A project plan is an essential part of any project manager’s toolkit. While it can be tempting to get started on completing tasks as soon as possible, taking the time to map out your strategy can help you save money and resources. Your project will constantly be shifting, and you need a project plan template that can keep up.
Microsoft Project (MS Project) has been around a long time (the first edition launched in 1984) and it is a staple in a project manager’s arsenal. There’s good reason - it includes all the tools you need to assign resources, track progress, develop plans, manage budgets, and create schedules. Effective project management requires tools like MS Project that are both flexible and provide structure. However, Microsoft Project has a couple of limitations. First, it only works on PCs, and second, MS Project requires a license to use. If your company already uses Microsoft Project, those issues may not be challenges for you.
To help you get started with Microsoft Project 2016, this tutorial will walk you through the steps to create a project timeline, assign resources, and run reports. If you want to create your own project, you’ll need an MS Project license (which is likely supplied by your company). We’ll also demonstrate how to perform the same tasks in Smartsheet for a MS Project alternative. Since Smartsheet is a cloud-based web app, you can use a PC, Mac, or mobile device and share your work with anyone.
How to Use Microsoft Project 2016
For this tutorial, we’ll be using the most recent version, Microsoft Project 2016. There are many versions available, so you’ll want to check which one you’re using. There are similarities in the steps for some of the releases, so some of the steps will translate well among the various versions. If you’re using Project 2010 or Project 2013, you shouldn’t have any issues importing them to 2016 (if you plan on upgrading) since they use the same file format. However, Project 2016 is a bit more robust and has more timeline features, a handy search tool called “Tell Me” for finding features, improved resource management, and office add-ins. This MS Project tutorial will just cover the basic features that are found in most versions.
How to Use Microsoft Project 2016
Microsoft Project has a lot of features for setting up projects and running automated reports based on progress, budget, time tracking, and more. We’ll take you through the steps needed to set-up a timeline, add and schedule tasks, add resources, setup dependencies, generate reports, and track progress. As an example, we’ll use a common business requirement when dealing with vendors: tracking the progress of calling for RFPs.
How to Create a Timeline in Microsoft Project Tutorial
Microsoft Project doesn’t have a Timeline template, so you’ll need to enter data manually to build a Microsoft Project Timeline. It’s probably because it’s the most basic feature and a template isn’t needed to get started.
1. Create a Task List
You’ll need to build a list of required tasks. While building the list, try to prioritize them in the order they need to be completed. To get started, open Microsoft Project, click Blank Project, and type each task into a cell under Task Name.
2. Add Start and Finish Dates to Each Task
To enter start and end dates, click the Start cell that corresponds to the first task and enter a date (if you click the down arrow in the cell, a calendar will appear and you can use that to select a date). Then tab over to the Finish row and enter an end date. Microsoft will automatically enter the amount of time it will take to complete the task in the Duration row. You’ll notice that as you add the dates, bar charts will be added to the timeline in the right-hand pane.
3. Add Tasks to the Timeline
To add tasks to the Timeline, click the View tab and click the Timeline bar that appears above the task list. Then right-click on a Task cell and choose Add to Timeline from the list and click it to add the task to the timeline.
Tip: You can select all tasks in the list and then right-click on the mouse and select Add to Timeline to add all the tasks simultaneously.
How to Set Up Resources in Microsoft Project
Now that you have the basic structure for your project, we’re going to add the resources you need to get the job done. The term “resources” typically refers to people, but can also mean documentation or a certain type of work that will be needed to complete the project.
1. Open the Resource Sheet
From the View tab, click Resource Sheet. The Resource Sheet will appear on the screen.
2. Add Resources
Type the name of the resource needed in the Resource Name field and complete the remainder of the information: Type, Material (if it’s a material), Initials, Max (max amount of time), Standard Rate, Overtime, Cost/Use, Accrue, Base, and Code.
Once your resources are added to the project, you can easily view who is available to take on the task based on their workload, and manage how much time each team member will spend on tasks in the Resource Management view. (Smartsheet is an ideal tool for project managers because the Resource Management feature provides real-time information about your team’s availability in one sheet, so you can easily make decisions on assignments and update responsibilities to maximize your team’s time.)
