Reconciling the Way Microsoft Project Actually Works with the Theories of Project Management

As I delve into Microsoft Project, part of what I’m grappling with is marrying the theories of project management with the way the actual piece of software works, in a practical manner of speaking. Apparently, there are a number of challenges to Microsoft’s scheduling algorithm from adherents of various project management principles (including PMBOK, Prince 2, Agile, and so forth).

Tim told me that Microsoft is mostly challenged on a few key fundamentals:

  1. The Duration Equation, which is the scheduling engine I alluded to in this post.
  2. Resource overallocation and the automated way to adjust resource overallocation.
  3. Critical path. Many people, including Tim, do not believe Microsoft Project can do CPM (critical path management), or critical chain management. What Microsoft Project does is highlight the longest interrelated set of tasks to the end date, which is not really CPM.

Most of that made no sense to me whatsoever when Tim said it.

“Basically,” I said, struggling to follow what he was telling me, “the governing bodies for the various schools of PM thought have issues with the way Microsoft has chosen to build the algorithms, but Microsoft is all, ‘Hey, you want to write the software yourself? No? Well, you’re just gonna hafta deal with the way we do it.'”

Tim said that what I was touching on with my line of questions happens to be a major pain point for a lot of people involved in PM but who aren’t PM wonks. He said that, frankly, Microsoft Project is too difficult for novice PMs.

“So how do we make Microsoft Project usable for people like me?” I asked. Is there kind of a “Microsoft Project Lite” for us lightweights?

Well, SharePoint kind of is the lite platform. It isn’t complete – it doesn’t do task scheduling or calculate dependencies, for instance – but it’s a step in the right direction for people who want to take their project management off sticky notes and napkins and into a more organized system. Mostly, though, making Microsoft Project usable for regular folks who aren’t steeped in PM’s deep cuts, is a matter of making the concepts that drive the proper use of the platform accessible to regular folks. Once people have a better understanding of the concepts, they are then empowered to “get” what’s going on with the software (which isn’t as thoroughly documented as SharePoint is). So that’s, um, kind of the core principle behind this whole blog. It becomes much less scary and much more usable if you have an inkling of what you’re doing, and why you’re doing it.

We’ll get back to planning my long-passed vacation using the actual software in the next entry, but for now, I wanted to share an opportunity with you so that you, too, can dive right into Microsoft Project. If you don’t have access to Project, or you’re afraid you’ll mess something up if you play with a real installation of Microsoft Project (you wouldn’t, but I know how intimidating it can be to muck around with new software), you can test drive Microsoft Project on a virtual machine hosted one of Innovative-e’s partners, Cloudshare.

  1. Click the Innovative-e Program Management and Information System (PMIS) environment on Cloudshare’s website. This environment is in the “Productivity” tab of the SharePoint Solutions Showcase.
  2. Fill in the fields to begin your trial period for this virtual environment.
  3. Click “View Machine” for the green Microsoft Office 2010 Pro icon to fire up your VM loaded with Microsoft Project Professional.

Now, think about what project you want to put into Microsoft Project. Your project can be your vacation, a yard sale you’d like to have to clear out your garage, or any relatively simple project that you would like to use as a test case as you follow along here. Start with your WBS, and then start playing with Project. Review Dux’s screencast if, after you’ve mentally put together the framework for your project, you need a nudge to actually start putting it into Project.

Next week, we’ll get back to my own project, planning the vacation that I’ve been back from for weeks now.


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