Microsoft Project…Oh how I missed you

Working from home can be a lonely experience at times, the lack of human interaction, no water cooler chats, just endless conference calls.  And more than once my wife has accused me of acting like an excited puppy welcoming its owner when she walks through the front door, at last a human being!

The other downside to working from home is the increased time it takes to get an IT issue resolved.  Recently, my laptop died, and if you predominantly work from home this can be a problem.  Thankfully, the IT service desk could send me a back up pc until a replacement could be organised, the one downside being that the temporary pc would not have MS Project on it.

Now for a confession, I like MS Project…I really like MS project, I have found a lot of PMs dont and by dont I mean they actively dislike it.  All too often I have been in meetings when a PM is making updates to the plan and a task does something they dont expect and increases the overall project duration and you hear them muttering under their breath “I hate project, it is crap, give me Excel anytime”.  But, what I have come to realise is that what they are saying is a combination of the following:

  • I have never been formally trained in MS project
  • I have never spent time to familiarise myself with MS project
  • In my project planning I dont following some of the basic project management behaviours

If you know MS Project you have:

  • a project,/program road map
  • a Project plan a task list
  • crucially, all the tasks are dynamically linked, you can see the impact of changes to the plan if an individual task changes
  • Best of all you can add fields and create custom fields to give you very detailed information whether dates, text or numbers.

So imagine my frustration at not having the software, but instead having to use MS Excel as a project management tool.  Excel was ok, it let me track the basics, tasks, resource allocation, duration, start dates, finish dates, I even set up a mini gantt chart in the spreadsheet using conditional formatting so gantt bars appeared next to the associated activitiy.  But as we know project plans are never static (even if we wish they were), it reminds me of a particular time a Project lead was telling me about the difficulty in scheduling his teams holidays with the plan when it is slipping, he said “the one date you know you are safe to book vacation on is the go live dat of the first draft of the project plan”.  Plans are fluid and tasks change, but in Excel all the tasks are stand alone, you never really are able to have the related tasks…well, related.  When a task takes longer than is planned and slips, the actual succeeding tasks are not automatically updated, so you end up communicating incorrect updates in the project and steering committee meetings and doubling the amount of admin time you wold normally take trying to validate the plan, and you end up not leading the team but managing a spreadsheet.

Then finally you PC arrives, with MS Project installed, you copy the key fields from the excel plan into the project file, link the tasks, then sit back, breathe a sigh of relief and start acting like a proper project manager.

Hello my old friend

This entry was posted in Lessons learnt, Opinion, Project management, Random thoughts and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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