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Microsoft Project Planning A Better Way

Microsoft Project planning ensures your projects receive many benefits.

You’ll be able to forecast better and prevent last-minute surprises. When forecast models don’t meet required deadlines, you can take corrective actions to resolve critical project tasks from a time-required, costs and manpower perspective.

You’ll save time. Microsoft Project is more efficient than Excel for keeping your schedule up-to-date. In Excel, you have to continually adjust dates manually to reflect the latest status of your project. You have to change even more dates when you need to accurately forecast your project. In a 6 month project, you could save over 100 hours of scheduling effort if you schedule your project in Microsoft Project.

If you want to keep your forecast schedule up-to-date in Excel, you need to revise the start and finish date of 50 tasks, on average, for each revision of the schedule. This will take you two hours each time—two hours of effort during which you could easily make errors. As a result, people who schedule in Excel typically let their schedule slip out-of-date and then they lose their reporting tool as well as their forecast model.

You’ll be more effective. If you’ve accurately established all relationships between tasks, you’ll find many parallel paths of relationships in your schedule. Only one of those parallel paths determines the duration of your project, the “Critical Path.” Using concepts like Critical Path will make you a more effective project manager. You’ll know at any time which tasks cause slippage and those which do not.

Steps to becoming a practically perfect project practitioner

Differentiate the original schedule from the forecast schedule. There are two “schedules” you’ll keep in Microsoft Project: the original schedule and the forecast schedule. You can capture the original schedule in Microsoft Project as a set of static deadline dates. The second schedule is a dynamic model of the project. The dates are continually recalculated and reforecast when you enter progress information or make other changes. The forecast schedule helps you identify slippages relative to the original schedule. As this is a dynamic model, it also helps you find ways to quickly reduce slippage.

Estimate task durations. Estimating is difficult. Sometimes you need to make assumptions, such as, “We’ll get resources on this project of senior skill level.” Microsoft Project expects you to estimate the duration for each task.

Identify the relationships between tasks. Most tasks depend on another being completed. The Print Report task is dependent on the completion of the task Write Report, for example.

Rely on Microsoft Project planning to calculate and forecast the dates in the forecast model. Some users worry about letting a tool calculate dates when they’re supposed to meet hard deadlines. However if you differentiate the original schedule from the forecast schedule, it won’t change the promised dates of the original schedule. You would have already saved those dates as a set of deadline dates that are well protected from the date recalculations. If you properly established the relationships, you can trust Microsoft Project to recalculate dates.

Monitor the Critical Tasks that determine the project duration. You only need to monitor certain tasks that affect the project finish date. These are called the “Critical Tasks” in technical project management terms, Microsoft Project will highlight these Critical Tasks for you making your project work easier.

Regularly update your forecast schedule. The original schedule needs to remain static. It doesn’t need updates unless you re-negotiate the agreed-upon deadlines. You do need to maintain the forecast schedule, otherwise it will stop forecasting. If you fail to update your schedule, you lose the dynamic project model.

This dynamic model is what helps you calculate slippage and lets you try what-if scenarios to compensate for those slippages. With the forecast schedule, you can show stakeholders how the project will unfold in reality. You need to keep this up-to-date.

Take corrective actions when slippage occurs. If you want more of your projects to come in on time, commit to using the forecast schedule in Microsoft Project planning. This will help you identify and address slippage as early as possible. The forecast schedule only shows you the problems, you need to take the required action and change the course of your project.