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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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1. INTRODUCTION

Projects and graphs are frequently used in IT projects to visually assist in project management, define system specifications, and enhance communication among participants of the project.

Microsoft Project t is a type of a project that is used for illustrating project schedules. Microsoft Projects can be used in any projects that involve effort, resources, milestones and deliveries. At present, Microsoft Projects have become the popular choice of project managers in every field. Microsoft Projects allow project managers to track the progress of the entire project. Through Microsoft Projects, the project manager can keep a track of the individual tasks as well as of the overall project progression.

In addition to tracking the progression of the tasks, Microsoft Projects can also be used for tracking the utilization of the resources in the project. These resources can be human resources as well as materials used.

A "Project" is a set of activities which ends with specific accomplishment and which has:

(1) Non-routine tasks,

(2) Distinct start/finish dates

(3) Resource constraints (time/money/people/equipment).

"Tasks" are activities which must be completed to achieve project goal. Break the project into tasks and subtasks. Tasks have start and end points, are short relative to the project and are significant (not "going to library", but rather, "search literature"). Use verb-noun form for naming tasks, e.g. "create drawings" or "build prototype". Use action verbs such as "create", "define" and "gather" rather than "will be made". Each task has a duration. Very difficult to estimate durations accurately. Doubling your best guess usually works well.

"Milestones" are important checkpoints or interim goals for a project. Can be used to catch scheduling problems early. Name by noun-verb form, e.g. "report due", "parts ordered", "prototype complete".

Your plan will evolve so be flexible and update on a regular basis. It also helps to identify risk areas for project, for example, things you don't know how to do but will have to learn. These are risky because you may not have a good sense for how long the task will take. Or, you may not know how long it will take to receive components you purchased for a project.

2. Microsoft Projects

A Microsoft Project is a type of project, developed by Henry Gantt in the 1910s, that illustrates a project schedule. Microsoft Projects illustrate the start and finish dates of the terminal elements and summary elements of a project. Terminal elements and summary elements comprise the work breakdown structure of the project. Modern Microsoft Projects also show the dependency (i.e., precedence network) relationships between activities. Microsoft Projects can be used to show current schedule status using percent-complete shadings and a vertical "TODAY" line as shown here.

Although now regarded as a common project technique, Microsoft Projects were considered revolutionary when first introduced. This project is also used in information technology to represent data that have been collected.

2.1 Microsoft Project History

The first Microsoft Project was devised in the mid-1890s by Karol Adamiecki, a Polish engineer who ran a steelworks in southern Poland and had become interested in management ideas and techniques. Some 15 years after Adamiecki , Henry Gantt, an American engineer and management consultant, devised his own version of the project and it was this that became widely known and popular in western countries. Consequently it was Henry Gantt whose name was to become associated with projects of this type.

Originally Microsoft Projects were prepared laboriously by hand; each time a project changed it was necessary to amend or redraw the project and this limited their usefulness, continual change being a feature of most projects. Nowadays, however, with the advent of computers and project management software, Microsoft Projects can be created, updated and printed easily.

2.2 Microsoft Project Usage

• When scheduling and monitoring tasks within a project.

• When communicating plans or status of a project.

• When the steps of the project or process, their sequence and their duration are known.

• When it's not necessary to show which tasks depend on completion of previous tasks.

2.3 Elements of a Microsoft Project

• Task names

• Start and finish dates of each tasks (graphically)

• Dependency relationships

• Task duration in an additional column

• Lag relationships (start-to-start, finish-to-start etc.)

• Name of the project worker responsible for the task or

• Resource specifications

• Other

2.4 Microsoft Project Implementation

A Microsoft Project can be very useful in planning and carrying out a project. There are a number of ways to create a Microsoft Project: from pen and paper or whiteboard to very complex software programs. This article will discuss the five basic steps that are required to create a basic Microsoft Project. The examples presented make use of the Microsoft Project Pro 2013 to create a Microsoft Project.