How to Assign Tasks in MS Project
Once you have a list of resources for your project, you’ll want to assign tasks. This will help you better manage the project and get work done in a specific time period. One of the benefits of MS Project is that it can calculate how long it will take a person to complete the task based on their availability. If it’s a particularly important part of the project that needs to be done quickly, you can assign multiple people to it and Microsoft Project will decrease the time it takes to complete the task based on how many resources are assigned. This also lets the people assigned to the project know how much time is required of them.
1. Switch to the Gantt chart
To assign tasks, you’ll need to switch to the Gantt chart. Click the Gantt chart icon in top left corner of the window.
2. Open the Task Form
You should still be in the View tab. Click the Details box in the ribbon. The Task Form should appear on the lower half of the screen. If it doesn’t appear, click the down arrow in the Details box and select Task Form.
3. Select a Task to Assign
Click a task in the Gantt chart view and it will appear in the Name section of the Task Form. Click the box under Resource Name and choose a resource from the drop-down menu. Then click OK.
You can add another person to the same task by clicking the area under Resource Name and choosing the name you want. Click OK. As you assign tasks, the amount of time will be added to the Gantt chart.
Repeat steps to assign all the tasks.
Note: Clicking the Next button (located on the right side of the OK button) will load the next task in the Gantt chart.
How to Schedule Tasks Automatically or Manually
With Microsoft Project 2016 you can schedule tasks manually or automatically. When you opt to manually schedule tasks it’s up to you schedule all new tasks and track them to ensure they are being completed on time. If you choose Automatic scheduling, Project will schedule tasks based on dependencies, calendars, and constraints among other things. The default option when creating tasks is to schedule them manually, so we’ll show you here how to change the setting to automatic.
1. Access Microsoft Project Settings
Click File on the menu bar and choose Options (it’s the last choice in the left column). Click Edit project settings.
2. Change Schedule Options
When the Project Options form appears on the screen, click Schedule in the left column.
Next, under Scheduling Options for this Project section, click the drop-down menu for New Tasks Created. The default is set to Manually Scheduled. Select and click Auto Scheduled and click the OK button.
How to Create Task Dependencies
Dependencies occur when one task can’t move on to the next phase until a particular task is completed before it. Creating dependencies involves linking tasks in the Gantt chart view. In Microsoft Project, you can link any two tasks. Once tasks are linked, every change made to the predecessor affects the successor.
1. Switch to Gantt Chart View
You should still be in the Gantt chart view. If you’re not, click the Gantt chart icon in top left corner of the window.
2. Select Tasks to Link
Click the Task tab in the menu bar. Identify the two tasks in the list that you want to link. Click the first task and press and hold the Ctrl key and select the second task. Click the chain icon in the ribbon to link the tasks. You’ll see an arrow appear on the Gantt chart that connects the items.
Follow the same steps to link additional items.
Generate a Cost Report in Microsoft Project 2016
Once you’ve entered time and resources information to the best of your ability, you can use Project to run a Cost Overview report. Here’s how to create a Resource Cost Overview report:
1. Select the Report Tab
Click the Report tab to get a quick overview of the reports you can run.
2. Choose a Cost Report to Run
Click the arrow below Costs in the ribbon and click Resource Cost Overview.
A report like the one below will be generated.
Track the Progress of Your MS Project
With Microsoft Project, you can keep an eye on tasks to see if things are running on time or behind schedule. This will be easy to view as long as you keep the status of tasks updated during the length of your project.
1. Mark Tasks That Are on Track
Click the Task tab in the menu bar to see all the task options. Click a task that you want to update. If the task is on track, click the Mark on Track button in the ribbon.
2. Use Predetermined Percentages to Track Tasks
To the left of the Mark on Track option, there are percentages that you can use to denote the progress of a task. Click a task to update and click 0%,25%, 50%, 75%, or 100%. You’ll see a line drawn through the corresponding bar on the Gantt chart that signifies how much of the task is complete.
3. Update Tasks
Sometimes tasks fall behind or get accomplished ahead of schedule. You can use the Update Task option to update the status. Click the down arrow next to Mark on Track and click Update Tasks.
A dialogue box will appear where you can update status and change start and end dates. Make any changes and click OK.
These are all the steps you need to get started and create a project, assign and manage tasks, and run reports in Microsoft Project 2016.
