Dependencies, Microsoft Project, and Baking Cakes

OK, so one of the reasons Microsoft Project makes me nervous is that it seems like such A Thing. Like, this big unwieldy monster that is too complex for mere mortals like me to understand. Project is, for me, like wanting a little light reading to kill some time, and all I can find on the bookcase is a textbook about quantum physics.

But Tim, Innovative-e’s resident Project Portfolio Management guru, insists that it’s not scary or difficult, and that the big-time processes that make Project seem so complex and foreign all happen in the background where you don’t even see them. Kind of like a car is powerful and fast, but when you drive it, you don’t worry about what’s happening under the hood. You’re concerned with where the car takes you rather than what’s going on with the engine. Project is the vehicle that helps you get your project to where you want it to be; stop thinking about what the engine is doing, and suddenly Project seems like just this everyday thing that helps you do what you want to get done.

A project manager will find Project to be more than helpful. Tim says, “It is toxic not to use Project to track your projects.”

Remember when I mentioned dependencies in an earlier post? They’re a pretty critical thing in effective project management. Dependencies are where your resources, schedule, and plans are all linked together so you can see whether what you are trying to do in a project is actually feasible. And Microsoft Project links all these things for you. Project maps whether the conditions under which you are trying to complete your project are sufficient. To wit: Project tells you whether what you’re endeavoring to do is actually, practically do-able.

All the pieces of information that you’ve tucked away into SharePoint and Excel spreadsheets and emails and other places? Project glues them all together and then shows you what you have done with your available resources and time, and what you will be able to do in the future.

Making a project work is like following a recipe. You gather all the necessary components and you mix them all together. But if you are trying to make a cake, you can’t dump in the butter and eggs after you’ve stuck the rest of it in the oven. You have to do things in the proper order. What you do, with what, and when, is dependent on the bigger picture, the greater objective.

The dependencies created when you’re following a cake recipe are not altogether different than the dependencies created when you’re coordinating a project. And Project helps you see those dependencies and relationships between the various ingredients of your project. It tells you when you should adjust adding this or that component, and how long your project will be cooking.

Throwing all the elements of your project together willy-nilly is going to result in chaos. Project, rather than being an unmanageable behemoth, will help you contain the chaos, streamline the process, and show you (rather than just telling you) exactly what your project looks like while it’s in process.

When you think about it like that, Microsoft Project doesn’t sound intimidating at all. In fact, it sounds downright friendly.

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