Gantt chart or kanban board, MS Project allows you many features that you can use during the planning phase of the project. For example, the Gantt chart can help you to schedule tasks for a timeline view and the grid view will assist in planning and managing the project utilizing a task list. The features in MS Project go beyond Microsoft Planner to encompass the whole project.
Communication – MS Project allows you to coordinate and collaborate with teams, not just team leaders. It allows coauthoring, the ability for stakeholders and team members to edit and update task lists. Microsoft Teams, often used in conjunction with MS Project, can allow you to keep in contact with chat and meetings as well.
Documentation – MS Project integrates with Microsoft Office products, Word, Excel, Access, etc. which makes pulling files into the system much easier. Missing files is rarely an issue with the variety of file management tools including, shared editing, creation, and storing of files. There are many built in reports as well which will track progress, use of resources, other programs, and portfolios.
Progress Tracking – By allowing visibility to all parties within the organization, everyone from sponsors to team members can track the progress of individual tasks and the project as a whole. This allows the project management team to assess performance, evaluate efficiency, and predict possible risks.
Resource Tracking – By forecasting need and anticipating obstacles, tracking resources in MS Project can help manage the deployment of resources and provide scheduled project delivery. Built in reporting will help to advance the project while ensuring the resources are utilized with efficiency.
Collaboration – Not only is collaboration a key to project planning, communication, documentation, progress and resource tracking, it can also be used to collect project and non-project time for payroll and invoicing and forward that to the companies accounting department for fast and effective payment.
The Tools – MS Project Program Management Tools
Programs are the related tasks within the project. They are often carried out simultaneously with other tasks and managed so they can share resources, whether it’s equipment or personnel. By coordinating programs within the project you can positively affect the budget as well as the schedule.
Program management tools are a more detailed tracking system that shows the individual programs as well as how they interact with the other programs and the projects. Some of the same tools are part of program management, Gannt charts dashboards, and scheduling, as well as more advanced business views, reporting, and a variety of resource management tools.
MS Project organizes the tools for program management within the main tool box, so that all members of the team can access them when necessary.
Microsoft Project (MS Project)
In the early eighties, that’s 1980’s, before there were computers on every desk, and in people’s pockets, shortly after Microsoft introduced DOS, Microsoft Project was born. It was born out of a want for, of all things, the need to break down the steps involving making the perfect eggs benedict, or so the story goes.
While MS Project isn’t the oldest project management software, and Microsoft isn’t the oldest business to produce project management software, it is by far the most widely used and recognized throughout the industry.
Since 1984, MS Project has gone through several changes and versions. Whether it was to incorporate new fonts, or the ability to collaborate with other software, or an update so it would run on the latest operating system, it has adapted to change the project management world.
There is no perfect program, but MS Project, as a project, knows what tools are necessary to adapt to the world around us.
Project managers that utilize MS Project can:
- Plan projects
- Create and manage budgets
- Analyze and track progress
- Manage and define resources
- Create reports, graphs, and other documents
Simply put, MS Project provides you with the tools to manage the project.
Microsoft Project collaboration
Microsoft Office Project Server and Microsoft Project Web Access now work with MS Project. Microsoft Office Project Server keeps project data organized in a centralized data bank, and Microsoft Project Web Access gives you the ability to keep that data up to date. Web Access let’s team members throughout the world to share information. Whether it’s calendars, documents, or cost overruns, users are provided access to those parts of the project they may have input for. If a project manager needs to know where a team leader is going to be at 3 PM EST when they are in London, they can check the database to view the calendar.
All of that being said, there are some limitations to choosing and using MS Project. One of the main limitations is training.
Project managers as well as all involved in the project, need to be trained to use MS Project. The best training is intense and can be costly, and by costly it’s not just a matter of initial price, but cost to the project itself.
Training should cover:
- Project Planning
- Project Scheduling
- Resource Management
- Critical Path
- Project Variance
- Risk Management
As well as providing:
- Qualified, vetted instructors
- Real world scenarios, tutorials, and videos
- A certificate of completion
Just as MS Project has undergone a variety of updates and changes over the years, project managers need to continually keep their tools in working order. The best way to do that with any project management software is to be in a constant state of learning.
MS Project provides you with an advantage while on the job and knowing it can also give you a distinct advantage with getting a job. It should provide you with the skills to enhance your projects, not hinder it. Enrolling in a proper training course can give you that edge.
