My name is Dominic Moss and I am part of the Project Server Team at Wellingtone. I have been assisting customers with the use of Microsoft Project and Project Server through consultancy and training delivery for the past 18 years. In addition to computer based tools training I have also helped a lot of customers with Project Management theory training as well.

My background is Construction Project Management and in my 15 year career in construction I worked on a wide range of projects, everything from a Maternity Ward to a Mausoleum and most things in between, schools, churches, offices, retail warehouses, houses etc.

The project I am proudest of is organising the building of a complete house in just 10 weeks. In that time we went from a residential garden to a fully functioning habitable dwelling in just 70 days total. Like any good project there was a good investment in time preparing and planning before we ever started on site but even so it was a challenging project where we delivered on time, within budget and to the required standard of quality.

I have been using computer based tools for 30 years this year. The first tool I used back in 1984 was DOS based, clunky and not in the least bit user friendly. Back then computers in the workplace were a novelty. In 1986 I was issued with a portable computer – long before laptops became available. It was portable, but only just! People could not believe it when I attended meetings with a computer and most people trusted its output without question as they had yet to have personal experience of working with Information Technology.

In the intervening years things have moved on in leaps and bounds and we now hear the terms project and project management being used far more frequently than was the case 10 or 15 years ago. I believe that there have been three drivers for the growth of project working.

  • The relentless pace of change means we need to get more done in less time.
  • Organisations have become leaner and meaner and as a result there are less people with more to do in less time.
  • Computer based tools have become ubiquitous and can deliver to the user the benefits of Critical Path Analysis without having to perform the calculation themselves.

When I first started working in Construction Project Management my role involved calculating the Critical Path for large complex projects and believe me even though the first tools I used were less than perfect and nowhere near as powerful or user friendly as current versions of Microsoft Project are today the alternative, longhand calculation, was truly unappealing.

[ribbon-light]The Benefits of using Microsoft Project[/ribbon-light]We now have access to computer based tools that take care of the complex calculations that can arise from a project schedule. They deal with scale, complexity and most importantly of all change. Sometimes a small change can have a significant impact on your schedule whereas other times a big change can be taken in your stride, which is the difference between critical and non-critical tasks.

Prior to using computer based tools most people I work with have not heard of let alone performed Critical Path Analysis, the very term sounds like a loaded threat. Having determined that the majority of people in the training have never done the calculation we then get them to tell me the overall duration of a simple schedule with two parallel strands of tasks of differing durations, invariably people arrive at the correct answer and are then amazed to learn that they have in effect calculated the critical path for the schedule.

Invariably project schedules are a bit more complicated than the simple model I provide for this exercise and it is at this point that people really appreciate how a tool like Microsoft Project can take care of these factors and provide people with dominion over their project schedules.

Intriguingly whilst Microsoft Project is the world’s bestselling computer based project scheduling tool it is not the world’s most popular tool for planning projects. Incredibly there are more people out there using Excel to plan and manage projects than there are using Microsoft Project.

[ribbon-light]Scale, Complexity and Change[/ribbon-light]I mentioned that the tool takes care of scale, complexity and change. I want to elaborate on each of those points as follows:

  • Creating a project plan can serve to make the seemingly impossible possible. Carving up a project into discrete elements and then tackling those elements one at a time is a proven approach to effective project management. A tool like Microsoft Project can handle thousands of tasks with ease and as such presents a far more robust and reliable solution than traditional pen and paper approaches.
  • Projects can sometimes involve complexity in their composition. There can be complicated dependencies between activities, non-negotiable time barriers or windows of opportunity further limiting our room for manoeuvre, resources being unavailable until a specific time, financial limits or considerations. All of these factors can have an impact on and influence over a project schedule. Microsoft Project is designed to accommodate all of these factors as a matter of course.
  • Provided you have constructed a reasonably robust and reliable schedule you can use Microsoft Project to illustrate the impact of change, allowing you to model different scenarios and to appreciate the impact of change as soon as it becomes apparent. To solve something easily catch it early is a classic Project Management truism that can be elegantly illustrated by a well thought out project schedule.

In this article I have outlined the benefits of Microsoft Project.

Over the coming months I am going to be writing a series of articles on how you can use Microsoft Project to help you plan and manage your projects more effectively. I have a plan and this article is just the first step in my plan to illustrate how beneficial Microsoft Project can be.

In my next article I explore options available in Microsoft Project and how getting ready is the first step to success.