Step 1: Develop a Work Breakdown Structure

What is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) is a process by which a project is planned by breaking it into easily definable and understandable goals, milestones and tasks. Listing the major components first is the first step in developing a WBS. This can be done by in a word processor, spreadsheet, or using a Microsoft Project program.

A key element in the WBS is to plan for intended outcomes, rather than planning actions. That is, understand what the goals of the project are, define key milestones, and then start the process of breaking those pieces down into tasks. If there are fixed dates that need to be met, make sure those are shown in the Microsoft Project. This way, as the topics are broken into tasks, it will become clear upfront whether more resources will need to be added to meet these deadlines.

After the major topics are determined, the process of breaking these into tasks is next. Depending on the complexity of each task, the project planner may find it necessary to continue breaking these items into sub-tasks until they are very specific.

For many project planners, a visual model of the WBS is easier to work with than the "laundry list" dictated by the Microsoft Project format. A mind map is ideal for this because it lets you easily see the work breakdown. A good Microsoft Project software program, such as Microsoft Project Pro 2013, will allow you to work in Microsoft Project or mind map view, with relational data that automatically update both views when changes are made in either one.

It is estimated that more than 90% of projects are late. The primary reason for this is that they weren't properly planned with a well-thought-out work breakdown structure. The more detailed the breakdown, the easier it is to plan, organize and schedule a project accurately.

Step2: Assign Tasks

One of the most critical pieces in how to build a Microsoft Project is the distribution of work. There are several things to consider.

• Who is most qualified to complete this task?

• What is their availability vis-à-vis their currently scheduled workload?

• What is a reasonable expectation of their time needed to complete the task(s)?

• Will additional people or resources be necessary to get these tasks completed on time?

Step 3: Build Timelines

After the work breakdown is complete and tasks are assigned, the process of building timelines takes place. This can be done in a number of different ways. If you're using a spreadsheet program, you can create columns with dates each task to begin and end. If you do this, you'll want to make sure you have a calendar open so you don't inadvertently schedule tasks to be done during weekends and holidays.

Step 4: Evaluate Task Dependencies

One of the benefits of creating a Microsoft Projectfor project planning is that it makes it easier to see dependencies. This is a situation where one task is dependent upon the completion or outcome of another. For example, a webmaster can't build a web page unless the copywriter and illustrator have finished their tasks. Identifying these dependent relationships is critical, as delays in the primary steps will almost certainly ripple throughout the entire project. Automated software will allow you to add dependencies as you create your Microsoft Project. If you're doing this by hand or using a less sophisticated program, you'll need to remember to do this crucial step manually.

Step 5: Share & Evaluate the Plan with Your Team

When the Microsoft Project is complete, distribute it to team members for review and feedback. It's important that each member of the project buys off on the plan upfront. This helps to ensure that the plan is accurate and reasonable. It's much easier to allow for contingencies, plan additional resources, or even propose a revised schedule at this stage, rather than at a critical juncture later.

2.5 Dependency Tasks in Microsoft Projects

Project plans normally require tasks to be performed in a specific order. For instance, a publication must be written and proofread before it can be printed. To achieve this, the Gantt application lets you link tasks so that they depend on each other. By default, tasks are usually linked in a 'Finish to Start' relationship (dependency), which means that the first task you select (the predecessor task) must end before the next task you select (the successor task) can start, and so on.

This is typically represented on the Microsoft Project by lines with arrowheads joining each task to its successor. The arrowhead indicates the direction of the link: it goes from the predecessor to the successor.

Figure 1: Example of Task Represntaion in Microsoft Project

A task can have more than one predecessor. In this case its start date is determined by the predecessor link that gives it the latest start date. As dates and times change during the course of the project, the predecessor link that determines the start date of the task may also change.

Figure 2: Latest Start Date Example

Similarly a task can have several successors. In this case the task determines the start date of all its successor tasks.