Contents of a good MS Project Training course
The best training course will provide you with intensive training on the program features of MS Project. By the time you are done you should be comfortable with:
- Creating project schedules.
- Creating and managing resources.
- Working within a project timeline view.
- Creating MS Project Reports, templates and custom reports.
- Understanding the different views and what they are used for
- Managing multiple projects with a master project plan.
- Sharing resources through a common pool.
- Creating custom fields to stipulate specific data.
- Creating and implementing custom fields.
- Managing tasks with filters, groups and highlights
- Applying Earned Value Management.
- Supporting the project baseline to create snapshots of project schedules.
- Integrate with other tools, such as Microsoft Office.
- The difference between desktop MS Project and Cloud based services.
The best providers will allow you to pass the MS Project certification exam, giving you an additional tool in your Project Management Professional tool box. By the time you are finished with your training, you will be comfortable with what needs to be done, how to do it, and as important, how to figure out what can be done. The certification provides you with the knowledge and the credentials to go forward in any project management scenario.
In addition, the training gives you the deep knowledge and skills required to deal with allocating project resources; understanding the relationship between various direct and indirect tasks; gaining insight into the use of smart money, and managing deadlines for tasks. All of these skills make you a good professional with comprehensive knowledge about MS Project to handle various aspects of IT in business; multiple project assignments and responsibilities, and the ability to efficiently manage project financing.
MS Project allows you to plan from the top down. By developing schedules on the critical path and determining what tasks should be performed and in what order, it can maximize the number of tasks that are being worked on simultaneously. Critical path will make sure the work is done efficiently in the best possible time, effectively utilizing the resources available and creating a baseline for the tasks to come.
Using charts and calculations Microsoft Project gives different levels of access to each set of users. It allows for effective communication within teams and throughout teams. It allows the project manager and project management team to create the best possible plan to complete the scope of work.
MS Project will also allow you to plan the project schedule.
MS Project lets you plan the project duration, the task durations, and set milestones. With a quick access toolbar you can:
- Input Project Activities: Activities name, date, duration.
- Relationship between activities.
- Gantt Charts.
- Project Calendar.
- Project Resources: Material, labor, cost.
- Calculation of the total project schedule automatically.
- Calculation of critical path with CPM method.
- Saving baselines (can be more than one baseline).
- Actual updates.
- Activity tracking.
- S-Curve view.
- Create Formulas to display notifications.
By defining and entering resources into MS Project you can determine where best to assign them, whether it’s equipment or individuals. It gives you the ability to move those resources when and where they can be most effective within the project.
MS Project can help respond to variances within the project. Once scheduling and or cost baselines have been established and a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is in place, you can track and respond to variances to keep the project on schedule and on budget. Variance tracking helps the project manager and the project management team perform earned-value analysis.
Project Custom Text fields, with custom Drop-Downs in MS Project can be applied in the project schedule. This allows the project manager to capture the possible risks. As with many programs that Microsoft offers, there are add ons that can then provide you with the information on how to mitigate those risks, the options based on the extent.
A good MS Project course will make sure that you know how to use the tools in your box:
- Creating calendars
- Assigning resources, materials
- Understanding scheduling of efforts
- Using different task types and knowing their impact
- Assigning fixed costs to tasks
- Scheduling repetitive tasks
- Analyzing excess resources
- Creating reports from within any task or the project.
Options for MS Project Training
Whether you are going forward with certification or not, MS Project training is beneficial if your company utilizes it. There are a variety of options for training depending on your availability, cost breakdown, and learning style.
More and more we find ourselves in a virtual world. Not only do working project managers need options outside of in person classroom training, but companies are more likely to provide the training for you if it can be accomplished online.
Self Paced Training
Self paced project management focused training allows you to work at your own pace, when you can and where you can. Most courses provide learning modules, knowledge assessments, customer service, and sample test questions and answers. The pricing is generally reasonable and there are a variety of choices. These courses are ideal for individuals that are currently working and cannot take time off to sit in a classroom, in person or virtually. They are flexible and allow you to work within your budget, time and money.
