The Hidden Gems of Microsoft Project

I recently had the opportunity to take a great course on Microsoft Project. Having been a user of both the standard edition as well as online, I was not sure what tricks are left to reveal. Well, much to my surprise, Microsoft continues to put some hidden gems in its new releases. Just for clarification, not all of these are new in 2016; some have been around for a release or two. I am simply highlighting some things that I found to be handy for the working project manager. Here are five of my favorites.

Skype

Integrating Skype into your project plans: This is one of the cooler items Microsoft did. Through some minimal configuration, you can have a “live” look at your resource status, and the ability to open a Skype dialog within the project. Figure 1 shows a high-level view:

Figure 1: Skype Status

Figure 1: Skype Status

Placing your cursor over the resource brings up a dialog box allowing you to Skype, call, video chat or email with the person:

Figure 2: Skype Dialog Box

Figure 2: Skype Dialog Box

Timelines

This is new in 2016 and, in my opinion, one of the best new features. Parsing out a project that has many tasks associated with it was a pain. Now with the timeline view, can stack multiple portions of your project into a set of timelines, add formatting such as colors, and add a view that appears for the length of the project. By adding subgroups, or individual tasks within the timeline, you can get a visual look at a project as opposed to a Gantt chart alone. Creating multiple timelines shows how events are stacked up from a tasking standpoint. These are also great to copy and paste into a PowerPoint presentation.

Figure 3: Stacked Timeline Example

Figure 3: Stacked Timeline Example

Resources

Microsoft truly beefed up this section of Project. In the three-legged stool of project management that I frequently write about, there are the resources. Resource management is accomplished through a logical view and an information form. Both provide great insight into your resource workload, availability, rates, limitations, etc. Multiple views within Project include Usage, Graphical, Sheet (or, in my opinion, it should be called List View), and my favorite view, Team Planner. (Figure 5)

Figure 4: Resources

Figure 4: ResourcesFigure 5: Team Planner

Figure 5: Team Planner

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Team planner lets you look at all of your resources as a kind of road map of the project. You can see gaps in the timeline, and possibly determine where they can be allocated a bit more efficiently. Though this is not new in 2016, the view is significantly enhanced and much easier to use.

Tell Me

If you’ve used any Office 2016 product, you may already know about this feature, but for me, the “Tell Me” function is so much more useful in Project because sometimes we just can’t remember where that one particular feature is located, or where a screen is. You no longer have to use a help screen, or remember which keyword to use in the index to find what you are looking for. Just type in some natural text, and it will use the context to take you directly to where you want to go.

Figure 6: Tell Me

Figure 6: Tell Me

Reports

Though it is not a new feature in Project, reports continue to improve and expand out of the box. While Power BI is the standard for online, the onboard reports are quite impressive. They are categorized into typical project areas such as cost, schedule, and resource, but there is much more functionality in filtering, displaying and calculating the numbers. You can create custom KPIs, or simply modify the ones provided. It’s slowly becoming a standalone data powerhouse.

Figure 7: reporting

Figure 7: Reporting


JEFF L. CHAMBERLAIN, PMP | Project Manager

Jeff comes to KTL Solutions with an extensive background in healthcare IT, technical consulting, and telecommunications. He has been a project manager for almost 20 years, holding certifications from the Project Management Institute as a Project Management Professional, from the Management and Strategy Institute as a Six Sigma Lean Professional, and he holds a Scrum Master Certification from the Scrum Alliance. He has managed both hardware and software implementations for both the government and private sectors, in industries such as healthcare, insurance, telecommunications, staff augmentation, supply chain and shipping.

Jeff has provided training for clients globally, working in Europe, Russia, North and South America on various topics from system optimization to wireless theory and design. He possesses a Bachelor’s Degree in Technical Writing from the University of Baltimore.