MS Project is one of the premier tools out there for developing and managing project schedules. It is incredibly feature-rich and today I wanted to speak a little bit to some of my favorite features of MS Project that I feel are underrated in the project management profession.
This is my undisputed champion feature of MS Project. After plotting in your schedule with task and resource assignments, at the click of a button MS Project gives you a configurable view that shows the planned effort by resource/by time frame (days, weeks, months, quarters, years) in hours. I spend a lot of time working on project and enterprise forecasts as well as prospect bids that include the need to indicate the anticipated customer resourcing for a project and this view is an incredible tool. Not only does it give a great breakdown of effort, but it’s driven real time from your schedule so as changes are made to your schedule, the resource usage is updated automatically. If you haven’t used it before, I highly recommend trying it out.
Multiple Resources at Different Allocations
While you wouldn’t think this would be an incredibly valuable feature, try having multiple resources on the same task at different capacities and have that plot out in your schedule using just one line. MS Project allows the ability to assign multiple different resources to a single task but at different allocations (ex. one resource at 100%, others at 20%, etc.) and based on those allocations, MS Project will calculate either the effort or duration of the task (based on your selected calculation setting). I must admit I didn’t give this feature much regard until I used a tool that did not have this feature and was forced to create duplicates of the same task for each assigned resource at their specific allocation.
The timeline visual component of MS Project isn’t really a ‘calculation’ feature but more for quick digestion of a project plan and something I commonly use to fold into executive presentations and documents. MS Project makes it simple to take key tasks from your plan (typically I use phase-level tasks) to add to the timeline visual and then you can quickly see the project schedule at a glance from start to finish. This is a great feature when you have a 400 line project schedule that may be tough to swallow in 30 seconds or less.
MS Project is one of the most established schedule management tools on the market and will remain a heavyweight for a long time to come. There are other great tools out there and MS Project (like any tool) has some drawbacks but it does a simply amazing job in meeting some of my more critical needs when it comes to schedule management.