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Microsoft Project 2010 Standard for the SME
on 10 November 2010
Though Microsoft Project has seen steady, if not startling, development thorough its versions, its price, in my opinion, has moved disproportionately ahead of this development. My comments in this review centre on the cost of the software and not on its features, which are good enough for the purpose for which it is intended.
Part of my work is as a software trainer. I have been training people from small and medium sized enterprises (SMEs) in the use of Microsoft Project since it first appeared as a piece of project management software for the PC to the latest version in which it finally catches up with the other programs in Microsoft Office in being equipped with the Ribbon user interface.
My work on Project for SMEs has been with people who were new to using project management software and lacked the confidence in making a start with Project as otherwise they might have done in getting stuck into Word or Excel, say; or with others who had given Project a go and found themselves in pickle over how to best use it.
Everyone who had tried to represent their own project had failed - in their own estimation - in their use of the software. As it turned out, this failure was not down to anything lacking in Project itself. It was due to lack of users' knowledge of how to set up Project and then how create a workable representation of the tasks and anything associated with those that they needed to include.
To the experienced project manager and user of Project, the software offers great flexibility. To the novice user it is very far from obvious how this flexibility should be harnessed. If you do not understand how to manage Project's default settings, your project's calendar and the nature and application of task dependencies, then you are not going to stumble on a useful representation of your project by trial and error. Giving it an Excel- or Word-type go to see what happens is highly unlikely to yield you an accurate and easy to maintain Gantt Chart.
If you add up the cost of the software, the cost of the time you may waste trying to use it in the first place and the cost of some training when you finally, perhaps reluctantly, come to the conclusion you must have some, then this sum, I maintain, is the one you might truly be facing if you are thinking of investing in the software.
Another warning. Most of the people on my courses said that they bought Project to save them time; a minority that they had secured a big contract and needed a detailed, professional looking printout of work flow for their project that could be presented to their clients and mulled over during project review meetings. Project itself allows you to maintain a lot of detail about your project, if you choose to do so. Maintaining this detail takes time. So plan to avoid what I have seen in some of my training sessions: people looking at each other and asking, well, who is going to do all this then?
And another warning. Microsoft Project may be referred to as project management software, but I maintain that Project does not, and cannot, actually manage your project for you: you manage your project; Project assists you in that management.
For all I have cautioned, above, I like Project. It does what it does well, when used as it is intended to be used. Know how to set up for a new project before you start inputting tasks and you have an excellent way of representing your project in as little, or as much, detail as you choose.
When I was employed as a senior project officer in the early 1980s I was responsible for about eight projects looking ahead for two years, with budgets for each one between £20k and £200k. What I would have given for having Project on my new PC then. Exclamation mark.
I think what you will find is that if you do no more than take a well considered Gantt Chart to a project review meeting, then the effect is that everyone sees clearly where their part fits in to the overall scheme. If anyone negotiates for more time, then they cannot but fail to acknowledge the effect they will have on the project overall. What is happening here is that individuals are more inclined to share in the project as a whole, than just to consider their contribution in isolation, possibly unconcerned about ramifications.
As an SME, maybe you will come to the conclusion that by having used Project to do not more than help foster a team attitude towards your projects is justification enough for spending on the software.
Project 2010 Standard allows you to take an overview of multiple projects by treating each one as a task within a master project. As far as my experience stretches, this feature might well suffice for an SME's use. Beyond that you need to hear from someone who is very used to using the software for multiple projects and who would be able to give guidance as to the conditions under which Project 2010 Professional might be better than Standard.