Figure 3: Several Successors Example

When you are scheduling a project plan from its start date the Gantt application calculates the end date of the project automatically, on the basis of the task durations, the task dependencies and the project calendar.

The possibility of linking tasks in this way is what makes project management software particularly powerful: you can change the duration of one or more tasks, add a task or remove a task from a chain of linked tasks, and all the dates are recalculated automatically so as to maintain the task dependencies you have defined.

There are four possible relationships (dependencies) between tasks:

• Finish to Start (FS) - the default: The task cannot start before its predecessor ends, although it may start later. This is the most common type of relationship, and is described above.

• Start to Start (SS): The task cannot start until the predecessor starts, although it may start later. This can be useful if you have a task whose start date depends on the start date of another task.

• Finish to Finish (FF): The task cannot end before the predecessor ends, although it may end later.

• Start to Finish (SF): The task cannot end before the predecessor starts, although it may end later. This task relationship is rarely used.

When linking tasks you can add a lead or lag time to extend a link backwards or forwards so that the successor task starts earlier or later than it otherwise would. For a default 'Finish to Start' link, this either introduces an overlap (lead time), so that the successor task starts before its predecessor ends, or it introduces a delay (lag time) that makes the successor task start sometime after its predecessor ends.

When planning the production of a marketing brochure for instance, you could use lead time to make the creation of artwork start a few days before the writing phase is over. The two tasks are however still linked, which means that a delay of the writing phase will also delay the creation of the artwork.

2.6 Constraints in Microsoft Projects

Constraints define the degree of flexibility available to the Gantt application when scheduling or rescheduling a task by imposing restrictions on its start or end date. The following task constraint types offer different degrees of flexibility.

Two "constraints" are actually so flexible that they are not generally regarded as constraints at all:

• As Soon As Possible (ASAP): This is generally the default constraint when you schedule your project from its start date, as is normally the case. You should try to keep this default whenever possible as it gives the software the most scheduling flexibility. If you apply this constraint to an unlinked task, the task will be scheduled to start at the project start date. If you apply it to a linked task, it will start as soon as the dependencies with its predecessor tasks will allow.

• As Late As Possible (ALAP): This is generally the default constraint when you schedule your project from its end date. If you apply this constraint to an unlinked task, the task will be scheduled so that its end date coincides with the end date of the overall project. If you apply it to a task linked to a successor task, the task will be scheduled to end when the successor needs to start. On the whole, you should avoid this constraint as it does not leave any slack time to deal with possible problems. Any delay on the task is likely to impact the overall end date.

The following constraints all restrict the Gantt application's flexibility when scheduling tasks. Although you might be tempted to use them if you are new to project management, you need to make sure you understand the implications. Keeping their use to a minimum (especially the last two) will allow you to take full advantage of the automatic scheduling possibilities.

• Start No Earlier Than (SNET): This means that the task, whether linked or not, may not start before the given date. However, the Gantt application still has the flexibility to start the task later than the given date.

• Start No Later Than (SNLT): This means that the task, whether linked or not, may not start later than the given date. However, the Gantt application still has the flexibility to start the task earlier than the given date.

• Finish No Earlier Than (FNET): This means that the task, whether linked or not, may not end before the given date. However, the Gantt application still has the flexibility to end the task later than the given date.

• Finish No Later Than (FNLT): This means that the task, whether linked or not, may not end later than the given date. However, the Gantt application still has the flexibility to end the task earlier than the given date.

• Must Start On (MSO): This rigid constraint means that the task, whether linked or not, must start on the given date. Even if the preceding task is completed earlier, the Gantt application cannot pull in the constrained task to take advantage of the time gained.

• Must Finish On (MFO): This rigid constraint means that the task, whether linked or not, must end on the given date. As above, even if the preceding task is completed earlier, the Gantt application cannot pull in the constrained task to take advantage of the time gained.

