MS Project - Introduction

Microsoft Project is a project management software program developed and sold by Microsoft, designed to assist a project manager in developing a schedule, assigning resources to tasks, tracking progress, managing the budget, and analyzing workloads.

Project creates budgets based on assignment work and resource rates. As resources are assigned to tasks and assignment work estimated, the program calculates the cost, equal to the work times the rate, which rolls up to the task level and then to any summary task, and finally to the project level.

Each resource can have its own calendar, which defines what days and shifts a resource is available. Microsoft Project is not suitable for solving problems of available materials (resources) constrained production. Additional software is necessary to manage a complex facility that produces physical goods.

Project Management

MS Project is feature rich, but project management techniques are required to drive a project effectively. A lot of project managers get confused between a schedule and a plan. MS Project can help you in creating a Schedule for the project even with the provided constraints. It cannot Plan for you. As a project manager you should be able to answer the following specific questions as part of the planning process to develop a schedule. MS Project cannot answer these for you.

  • What tasks need to be performed to create the deliverables of the project and in what order? This relates to the scope of the project.

  • What are the time constraints and deadlines if any, for different tasks and for the project as a whole? This relates to the schedule of the project.

  • What kind of resources (man/machine/material) are needed to perform each task?

  • How much will each task cost to accomplish? This would relate to the cost of the project.

  • What kind of risk do we have associated with a particular schedule for the project? This might affect the scope, cost and time constraints of your project.

Strictly speaking, from the perspective of Project Management Methodology, a Plan and Schedule are not the same. A plan is a detailed action-oriented, experience and knowledge-based exercise which considers all elements of strategy, scope, cost, time, resources, quality and risk for the project.

Scheduling is the science of using mathematical calculations and logic to generate time effective sequence of task considering any resource and cost constraints. Schedule is part of the Plan. In Project Management Methodology, schedule would only mean listing of a project's milestones, tasks/activities, and deliverables, with start and finish dates. Of course the schedule is linked with resources, budgets and dependencies.

However, in this tutorial for MS Project (and in all available help for MS Project) the word ‘Plan’ is used as a ‘Schedule’ being created in MS Project. This is because of two reasons.

One, MS Project does more than just create a schedule it can establish dependencies among tasks, it can create constraints, it can resolve resource conflicts, and it can also help in reviewing cost and schedule performance over the duration of the project. So it does help in more than just creating a Schedule. This it makes sense for Microsoft to market MS Project as a Plan Creator rather than over-simplifying it as just a schedule creator.

Two, it is due to limitation of generally accepted form of English language, where a schedule can be both in a noun as well as verb form. As a noun, a Schedule is like a time table or a series of things to be done or of events to occur at or during a particular time or period. And in the verb form, schedule is to plan for a certain date. Therefore it is much easier to say that, “One can schedule a plan from a start date” but very awkward to say, “One can schedule a schedule from a start date”. The distinction is important for you as a project manager, but as far as MS project is concerned the noun form of Schedule is a Plan.

Of course, a project manager should also be able to answer other project-related questions as well. For example −

  • Why this project needs to be run by the organization?
  • What’s the best way to communicate project details to the stakeholders?
  • What is the risk management plan?
  • How the vendors are going to be managed?
  • How the project is tracked and monitored?
  • How the quality is measured and qualified?

MS Project can help you −

  • Visualize your project plan in standard defined formats.
  • Schedule tasks and resources consistently and effectively.
  • Track information about the work, duration, and resource requirements for your project.
  • Generate reports to share in progress meetings.