How to create a project plan in MS Project?

How to create a project plan in MS Project?
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Eshna

Last updated February 23, 2017


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When dealing with management software, understanding a simple plan will get you further than learning all about the complex functionalities. If you’re interested in project management then you have to acknowledge the efficiency and versatility of MS Project - and if you’re not acquainted with Microsoft Project, then its time you should learn something about this management software. 

One of the first things you have to learn is to create a project plan using MS Project; but as is the case with any software, it may take a while before you learn to navigate through every nook and cranny. The truth of the matter is you don’t really need all the bells and whistles; (complex reports, scripts, resource optimization) in order to create a project plan. These types of software have similar usability - you don’t need to understand every single function in MS to be able to create a sensible document. So logically speaking, you should be able to create a decent project plan whilst knowing only about half the functionality of MS Project. 

How to create a project plan in MS Project? 

Let’s go through the essentials of what you need to create a project plan in Microsoft Project:

1) What you require?

You’ll obviously need a copy of MS Project, which you can purchase online as the Professional or Standard edition. If you want all the functionality of the program and some additional features then the professional edition would be preferable. Functions such as automated project or scenario analysis can be handled using the standard edition.
 

2) Accounts

For the purpose of this exercise, let’s assume we’re going to create a basic program that digs into a Customer Relationship Management database and relays data showing the number of customer accounts created every day. The software then displays the resulting information on the company’s intranet portal. It’s one of the more common projects in this subject.  
 
When broken down, the project looks like this:
  • Client Account Reader 
  • Preparation
  • Kick-off
  • Specifications
  • Development
  • Testing
  • Deployment
As you may be able to tell, there are six stages in this project. Some underlying tasks are present but I’ve chosen not to include them.

3) Fire up the application

The first thing you do is start up Microsoft Project.

4) Enter High-Level Project Phases

Your next step is to enter the high-level project phases; and this includes functional specifications, project preparation, project kick-off etc.

5) Fill up The Tasks as per Phase

Once you’ve finished keying in the high-level project phases, you may then proceed to fill-up the detailed tasks under each respective phase. 
So how do you get to this point? You start by thinking of your Work Breakdown Structure. Try reductive thinking and find a way to break down a task into sub-tasks, and if you can do that, continue down further, but try not to go overboard.
 
Here’s an interesting tip for anyone could follow when making a project plan. In every phase of the project, always set aside time to create the work product, evaluate it with the stakeholders and to sign it off. It’s what the experts do.

6) Assign Relevant Durations

The next order of actions includes durations to each task. Imagine how long it would take the average person to complete the task and key that into the duration column. In some instances the duration column disappears but if this happens, right-click on the column headers and select the Duration Column.  

7) Assigning Resources

In this part you have to key in the name of the resource responsible for each task under the Resources column. You can choose to use any regular name in this phase or, if preferred, use John and/or Jane Doe. Instances where teams are included in one task, use terms such as “Team A” under the resource column.
 
We could talk volumes about task duration and resource allocation but that can be covered later in detail. For now let’s just assume we have a single individual doing the project. 

8) Enter Task Dependencies

One advantage for using this application is the fact that MS Project makes it easy to create task dependencies. Let’s define the term task dependency - it is simply a connection between two tasks; such as in the case of Task A, and Task B. If for instance Task A’s start and end dates were to change, Task B’s start and end dates would change too.
 
It’s actually a fairly important feature in the entire program, in the sense that if you change a single start date, the entire project gets updated automatically. You can create these dependencies at any point in the project.
 
Learn as much as you can about those clever syntax and formulas that deal with task dependencies. These calculations will teach you a lot more about extending task dependencies.

9) Review Project Dates 

After you complete filling up task dependencies on the project plan, you can then proceed to review the project milestone dates. When starting out, one of the first areas to check is the start and end dates for the project. Check if these meet your own timeline. In addition, examine each phase in the project to ensure that the mini-milestones also check out.
 

10) Review the Gantt chart

The last thing to do here is to review the Gantt chart, which you can do by going to View, over at the title menu. You can get to this feature by using the shortcut “Ctrl” on the keyboard when operating on a Windows computer. Depending on how keen you are to observe the project plan, you may choose to print it out on a chart and stick it to your desk.
 
Make sure you set the start date correctly. This can be done by going to the menu under Project Information; just key in the start date there. If you want to keep the information accurate, this will communicate to the program and direct it to display the correct time on the Gantt chart when printing out a project plan.  

In Conclusion

The above information should be enough to get you on your way. Just make sure to start out with simple project plans and give yourself time to learn the other complicated functionalities later on.

About the Author

Eshna is a writer at Simplilearn. She has done Masters in Journalism and Mass Communication and is a Gold Medalist in the same. A voracious reader, she has penned several articles in leading national newspapers like TOI, HT and The Telegraph. She loves traveling and photography.


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