Virtual MS Project Classroom Training
Live instructors provide coursework in a virtual classroom setting. The courses are often scheduled in evenings or weekends. The classes can last for several days or weeks. Many have attendance requirements. If you cannot attend or are late you may need to repeat the course as well as the cost for the course. Depending on the scheduling, evenings and weekends, you may benefit more if you learn best when there is more structure.
Live instructors also provide the training in Boot camps and can be provided in virtual classroom settings. Boot camps are generally intense training. The concentrated study may work best for individuals whose learning styles are best when they become engrossed in the coursework.
In Class MS Project Training
Live Instructor In Class MS Project Training
In person training with a live instructor in a classroom setting is often difficult to find. If you are considering this form of training remember that the courses often have attendance requirements. They can be offered as Boot Camps, or over the course of several days or weeks. The other consideration is travel time. Individuals who are currently employed may find it difficult to schedule the time to attend.
Many of the programs listed above may provide you with a certificate of completion, but at this time there is no certification from Microsoft available for MS Project.
Some of the courses available also give you the ability to train others upon completion, so if you are trying to get someone else to foot the bill, that’s a good selling point.
The price of the toolbox
The cost of MS Project isn’t just something to consider for yourself, but for the project budget. The most current pricing is as follows:
Desktop Version: On-premises version of Microsoft Project, $679.99 for Project Standard 2021 and $1,129.99 for Project Professional 2021.
Project Plan 1: For $10 per user per month, to use Project Home, and Project for the web. Two light versions of Project Professional and Project Online. This is mostly recommended for team members.
Project Plan 2: For $30 per user per month, You can use the desktop client Microsoft Project and Project Online. It is sufficient to manage projects, but has no project portfolio management features.
Project Plan 3: For $55 per user per month, this is everything Microsoft Project has to offer: Project for the web, Project Online and Desktop client.
Each plan is per person. So, while the desktop version above is a one time license fee, per computer, the project plans are per person per month. If you have 10 people on the project management team that’s $300 a month for just the management team.
While the plans above show Project Online included there are limitations to the Cloud based part of MS Project.
- Not all features are available on MS Project online. While most people can view the files, not everyone can work on them.
- Different versions may not work with each other. For example, if you are using MS Project Professional 2010 you can only connect with MS Project Server 2010. If you are using MS Project Professional 2013 you can connect with MS Project Server 2013 & MS Project Online, and if you are using MS Project Standard you can’t connect with MS Project Server at all.
- It isn’t packaged with other Microsoft products. Office 365 and Microsoft Office Suite are compatible for use, but require separate payments and licensing.
- It doesn’t currently work with Mac computers. Originally MS Project had a version for Apple computers but at this time there isn’t one. If others in the project use Mac’s they won’t be able to download the desktop version giving them less functionality.
- The end user has to have MS Project installed. In other words, if you are sending a graph or sharing a task with a sponsor or stakeholder and they don’t have MS Project installed they can’t view it in the program. The only way to share the files would be to download and reformat.
- The training can be expensive. When you look at the project as a whole, and even while many on the project may already know how to use MS Project, there will be training costs, whether it’s dollars or time to initiate new users. Even those that know the program may require additional training to understand updates and new versions.
MS Project Training Courses
There are a variety of places you can get MS Project Training, online or in person, free, or at a price.
Free versions won’t generally give you a certificate of completion, however for a quick introduction to MS Project, or to refresh your skills they might be just the thing.
1. LinkedIn Free MS Project courses can provide you with self-paced learning through a comprehensive list of courses and focused training. They can teach you how to analyze the project progress and understand the role of project management.
You can learn from the expert instructors. There are a variety of video tutorials, hands-on exercises, real-world projects, and downloadable resources. All for free.
2. Udemy offers several courses for MS Project. They are taught by expert instructors and provide relatively inexpensive courses that provide you with a certificate of completion as well as 5 PDUs for your PMP renewal.
3. GoSkills is an introductory course for MS Project. It covers basic topics with the use of how-to video tutorials so that you can learn how to use various tables and views, schedule and manage tasks, etc. It was designed by Microsoft experts, and you will receive a certificate of completion.
There is personalized training on Microsoft Project, a mobile app, as well as tests and quizzes
4. New Horizons teaches you to use MS Project to analyze resources, manage timelines, and measure progress at a squint. It works through all versions so that you can determine which version is best for you and your project.
They provide a training guide to teach you to execute projects of any scale and help you to gain skills to manage your project resources and timelines. It is a self-paced learning program.
