Using Microsoft Project

Using Microsoft Project is not easy. After delivering 100’s of training sessions I know the problems that real users have. Part of the problem stems from not understanding Project Management correctly. The second part is not using the software correctly. In this short blog I highlight the common issues that cause users problems.

Problems Setting Up the Plan

The problems can start right at the beginning when using MS Project. Here are the common issues when creating a project plan.

  • Manual scheduling: Leaving the default setting of tasks set to manual causes a problem with tasks obeying the schedule.
  • Constraining tasks by setting dates: It is very tempting to edit the ‘Start’ and ‘Finish’ dates. It is also wrong because it adds constraints to those tasks.
  • Not adding links: And if you do set dates you have no need to add the dependencies, and so your plan is not a dynamic plan.
  • Adding links at work-package level: Dependencies need to be created at the Lowest level. Adding links to summary (Work Package) tasks might not deliver an optimised schedule.
  • Too much detail: Adding too many tasks to the project. The project then cannot start until the plan is completed. That can be weeks more work. Keeping the plan simple, and not modelling everything accurately is vital. Calendars is an area that should be left well alone for first time users.
  • Incorrect outlining: Not setting up the project structure correctly using the indents to create an ‘Outline’. This might leave many tasks and groups of tasks at the highest level.

These issues lead to user frustration, and a call for some training!

Problems Tracking the Plan

Once the plan has been created, the problems can continue.

  • Too much detail: Means that finding tasks (especially if not outlined correctly) is difficult. Adding progress updates to the schedule takes up too much time.
  • Not baselining: Not having a baseline means that the original schedule gets forgotten, and there is no opportunity to learn at the Project Review from the past estimates.
  • Use the tracking Gantt chart: Finding this useful tool requires a Baseline, but also requires knowledge of its existence!
  • Using Percentage Complete Icons: I’ve previously written about the Evils of Percentage Complete. There are far better ways to track progress.

It all makes the untrained Project Manager despair!

Help is Available!

There is hope though! Here are some tips to get your project schedule using Microsoft Project back on track:

  • Training: Book some training! A few hours invested at the start of your project will pay dividends! Email
  • One Work Package at a Time: Work on one work package at a time to add the details of the project task, structure, and dependencies.
  • Filtering: Use the default ‘Filters’ to reduce what you are seeing on the screen. This is useful when working on a schedule with 100’s of tasks. Really good when using ‘Sort by Resource’.
  • Sorting: Why look at the file arranged by ID number? Perhaps the longest, or most expensive tasks are of more interest?
  • Count: When you have 100’s of tasks counting how many are completed, or lacking some piece of information can be really useful.
  • Gtrl-G: Use this to type the ID number to stop scrolling up and down the plan!
  • Hide Tasks in Network Diagram: This view is really useful when setting the dependencies. But only when the detail is hidden and you can see lots of tasks on the screen.

Well, there are a few tips that I give out on my training courses.


I’ve written about this before. When using Microsoft Project, Training is Vital.

An hour or so of training before you start your project scheduling can pay back dividends in time saved when using Microsoft Project.

Posted On: 30th October 2020

Join the conversation