Part 3: If projects are like gasoline – Project Management Tools for Medium-Sized Projects

Managing medium-sized development projects requires project management tools that are more specialized and capable than the Microsoft Office tools recommended for use on small projects, as discussed last week. These are the regular octane or plus tools. Because more people are involved in execution of standard or medium-sized projects, and because they often have a duration of a year (or longer), project managers need tools that can handle resource management and task dependencies with greater sophistication than Microsoft Excel or office tools alone can provide — mainly due to the number of people and sharing of information that is needed.  The characteristics of a medium-sized project are:

  1. 10-50 staff
  2. 4-18 months duration
  3. Part  or Full Time PM
  4. Formal documentation and planning support required, such as
    1. Charter
    2. Project Plan
    3. Schedule
    4. Assignments
    5. Risks/ Issues
    6. Status reports

The most commonly used, special purpose project management tool for medium-sized, octane-plus efforts is Microsoft Project®. In fact, many professional and experienced PMs successfully use MS Project on small, medium and large sized efforts. In addition to project scheduling, for which it is the number one choice, Microsoft Project supports:

  1. Detailed view of  tasks, assignments, and resources
  2. Integration with Excel, Word and PowerPoint to manage more complex or interrelated projects
  3. Supports the creation of timelines, status reports, and metrics

Microsoft Project has been around for a long time and many people are still using versions 2007 and 2003, however the current version, Microsoft Project 2010, will be used in the following examples and discussion. Most managers begin by creating a project schedule, which creates a high-level task list and can drill down to detailed tasks for each high-level task. It automatically creates a Gantt chart and supports establishing task dependencies. Microsoft Project uses the standard Microsoft ribbon to control formatting, navigation and frequently used activities. The ability to link tasks allows project managers to perform predictive scheduling, which I believe is an essential skill of professional PMs. (Why your project needs a predictive project schedule).

The second Microsoft Project capability that I believe is important to successful project management is effective resource allocation. Understanding the level of effort required for each task and seeing the commitment of personnel across tasks ensures that individuals are not over or under tasked. In the resource management survey conducted by Cognitive Technologies, we found that across the board there is the perception that key project resources were consistently over allocated. (Project Management Resource Survey 2009–Challenges)

A project timeline is helpful for seeing the project big picture and for inclusion into management status briefings. Here’s a sample:

Microsoft Project Pros:

  1. Well known tool by PMs and the industry standard for project schedule tools — and classes are readily available for individuals needing to learn the tool
  2. Powerfully scheduling engine — I think it has one of the most mature schedule engines around.  And with 2010 you can actually turn this off and do manual scheduling if needed.
  3. Detailed task and resource data
  4. Works well with other Microsoft tools (Excel, Visio, Power Point etc.)
  5. Resource assignment capability – can view schedule by resource or assignment views
  6. Task linkage capability allows for predictive schedules – can link tasks inside one project to tasks in another project

Microsoft Project Cons

  1. More complex tool — requires staff skill level higher than the Microsoft Office tools suggested for small projects
  2. Each project is a standalone resource pool — hard to get complete organizational resource demand
  3. Updates must be done by one person (Not multi-user) — so it doesn’t solve the multi-user issues

For other tips and tricks in utilizing Microsoft Project, checkout Tips and Tricks. Next week, I will talk about the power-house project management tool — the super unleaded one, Microsoft Project Server. I will close this series by talking about a Hybrid octane tool set available through Microsoft SharePoint.

5 Responses to “Part 3: If projects are like gasoline – Project Management Tools for Medium-Sized Projects”

  1. spverma Says:

    Reblogged this on PM Power and commented:
    These are simple yet very effective ways to keep on top of project expenses so as not to run out of approved project funds. I thought of sharing on my blog site.

  2. MLS Says:

    Thanks for the great overview on using MS Project and particularly the disadvantages. There are plenty of other open-source and free PM planning tools out there as alternatives that would be worth mentioning. I’ve put a list together here

  3. David Meyers Says:

    Nice article, thnx! For medium-sized development projects i just want to recommend comindware task management software, as a great tool for PM. Feature of this solution is the original vision of tracking business process & its simple control system.

  4. Aj Says:

    Great overview of Microsoft Project!

  5. If Projects are like cars and gasoline – what octane level of tools do you need? | Fear No Project Blog - Focusing on the Management Side of Projects Says:

    […] Part 3 – Tools for Medium sized Projects  […]


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