Gary in Muscatine, IA; Cindy in Madison, WI; and Pam of Silver Springs, MD write: I took a class in Microsoft Project 2007 (and/or Microsoft Project Server 2007), and I’m still not sure how to create and manage a schedule. There are so many Microsoft Project Server 2007 options and features; I don’t know where to start. How come I can’t figure out how to make this work for me?

Answer: Because Microsoft Project 2007 and Microsoft Project Server 2007 are like a game of chess. If you were going to play chess, you would learn that a pawn moves forward one or two spaces (or over one to bump) and that a bishop can move on the diagonal. But is knowing these moves enough to let you play the game? Maybe, but not very well. You need strategy too.

Project and Project Server are the same. Attending classes will give you the moves and show you the features. Every company and organization will have its own strategy as to what it wants the software to help with. Some of the hardest classes I teach are the ones with mixed student types. One class in Florida included IT professionals, event planners, building maintenance people, product engineers, and accounting students. All of them had unique goals in mind for what they hoped Project could do for them. Helping them find their strategy became my goal.

How do you discover your goals? Ask yourself what you want the software to accomplish for you. Why are you putting in the effort to work with Project? Asking who needs to know what when and how for each schedule will help you define your goals. It will also define what features of Project and Project Server will help you reach those goals.

Once your have that sorted out, you’ll have a better understanding of the benefits of the work you’re doing. The keystrokes will follow the strategy, and knowing how to perform the keystrokes correctly will make your job easier. When you’re a student in a class, don’t get bogged down in the keystrokes. Concentrate on learning the capabilities and features of the software. Then if you know you need a feature, you can delve deeper into the how to’s and best practices for that feature.

Project and Project Server 2007 are different from other software products. I’ve been asked by clients to configure Project Server and have it running in a week for hundreds of users. After I share the chess analogy, there’s more understanding. The question changes to: What can we accomplish in a short time? One client thought just installing the software would solve its project management problems — which they quickly found out wasn’t true.

Finally, what you may discover is that your goals for the EPM installation don’t mesh with the culture or project management maturity of your organization. Traditionalist project managers may not want to move to an enterprise project scheduling system that requires resources to track their time and project managers to manage schedules. So you may develop the strategy of the game; but if others don’t wish to play by the same strategy, developing a smart game plan will have minimal functional impact for your organization.