Seven Project Professional features to keep your project plan up-to-date

Seven Project Professional features to keep your project plan up-to-date

As an EPM specialist, I keep resolving project scheduling scenarios with my team and client. I come across various project scheduling challenges while working on it. Sometimes, project managers have a well-planned project but they cannot create the deviation reports out of it and hence cannot get ‘planned vs actual’ scenario and sometimes the team and respective project managers are too busy to complete their project milestones and hence cannot not keep the project schedule plan up to date.

I realize that seven features of Microsoft Project Professional , if used as a best practice, can potentially help you in keeping your project plan up to date and ready for project review at any time. I believe these features will not require additional homework or preparation when your seniors or executives call for a project status review meeting.

Let’s talk about these in brief and I will be detailing them separately in the series of blogs.

Link Your Tasks

When you create the tasks in the Project Plan, you must decide the sequence of execution of these tasks. Microsoft Project Professional provides flexibility to define task dependencies with the help of ‘Linking Tasks’ feature. The tasks can be linked by any of the dependency type provided by enterprise project management software – Project Professional 2013. Sign of a good project plan is that it does not have any orphan task i.e. each task is linked. If a task is not linked it can be either a milestone or a ‘Summary Task’.

Task Path and Critical Path

Using ‘Task Path’, you can quickly see all the predecessors of the selected tasks in the Project Plan. This feature helps when you have a complex project plan.

Critical Tasks are those task which directly impacts the Project Finish date. Using this option you can quickly see the critical tasks of your project and being a project manager, you may keep track of those specific task for project success.

Resolve Resource Over allocation

‘Resource Over allocation’ is a stage in the ‘Project Plan’ which occurs when:

–          A resource is assigned more than one tasks which are planned to be executed in the same duration

–          Tasks are not planned and resource is assigned

–          Project manager intentionally overloads the resource to complete the project on time or to meet the critical timeline

In Project Professional 2013 you see a Red persona icon (also called Burning Resource) with respect to respective tasks when a resource is over allocated. You can use any of following Project Professional 2013 features to resolve the resource over allocation:

–          Task inspector to automatically resolve the over allocation

–          Manually set the tasks timeline and dependencies to resolve over allocation

–          Use ‘Team Planner’ for resource assignment and resolving over allocation

Proper resource assignment is very important in a ‘Project Plan’ especially when you share the plan with your seniors or executives. The Red Persona icon easily grabs eyes when managers or executives look upon the plan, also it allows to level the team work and acts as a warning to project manager. A ‘Project Plan’ with frequent resource over allocation may not be a good plan and may lead to confusions. Keep your plan over allocation free.

Use Project Status Date

Generally in every organization, project managers report the project status to their seniors on a set rhythm (weekly, Bi-weekly etc.)

The new feature ‘Status Date’ of the enterprise project management software, Project Professional 2013, allows project manager to set any past date to view all in-built reports and views till selected date.

The ‘Status Date’ also displays a line in the Gannt Chart which you can use to refer the date of last time you viewed or shared the project status.

Use Timeline

Timeline is another cool feature which you can use to report your project status to executives or to share a high level plan in graphical view with your team members. This feature was introduced in Project Professional 2010 and since then it has been a handy tool to communicate the ‘Project Plan’ in graphical view to executives and seniors who loves a timeline view.

In timeline, you can

–          Select the task or deliverables to be displayed in graphic

–          Customize the look and feel (color, fonts, etc.) of bar lines, tasks, deliverables, etc.

–          Relocate the tasks up or down the grid.

Once you finalize the timeline to be presented, you can share it directly in Outlook, PowerPoint or copy to be used in any other document type.

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Use In-built Project Dashboard for High level reports

Project Professional 2013 has another new feature which gives direct access to in-built reports of Project Professional and can be leveraged for quick reporting. Project Professional 2013 has new ‘Report’ tab and there you can access reports for cost, resource, project, etc.

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All these reports can be copied and printed to be shared with client, team members or executives. These reports can also be customized by the parameters, look and feel, etc.

Use Project Baseline

Baseline feature has been continually improving from Project Professional 2007. The baseline helps you to compare various projects and task level parameters at planned versus actual basis.  Few discrepancies between plan and actual are fine, but if you find major discrepancies then there is either an issue in planning or in execution. You seriously need to find the cause and need to fix in such case to keep your project on track.

You can set the Project Base line as below:

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You should set the Baseline at Project Start up in your plan, which becomes your planned snapshot.  Then you can set the Baseline on sprint basis or monthly basis. You can set up to 11 baselines of a Project. Later, you can compare all the baselines and find the project discrepancies, you can compare and find till when the project was running well or when the schedule did not meet, etc. Baseline helps you a lot to communicate the snapshot or phase wise status of project to point out the actual deviation in the project, if any.

I have been using all these features in my daily project plans and they escaped me from lot of homework and preparation to prepare for project review meetings with client, seniors and team members. All of these features will be proven very helpful when the entire team is updating the task status and you being a status manager approve/reject tasks timely.

So, what are you waiting for? Make your plan effective and up-to-date. Happy Project Planning!

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Posted by Swati Trivedi

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