Project Planning with Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project is a great tool to help you to plan projects, manage and update project information, and communicate the status once the project is under way. Planning with Microsoft Project help provides a good structure to help ensure project success.

Getting Started

The details of the project Tasks and associated Resources are entered into the system as a new project.  The system will then display the data in such a way that the relationships of the tasks and their time scales can clearly be seen and potential problem areas identified.

Microsoft Project data can be entered and/or viewed in a great number of ways; the three principal formats are CHARTS (and DIAGRAMS), FORMS, and SHEETS.

Charts can be either Gantt Charts or Network Diagrams (previously called and alternatively known as PERT Charts) both of which are a diagrammatic representation of the project data.

Chart views:Gantt chart
 Network Diagram (previously PERT Chart)
 Resource usage chart (This is in a table format)
 Resource Graph chart

Forms contain the data relevant to a single specific task or resource.

Form views:Task Usage form
 Resource form

Sheets are a table of all the Tasks or all the Resources that are part of the Project.

Sheet views:Task sheet
 Resource sheet

The above can be displayed separately or in any combination of two e.g.

Combination view:Task Entry View
              Top halfGantt chart
              Bottom halfTask form

You can combine any two single-pane views on the screen to create a combination view. In a combination view, the information in the bottom relates only to the task or resources in the top view. The reason for having combination views is to make the job of entering and analysing information easier.

Microsoft Project Language

The project management industry uses specific language and terminology. Some of these terms are illustrated below.

Microsoft Project TermsAbove: Clarification of Terms

In the illustration above, two tasks have a relationship. Task A is the predecessor task, and Task B is the successor task. Both of these tasks are considered to be non-critical because they both have flexibility. Let’s focus on Task A. EA marks the earliest possible time Task A can start. SS marks the scheduled start time for Task A. By default, all tasks are scheduled to start at the earliest possible time, unless you specify otherwise. In the example above, Task A is scheduled to start later and therefore has been delayed. SE marks the scheduled end time for Task A, and LE marks the latest possible time Task A can end. Both of these tasks have slack, the amount of time a task can slip before it affects another task’s dates or the project finish date. Free slack is the amount of time Task A can be delayed before affecting the start time of Task B, and total slack is the amount of time that Task A can be delayed before affecting the finish date of the project. The summary task summarizes Tasks A and B.

Critical tasks, not shown above, have no slack; therefore, delaying this type of task would mean delaying the project. A critical path is a series of critical tasks. All tasks on a critical path must be completed on time for the project to finish on time. If one task on a critical path is delayed, then the project is delayed. In Microsoft Project, a critical path is shown on the Gantt chart and the Network Diagram (alternatively known as PERT Chart) in red.

Project Terminology

Actual UsageA measure of the resource expended in completing or partially completing a task.
ALAPRefers to a task that should be started ‘As Late As Possible’, using all the free-float time available.
ASAPUsed to indicate a task that should be started ‘As Soon As Possible’, taking into account the start date of the project and its predecessor tasks.
BaselineThe original project plan, including the time schedule and resource and cost allocations.  The baseline is used for comparing projected values to actuals, and facilitates the tracking and analysing of a project’s progress.
Cost VarianceA project tracking function recording the difference between the budgeted cost of the work performed and the actual cost.  Values below the baseline show an overspend and positive values denote cost savings.
Critical PathThe sequence of tasks or activities whose schedules and durations directly affect the date of overall project completion.
Earned ValueThis is a measure of a project’s performance, and is calculated by multiplying a task’s planned cost by the percentage of work completed.
Float (slack)The amount of time by which a non-critical task can be delayed before it affects another task’s schedule.
Gantt chartA graphical representation of a project schedule showing each task as a bar, the length of which is proportional to its duration.  Many project management packages use a spreadsheet section to the left of the Gantt chart to display additional information.
Hammock TaskA task whose duration is calculated based on the time span between its predecessor and successor activities.
HistogramA bar chart that shows resource workloads over a time period.
LagThe amount of time between the finish of a predecessor task and the start of a successor task.
LeadThe amount of time that a task is permitted to start before its predecessor is finished.
LoadingA measurement of resource usage on a task per unit of time.  Different methods of loading may be used depending on what’s available in your project management application and what’s applicable for your particular project.
Loading(back)A loading pattern that allocates resource usage as late in the task as possible.
Loading (contour)The contour-loading pattern assesses which resources are left over after allocation to the critical tasks and spreads these resources among the remainder.
Loading(fixed)When using fixed-loading algorithms, you specify the actual amount of resource allocated to the encompassing tasks.
Loading(front)Front loading systems will attempt to allocate resources as early in the task as possible.
Loading(uniform)This loading pattern allocates the resource usage on a by day basis in a task.  This will usually be done without causing any one task to be over committed.
MilestoneA project event that represents a checkpoint, a major accomplishment or a measurable goal.
Negative floatRefers to an unscheduled delay before an actual task start time that must be recovered if the project is not to be delayed.
OBS codesOrganisational Breakdown Structure codes are used to identify tasks by resource groups in a hierarchical format.  OBS codes are often used to reflect departmental structure in a company or code of accounts, and can also be used for filtering tasks.
PERT Chart (read ‘Network Diagram’)Project Evaluation and Resource Tracking charts, or PERT Charts.  PERT Charts are a graphical depiction of task dependencies, and resemble flow charts.  Dependencies are shown by connecting lines or arrows indicating the work flow.
PredecessorIn dependency relationships, the predecessor is the task that must be started or completed first.
Project ManagementBest defined as a body of knowledge, a set of principles, or techniques dealing with the planning and control of projects.
ResourceAny person, group of people, item or equipment, service or material used in accomplishing a project task.
Resource LevellingThe process of resolving resource conflicts.  Most project management programs offer an automated resource levelling routine that delays tasks until the resources assigned to them are available.
Resource DrivenTask durations determined by the program and based on the number of an allocation of resources, rather than the time available.  Both individual tasks and entire projects can be resource-driven.
Sub-projectA group of activities which are treated as a single task in a master project schedule.  Subprojects are a way of working with multiple projects that keep all the data in one file rather than in independent files.
SuccessorIn a dependency relationship between two tasks, the successor is the task that must await the start or completion of the other.
WBS codesWork Breakdown Structure codes are used to identify tasks in a hierarchy.  Many project management applications associate these codes with an outline structure.  WBS codes can be used to filter the project schedule for tracking and reporting purposes.

Our range of great value Microsoft Project training courses, held regularly in Glasgow, Edinburgh and across Scotland will help enhance your skills further.