How to Easily Create a Project Plan and Manage Tasks in Smartsheet
Smartsheet offers a plethora of templates to help you get started using the tool, so there’s no need to start from scratch. You can track and manage projects based on specific industries and uses like basic Agile projects, project management, marketing campaign analysis, customer order tracking, and more. You can even get started with a timeline template and customize it to track your business needs. Best of all, you can share your project with an infinite number of internal and external stakeholders (even if they don’t have a Smartsheet account).
How to Create a Project in Smartsheet
Since we used a timeline to walk you through how to create a project in Microsoft Project, we’re going to do the same process using Smartsheet. We’re also use the example of creating an RFP. Once you create your RFP project in Smartsheet, you can share it with anyone.
Create a Timeline with Smartsheet
Let’s start by creating a timeline, which is easy to do when using a pre-formatted template. There are several templates available that cover the work management needs of many different verticals.
1. Search for a Template
Open Smartsheet, click the Home tab, and click the blue Create New button and select Browse Templates.
In the Search Templates box, type “Timeline” and click the magnifying glass icon.
2. Choose a Template
There will be a few options, but for this tutorial, click Simple Project with Gantt Timeline. Next, click the blue Use Template button.
3. Name and save the Template
In the Name Your Sheet box, type the name of the template and select where to save it in Smartsheet. Click OK.
4. Add Tasks and Dates
Double click the first gray bar (called Section 1), highlight the existing content, and type your first task. Add start and end dates by clicking the calendar icon and click a start or end date. Continue to fill out all your tasks and start/end dates.
Tip: To remove the yellow Need Help copy at the top of the template, click the box and press Delete on your keyboard. To remove the color, click the color fill option in the toolbar and click Automatic.
5. Add Resources and Assign Tasks
Choose a task to assign a resource and type the name of the resource in the corresponding box in the Assigned To column.
6. Add Task Dependencies
If a specific task can’t be completed until another one is finished, you can add dependencies. Click a column in the sheet, right-click the mouse button and click Edit Project Settings.
Click the box for Dependencies Enabled, and Predecessor and Duration columns will be added to the sheet. Click the blue OK button. The time is takes to complete each task will automatically be filled in the Duration column.
If any task is dependent on another task, type the number of that row in the Predecessor column. For example, in order to write an RFP document, research must be completed first. The task “Research Requirements” is row 2 and “Write Document” is row 3, so type the number 2 in the Predecessors column for row 3.
Click the Grid View icon to see the relationship between tasks appear on In the Gantt chart.
Get More Project Management Flexibility with Smartsheet
Smartsheet is a spreadsheet-inspired task and work management tool with powerful collaboration and communication features. It has much of the same functionality as MS Project, but also provides an intuitive, easy-to-use interface. If you’re already an MS Project user, you can easily import and export MS Project files into Smartsheet. You can also share your project with people outside of the company - even if they aren’t a Smartsheet user. Since it’s a cloud-based app, colleagues can use a PC, Mac, tablet, or mobile device to view and edit sheets in Smartsheet.
With Smartsheet you can easily run projects, generate reports, and manage budgets. Use the reporting feature to create editable, live summaries across multiple projects. Easily see tasks that are due, are at-risk of falling behind schedule, aren’t assigned yet, or are assigned to a certain team member. Once you know the project is on schedule, you can also use one of many customizable Smartsheet budget templates to run the numbers.
Track assigned tasks, due dates, and status updates through spreadsheet, Gantt, Card, and Calendar views. Invite team members and external stakeholders to collaborate in the sheet to keep everyone up to date. Attach files and working documents, and add notes and status details to keep all related project documentation in one central location. Smartsheet’s powerful collaboration tools make it easy to manage discussions, reminders, and attachments, and make changes in real time.
And, with our newest view, Card View, teams get a more highly-visual way to work, communicate, and collaborate in Smartsheet. Card View enables you to focus attention with rich cards, show perspective with flexible views, and prioritize and adjust work more visually. Display information on cards including custom fields, images, and color coding to better focus your team’s attention. Categorize cards into lanes to organize your work more visually.
See how easy it can be to manage manage projects, collaborate with team members, and meet deadlines. Try Smartsheet for free for 30 days.