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Microsoft Project 2007: The Missing Manual by Bonnie Biafore

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People have been managing projects for centuries. The construction of the mountain-top city of Machu Picchu was a project—although no one's really sure whether the ancient Inca had a word for "project manager." In fact, you may not have realized you were a project manager when you were assigned your first project to manage. Sure, you're organized and you can make sure people get things done, but manag-ing a project successfully requires specific skills and know-how. Whether you're building a shining city on a hill or aiming for something more mundane, Microsoft Project helps you document project tasks, build a schedule, assign resources, track progress, and make changes until your project is complete.

Perhaps you're staring at the screen, wondering about the meaning of the Gantt Chart and Network Diagram in the list of Project views. Or maybe you already have dozens of Project schedules under your belt. Either way, Project features can be mystifying. You know what you want to do, but can't find the magic combination that makes Project do it.

This book addresses the double whammy of learning your way around project management and Microsoft Project at the same time. It provides an introduction to managing projects, and shows you how to use Project to do so. For more experienced project managers, this book can help you take your Project prowess to a new level with tips, timesaving tricks, and mastery of features that never quite behaved the way you wanted.

What's New in Project 2007

Since its introduction, Project Server has gotten most of Microsoft's attention and cool new features. But not this time. Project 2007 Standard and Professional have several handy new features worth looking at. For example, change-oriented features like task drivers, change highlighting, and multilevel undo help you deal with schedules that change ever more rapidly. Here's an overview of the new Project 2007 features and where to find them in this book:

  • Why tasks start when they do. If you're trying to shorten a schedule, task drivers (See Why Tasks Start When They Do) show the factors that influence when a task starts—so you know what changes could lead to an earlier start date. The controlling factor may be a predecessor, calendar, date constraint, or all of the above; the Project 2007 Task Drivers pane lists all the ones that affect the selected task. Then, it's up to you to decide which one to change and how.

  • What just changed? When you make a change in a Project schedule, the problems you're trying to fix may not go away, or new problems you didn't anticipate may crop up instead. Until now, people had a hard time detecting a cascade of changed values in a table full of numbers. Change highlighting (Seeing What Changes Do) shades cells whose values changed due to the last edit you made, making the cells with new values easy to see. Moreover, you can switch to other tables and see the changes highlighted there, too (to see whether the earlier dates you achieved increased costs, for instance).

  • Highlight key information. The wizard behind change highlighting's magic is merely a special application of background cell highlighting (Changing Selected Text). Project has always been able to change the font, color, and size of different categories of text like critical tasks or milestones. In Project 2007, you can now change the background color of the cells for those categories, too. For example, if you used to use red text for critical tasks, you know that colored text can be hard to read. Now, you can change the background color of table cells for critical tasks to red, and keep the text a legible black.

  • Identify nonworking time. In Project 2007, calendars (Defining Work Schedules with Calendars) work a little differently. Once you get used to them, you'll find that defining when resources work or don't work is much easier than before. You can define a standard work week and then go on to define alternative work weeks, for example, for the half-days on Friday throughout the summer. Moreover, exceptions to the work week are perfect for flagging project-wide holidays, resources' vacations, and other nonworking time.

  • Backtracking and playing what-if games. Project managers who used earlier versions of Project know how frustrating the previous one-step undo was. Typically, it takes several steps to see if a strategy is going to work. In Project 2007, you can now undo as many changes as you want (Playing What-if Games), whether to try out an idea or to recover from a mistake you didn't see until six changes later.

  • Analyze and communicate project information. Visual reports (Working with Visual Reports) are based on Excel pivot charts and Visio pivot diagrams, so you can slice and dice data in different ways if you have Excel or Visio on your computer. They're ideal for getting to the bottom of a problem or answering questions that arise in a status meeting. For example, a visual report may show cost by project phase at first, but you can twist it to show cost by quarter or drill down to show cost by lower-level tasks or specific resources.

  • Make progress or problems stand out. Rows upon rows of data are a headache waiting to happen, especially when you're trying to see what's going right or wrong. Graphical indicators like green, yellow, and red stoplights for progress have been available in custom fields for a few versions. In Project 2007, visual reports can also show graphical indicators, so you can communicate high-level status even more easily.

  • Tracking all kinds of costs. In earlier versions, Project calculated labor and material costs, but other types of costs like travel, fees, printing, and so on, were harder to handle. The Fixed Cost field was the one place to lump these sorts of costs. In Project 2007, the new cost resource (Creating a project organization chart in Microsoft Visio) makes it easier to assign and track different types of costs that aren't labor- or material-oriented. For example, you can create cost resources for airfare, lodging, and printing. Then, you can assign several cost resources to a task or the same cost resource to several tasks. In the Resource Usage view, the total cost for a cost resource tells you how much you're spending on that type of cost.

  • Comparing budget numbers to Project numbers. Most budgets have to tow the financial line handed down by the project customer or stakeholders. If the budget you get is divvied up among different financial accounts, you can use the new budget resources (Comparing Costs to Your Budget) to compare your project spending against accounting budget line items. Budget resources link to the project summary task; you set the budgeted cost or budgeted work for the entire project or allocate the budgeted costs at the project level over time. Then, you assign your Project resources to different budget categories so you can see how your project costs compare to the budget.

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