Microsoft (MS) Project - 2010 Frequently Asked Questions

I am often surprised how few project managers know some of the more useful tricks that MS Project offers you, things like custom calendars to deal with part time employees, or the wonderful Task Detail Form. For work, I pulled together a list of some of the key things I think all Project Managers should know about.

Add resource to my project

If you have got a blank project plan, just type in the name of the resource into the "Resource Names" column and it will create a matching resource. As you add more you will start to have a drop-down to choose from.

Using the Task Details form or Task Form, you can also assign resource with more granularity, so setting units and work. For example, in the below, Ethan is working full time for 2 days on the project, and Chris is working 50% for the same duration.

Creating a Rate Card (a list of resources and rates)

Rate cards are really easy to create. There are two ways to do it.
Complete your project plan adding resource as you go as described above.
When done, go to "Resource"
Click on the "View" dropdown
Select "Resource Sheet"
You are then presented with a list of all the resources currently assigned to the project
You can amend any of the details here and it will then be reflected on the main Gantt chart.
The main field to pay attention to is "Std. Rate" this is used to calculate most costings.
Overtime Rate can be useful for occasions where you are using non-tribal resource
Cost/Use can be useful for engaging with Source or other cost based teams/items.
You can change a particular persons working calendar, so if you have offshore resource for example, with different holidays.
You can also change the "max" which means you can have someone at 80% if they only work a 4 day week.

Alternatively, you can do them all in one go
Go to the Resource tab
Click on the "View" dropdown
Select "Resource Sheet"
and you get a blank "spreadsheet"
Add in the resources and their rates
When you then create your project plan, you select the resource as you need them.

Changing the working time.

This is surprisingly difficult to do, and causes a lot of issues for PMs when using the default 8 hour day that Project comes set up for when they should be using the Tribal 7 hour day.
Go to File
Options
Select "Schedule" from the list
Change the "Default Start Time" and Default End time, as well as Hours per day, days per week, and you will then default to a 7 hour day.

If this hasn't worked for you, then the Calendar for this project is also incorrect.
Go to "Project" Tab
"Change Working Time" button
Ensure you are on the correct (active) Project Calendar
Look at the listed working times on the right.
Click on the "work weeks"
Select "Default"
Click on "Details"
Select Monday to Friday.
Select "Set day(s) to these specific working times
Enter in the correct working times.

Marking days off as leave/ public holidays.

Much like the above calendar change, this is a bit fiddly.
Go to "Project" Tab
"Change Working Time" button
Ensure you are on the correct (active) Project Calendar
Look at the listed working times on the right.
Either highlight on the calendar or enter into the "Exceptions" grid the start and end dates.
Click "OK"

This will apply to everyone in the project. To create resource specific holidays, Use the "Create New Calendar" button and assign that calendar to the relevant resources using the resource sheet.

Task Detail Form

This is a massively under appreciated setting.
View
Details
Select "More Views" from the drop down list
Select "Tast Details Form"
You've now replaced the bottom pane with one that has a lot more information. You can see constraints, baseline dates and priority, as well as WBS code and various other bits. It is much more helpful and great for diagnosing problems.

Manual Scheduling

This is a new "Gotcha" from Project 2010. For some reason, when you edit dates, Project decides, "OK, great, you clearly know what you are doing. This task is forever excluded from my calculations." This then means that it can throw your calculations off by a fair margin if you don't notice.
It is found in the Task Details Form, or Task Form, or you can add it as a column in the Gantt chart. Very much worth checking.

Calendar

We use a lot of different resources when we run project, and often the days we use them are critical. If its helpful, there is a simple way to generate a calandar out of your project plan.
Just got to "task view"
Click on "View" drop-down and change Gantt Chart to Calendar.
It then generates a monthly or weekly calendar you can print out
But wait! There is more! you can also, but right clicking on the chart, change the formatting of differently types of tasks so that external tasks are formatted differently to internal tasks, or milestones are differnt again. Making it easy to see at a glance what needs to happen when.

Create a baseline and what is the purpose of this

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
Plans change. If they didn't we'd all be unemployed. A baseline is a method for taking a snapshot of a project plan and using it to measure change.
Baselining is easy. when your plan is complete, once it is signed off and ready to go, simply:
Select "Project" tab
Go to "Set Baseline"
Select "Set Baseline" from the dropdowns.
Choose a baseline number from 0 to 10. It is always a good idea to start with the lowest, and work up if needed.
You can baseline the whole project or particular tasks. For what we do, base-lining the project is normally the best approach.
Click OK

You now have a baseline of your project. As time moves forward and tasks change, or get added, you add them in.
In the Task Details Form, you can check baseline start and end dates, or you can
Click on "Task" tab
go to "Gantt view" drop down
Select "Tracking Gantt"
You then get a comparison Gantt chart showing you changes. It is very good for illustrating impacts on the critical path.

Show dependencies

The easiest way to see dependencies is to look at the "Predecessor" column, as this shows past dependencies for a project.
To get more details, right click on the task details or task form, and select "Predecessors & Successors" This will show the dependency in detail along with the Type (see below) and any lag that's been set in. (i.e the next task starts when the current one is finished +1 day)

What Dependency Types are there

FF - Finish to Finish. These two tasks will finish at the same time regardless of their starting date. -
FS - Finish to start - When the first task ends, the second one starts. This is the most common type of dependency. - Moving from UX into Design is a good example.
SF - Start to Finish - When the completion of one task depends on another starting.
SS - Start to Start - These two tasks must start at the same time - Two creative teams working on the same brief for a pitch
There are also things like external dependencies, but we can worry about these another time.

Determine the critical path

The Critical Path is the series of interlinked tasks in your project that define the delivery date. Slippages on any one of the tasks impacts all future tasks on the critical path and impacts delivery.
To see the critical path,
to to Gantt view in MS Project
Click on the "View" tab
Change the filter to "Critical"
The Gantt view will change to show only the tasks on the critical path.
This does not mean tasks not on the critical path are unimportant, it just means that they may have some flexibility in their delivery dates.

What is the difference between a task and a summary task

A summary task is a roll-up of various items that need to be done. For example, "Cooking Meth"
A task is a particular item to be done, i.e. "Meeting with your Smurfs" or "Driving into the desert"
A collection of linked tasks create a summary task. A summary task should not have its own resource, nor should it have its own duration. All its information is derived from the items that make it up.
In the below example, "Core Tempting Consolidation" and "Technology" are summary tasks, showing the overall duration for the items that make them up. "Responsive CMS Templates" is a summary task made up of everything.

When should I use milestones

Milestones should be used to show a particular event. The work best when used to illustrate a fixed point or a third party deliverable.
External assets provided on X date is a good milestone
Release day is also good.
WIP Review with client
Essentially, a Milestone is something which does not have a direct duration that you control or worry about, it is where you have a target to meet.
A third party task might be a normal task, if you've got a company or client conduction QA for three days then that should be a task, not a milestone.

Grouping Resources for easy estimation

It can be a challange when working with Project to get a clear understanding of what work relates to what summary tasks.
Go to Resource tab
Click on "Team Planner" dropdown
Select Resource Usage
Click on "view" tab
Select "Assignments keeping outline structure" from the "Group By" drop down list
You can then expand and contract summary tasks to get a roll-up summary of time and cost for a person.

Multi Projects

beyond the scope of this meeting, but something to be aware of. Whilst it does not have the capabilities of MS Project Server, you can link one or more projects, which creates external tasks in your project. So, if you have two projects which overlap, and you want to create seperate plans for both, but to see the dependencies, you can do this.