If you decide to apply one of these constraints to a task, it is good practice to attach a note or a comment to the task to explain why you did so. If the constraint causes scheduling conflicts later on as your project evolves, you will be able to refer to the note to decide whether to keep the constraint, change it or remove it altogether. Such notes also allow you to distinguish easily between the tasks you have constrained yourself deliberately and the tasks you may have constrained inadvertently by moving their task bar or editing their start or end date manually. The effect of a constraint is not always obvious when you schedule your project plan from its end date, so take care to check that it does give the result you want.

Constraints combine with task dependency links to affect the timing of tasks. In some cases, applying a constraint to a task, in addition to a task relationship, may create a scheduling conflict. In most Gantt applications, when such a conflict arises the constraint takes precedence over the task dependency.

Many Gantt applications allow you to assign resources to your tasks and project plans. Resources can be people, materials, equipment, budget amounts, or anything else. Typically, you might enter the names of people who will work on the tasks as resources.

2.7 Microsoft Project Enhancement

Gantt applications generally include features to make your Microsoft Project easier to use. These vary from application to application; here are some examples:

• Adding explanatory notes to tasks. This is especially useful for tasks that have constraints. Constraints override links and can lead to illogicalities or schedule conflicts in the plan, so you will need to keep an eye on them.

• Highlighting the critical path in order to see at a glance the tasks that are currently directly affecting your project end date. In a project plan, the critical path corresponds to the tasks or chain of linked tasks that cannot be delayed without delaying the entire project. A task lies on the critical path if a change to its start date or duration affects the end date of the project (or the start date if you are scheduling from the end of the project). Keeping a close eye on the status of your critical tasks at any time is therefore key to good project management. If the overall project duration is too long, the only way to make it shorter and bring in its end date is to shorten the critical path.

• Setting milestones or deadlines to mark key dates. A milestone is a task with zero duration. It appears on the Microsoft Project as milestone symbol. Milestones are generally used to indicate important dates on the project plan, often key events or goals. For example, you might use milestones to mark desired completion dates, or project review meetings.

A deadline marker does not affect any of the Gantt calculations, but places a visible marker on the Microsoft Project as a reminder. In most Gantt applications an indicator will warn you if a task moves past its deadline marker.

• Giving tasks priorities.

• Showing a percentage completion for any task, visible on the task bar.

• Customizing the appearance of the project plan on the Microsoft Project, for example the color of task bars, the display (or not) of informational labels.

2.8 Reviewing the Project Using Microsoft Project

It's a good idea to review your project plan regularly in order to locate conflicts or other problems. You can then make appropriate changes to remove them.

Here are some questions to ask yourself or your team:

• Is the project on course? View the end date of the last task on the Microsoft Project. Check that it looks reasonable.

• Has any task overshot its deadline? If so, you will need to take action: extend or remove the deadline, allow more time for the task or assign more people to it.

• Are all the links between tasks necessary? By unlinking tasks that don't actually depend on each other, you will make use of all the slack time available, thereby shortening your schedule and maximizing its flexibility.

• Consider whether some tasks could overlap each other to reduce the overall duration of the project. If so, assign appropriate lead times .Another possibility is to redefine some of your 'Finish to Start' relationships to either 'Finish to Finish' or 'Start to Start' if the logic of your schedule allows it.

• Are the constraints working as you expect? If you have been adding an explanatory note to every constraint you set, read the notes to check that your intentions are still being met. And look for tasks that have a constraint but no note: these may have been created inadvertently and be causing trouble. Also, because constraints generally override links, they can introduce schedule conflicts.

• Do the tasks that have constraints fall where you expect them to? Do they fit logically with the other tasks around them? Check that their start and end dates are neither too early nor too late.

• Are there unexpected overlaps or gaps between linked tasks? Often this is caused by a rigid constraint on one or other of the tasks. However, remember that overlaps and gaps can also be caused by intentional lead or lag times.

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