Did you know that 1 copy of Microsoft Project gets sold every 20 seconds? And Over 10,000 organisations use Microsoft Project! Microsoft Project is a powerful, scalable platform for managing any type of work – from team projects to the most complex portfolio and resource management initiatives. If you aren’t sure where to start on building out your schedule in Microsoft Project Professional, then you’ve come to the right place. If you have already built a schedule but want to know how to improve your use of Microsoft Project, then you’re also in the right place.

This article and associated webinar aim to provide help, guidance, and shortcuts for Microsoft Project users with any level of experience to save you time and hopefully any potential feelings of frustration!

98% of desktop planning software use worldwide is Microsoft Project. It is the de facto standard project scheduling tool yet so many people receive limited or no Microsoft Project training. Most users make limited inroads into the true functionality of Microsoft Project and I would strongly encourage anyone to go on a formal course to really understand how powerful the tool can be. In my experience, the biggest weakness for so many project professionals is the ability to build and use a useful, practical and helpful project schedule. Most people use Microsoft Project to build a schedule of tasks, some attempt to assign resources and a very limited number of users take the final step to track costs.

In the Mayas, the number 5 is considered the symbol of perfection; whilst I wouldn’t go so far as to say my recommendations are perfect, here are my top Microsoft Project best practices, tips, and common pitfalls in sets of 5 for you to easily digest. If you’re in a Project Manager or PMO role, then it is likely that you use some form of tooling to manage projects and it’s great that you’re here to learn more about Microsoft Project;  31% of executive leaders believe that learning relevant skills is the biggest factor in future success (PMI, 2020)

Microsoft Project Top Tips Webinar Attendees

On the webinar itself, it was fantastic to see a real mix of roles and experience. Interestingly, the majority were from a PMO background. PMO people tend to have a vested interest in becoming experts in MSP due to their responsibility in supporting the Project Management community. 47% do not have access to real-time project KPIs with 50% spending 1 or more days manually collating project reports (Wellingtone State of Project Management Survey, 2021).

Where To Start? The 5 Fundamentals

Before you begin building your schedule in Microsoft Project, I’d recommend that you build a high-level plan using post-it notes with team members. Get everyone who is involved into a (virtual) room and hash out what tasks need to be undertaken and in what order. Creating a high-level Plan On A Page (POAP) is a useful way of illustrating the work packages and key milestones for your project. Keep it simple! Get all key stakeholders involved and therefore bought into your plan. Then translate this into a Microsoft Project schedule. Keep an eye on the Planning Horizon and adjust your schedule, as necessary.

Before creating your schedule in MS Project:

  1. Know your context: What are you trying to plan; a sub-project, a project or a programme? What’s your starting point? Do you have Key Milestones that MUST be achieved? [These may require a constraint] Or a Start / Finish Date that must be achieved?
  2. Project Start Date: Before you begin creating your plan, make sure that you have a defined Project Start Date.
  3. Default Task Setting: Before you begin creating your plan, make sure that: the Default Task Setting is Auto-Scheduled
  4. Project Calendar: Before you begin creating your plan, make sure that: the appropriate Project Calendar has been selected
  5. Know Your WBS: Be clear about how you intend to structure your plan; what are your Summary Tasks and your Key Milestones?

5 Microsoft Project Scheduling Best Practices

  1. Create logical WBS by indenting & outdenting tasks as appropriate
  2. Focus on creating all Summary and Normal Tasks first, then add Duration and Constraints
  3. Define Task Relationships: All Tasks should have Task Relationships, excluding the first and last task in your schedule
  4. Make sure you Baseline at appropriate times
  5. Set the Status Date to today when updating the % complete

5 Things To Avoid

As a Consultant and Trainer at Wellingtone, there are many common pitfalls that we see time and time again. Here are the 5 mistakes I would strongly recommend you avoid:

  1. Do NOT adjust the Start and/or Finish Dates of Tasks and/or Milestones
  2. Avoid having any manually scheduled tasks
  3. Do NOT adjust any part of the Summary Task apart from the Task Name
  4. Limit the use of Constraints
  5. Inactivate Tasks, don’t delete Tasks

5 Microsoft Project Shortcuts

It’s always useful to know a handy shortcut or two to speed up working in Microsoft Project. You’ll also look like a whizz in front of all your colleagues! My handy shortcuts are as follows:

Function Shortcut
Indenting & outdenting to create WBS Shift + Alt + Left/ or Right Arrow
Collapses a Summary Task
Expands a Summary Task
Shift + Alt + Minus
Shift + Alt + Plus
Expand all of the schedule Shift + Alt + *
Access the “Build Team” Dialog Box
[Project Online only]
Crtl + T
Go to the top row in the plan Ctrl + Up Arrow or  Ctrl + Home

5 other helpful shortcuts

Function Shortcut
Insert Inserts a blank row above
Use the “View” Bar Right-click on the left side of MSP
Access more features Right-click anywhere in MSP!
Adjust the formatting of a type of task Format>Text Styles
Autosave File>Options>Save

5 Handy Know-How’s

Managing Microsoft Project Online deployments means that we get a multitude of questions regarding the tool and how it works. However, there are some questions that come up time and time again.

  1. Dragging tasks around to change a location always changes the Task ID number and any Task Relationships automatically
  2. Deleting/Inactivating a Summary Task will delete all Normal Tasks and Milestones within it
  3. Changing the Project Start Date will NOT adjust the dates for tasks that are constrained or have deadlines
  4. View multiple projects on one screen
  5. Make use of the Quick Access Ribbon

There are lots of different ways in which Wellingtone can help you with Microsoft products and increasing the level of Project Management maturity within your organisation. We offer a mix of Microsoft Project courses, videos on our YouTube Channel and articles on our website.

There are also lots of ways in which you can find more support and help with Microsoft Project; visit the MPUG website and become a member to find out useful insights into the world of Microsoft Project, the Microsoft website itself holds a huge amount of information

Books to support Microsoft Project Learning


To summarise:

  1. Follow the Fundamentals of MSP every time you create a new project
  2. Make sure you are following best practice
  3. Keep a post-it note on your desk of all the shortcuts you find most useful
  4. Attend more webinars, read around the subject, learn as much as you can
  5. And remember, the best way to learn is just to get stuck in and give it a go!

Looking ahead, it’s important that we embrace change and technological advances, this is the future after all; 56% of organisations have already developed a digital transformation strategy that incorporates AI (IPMA, 2020). To end, the number 5 is also the symbol for balance, harmony, and peace; I hope that you have found this article useful, and it will enable you to have a peaceful journey on the road to building successful schedules in Microsoft Project.

Watch the companion webinar

Watch the companion webinar with Trainer and Consultant Amy Lewis and she shares some top Microsoft Project scheduling tips and tricks which can help you to plan and manage projects more effectively, saving time and effort.

Learn more or arrange a demo

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