5. Learning Tree guides you through the fundamental concepts of MS Project. They provide live classroom training as well as team training. The course is three days long and introduces you to MS Project, teaches you to create and control a project plan, as well as how to create reports and dashboards.
There are a variety of alternatives to MS Project, however, the key is going to be what the corporation is using. If you have time, you may want to sample some of the free or cheaper alternatives. These will just be additional tools for your toolbox and you may want to have them incorporated into your company’s toolbox as well.
1. ClickUp doesn’t require a certified project manager to work the program. The free plan comes with many features and you can add guest accounts, Gantt charts, calendar views, a Notepad, and more.
It has an Agile Dashboard, a comments area for sharing and discussion, a task area to break down the project and good integration with other productivity tools like time tracking.
There is a free forever plan and upgrades from that are inexpensive. It works with most operating systems including Windows, Mac, iOS and Google apps, and has a mobile app for the team members that are in the field.
There is currently only 100MB of storage on the free plan and you can’t export the dashboards.
2. Asana has been around since 2011. It has a simple interface that provides an effective visual for project management. It is customizable, has a shared calendar sync, portfolio management, and has a free version as well as several paid monthly plans.
Updates have not been readily available, and it tends to be good for some teams, but not necessarily for the project as a whole.
3. Trello is an up and coming system that utilizes cards and a Kanban board for managing tasks. It is a great storehouse for project data and the sharing features allow team members to see what the current needs are. Assigning and tracking tasks is easy, as is onboarding and it provides simple real time team collaboration.
There is no Gantt chart, calendar, or sprint feature in Trello, and integrations can only be done through the paid plan. Trello offers a free version as well as paid monthly plans.
Keeping your tools up to date
The best way to keep your skills up to date is to work with the program. If you have the desktop version, create a personal project. This will allow you to work in parts of the program that you may not necessarily use currently, and keep you up to date on those features you use within projects everyday. It can allow you to solve some real life projects while keeping your skills, or your tools, honed and at the ready.
Update the program
Updates are tricky. We’ve all experienced the update that takes away the feature we used the most, or the update that didn’t quite go as planned from Microsoft. But newer versions and continued updates make your job easier. MS Project didn’t originally have an Agile project management feature for instance, but now this is a feature. You may lose something, but the gains are usually worth it.
Collaborate with your team
Each task may require different features. One of the best ways while working within a project to keep on top of MS Project is to work with your team. As an excellent project manager, you already do this, so just take advantage of their expertise to increase your knowledge.
Read and study
Blogs, videos, podcasts, all are ways to keep up to date on the latest trends, within the program and within your field. Seek out experts online and follow them on social media for their insights and tips.
As a project manager, you know one of the best ways to learn is to network. Other project managers, within your organization, or in your local chapter of PMI may be able to give you insight. They may have tricks they use, or ways they integrate some of the alternative programs into their projects. You might even find a mentor within your industry that can assist.
MS Project may not always be the choice within an organization or the choice.
- It requires training, generally at an expense to the company or the project.
- There are file compatibility issues, the inability to use it in other operating systems or with end users that don’t have the same version or any version.
- The complete features are only available through the single user desktop option.
- There is no audit trail so changes made can’t be tracked back to the individual who made them.
- The online version has several limitations, such as viewing only.
But, more often than not, it is the go to for companies.
- It allows them to integrate with other software programs like Office, Skype, Teams, and Sharepoint.
- It’s dependable and has been an industry standard for over 35 years.
- They offer great customer support, and the ability to find answers from other users.
- It’s flexible and can be used for a variety of different industries and tasks in various ways.
- It keeps your resources at tracked and at the ready
There are many opportunities to use MS Project and many options to learn and understand it. Training is essential, as it is with any program that you will be relying on.
The costs can be prohibitive, but some training programs will not only provide you with a certificate of completion, but the ability to train others within the organization. The price of the program itself is something that needs to be recognized and may need to be budgeted within the project.
New positions and new projects will benefit from your knowledge of the program and the continuing education of the program. Even if you aren’t able to use the alternatives to MS Project, we recommend taking a look at them to see if they can be of benefit to you.
With more tools in your tool box, the more likely you can finish the job, on time and on budget! Making you more valuable as the Professional Project Manager you are.
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