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Ask the Experts: 15 Microsoft Project Tips for New Users

Steve in Phoenix, AZ asks: Do you have any tips and tricks to help new users with Microsoft Project?

Ellen answers: Using Project can become a tricky endeavor at times. Knowing some of the tricks and hidden functions can save time and effort for users. Below I have listed some of my favorite tips and tricks for both Project 2010 and Project 2007 that can help you when you’re working with the Standard or Professional versions of the product.

1. Here are four helpful keystrokes to remember:

  • F3 will remove a filter.
  • The Ins key will insert blank lines.
  • The Del key will delete task lines.
  • Deleting a Summary task will delete all detail tasks within the Summary task.

2. When dragging tasks around to change location, always move tasks from the ID number on the left of the views.

3. When a start date is changed, the constraints and deadlines within the project schedule don’t adjust to the new start date.

In Project 2010 use the Move Project button on the Project ribbon to change the start date. The option to adjust the deadlines is available. The ability to adjust deadlines isn’t available in the earlier versions of Project, but there’s a button called Adjust Dates located on the Analysis toolbar that lets you adjust the constraints to the new project start date. To remove constraints, double click on a task, click on the Advanced tab, and reset the Constraint type to As soon as possible.

4. Change Working Time allows for changing and creating calendars.

Think of this function as a way of accessing the calendars that are available to be used within the project. The calendars aren’t active until they’re assigned to a resource, to the project, or to a task. They can be copied using the Organizer into the Global.mpt for use in other projects.

5. When an alternate calendar is selected for the project calendar, the views will continue to display the Standard calendar.

To change the views to show the alternate calendar being used as the project calendar, expose a view (such as the Gantt Chart), right click in the view (right side), select non-working time, and change the calendar being shown. This change is unique per view and will need to be changed in all Gantt chart and Usage views used. You can also use this change to see a Gantt chart for an individual resource.

6. When time is a physical number of days and not working days, use elapsed time.

A 10-day duration entered “10d” will be scheduled on working days only. A task duration entered as “10 ed” will change to physical time and will include non-working time.

7. The percent complete you see on the Tracking Gantt and on the Tracking percentage buttons is percent duration complete.

There’s a second percent complete called percent work complete. When you mark a task 100 percent complete, it’s assumed that 100 percent of the work has been completed also and the Start and Finish dates will become Actual Start and Actual Finish for the task. Look at the Work table of the Gantt chart to see Work completed.

8. The best view to see slippage between baseline vs. actual work is the Detail Gantt view.

9. To combine projects on a temporary basis for reporting and linking tasks between projects, create a new window.

Open the files to be combined. There’s a New Window button on the View ribbon in Project 2010. In earlier versions click on Window | New Window. Select the files to combine and a temporary file will be opened using the standard default template with the selected files combined. Create links across the projects or filter and group for reports. Save the files changed, but don’t save the temporary file.

10. Right clicking is a way of getting to a lot of options.

You can get feature selection menus by right clicking on the Ribbon or toolbars, the timescale, in the Gantt chart, on a task, on a resource, on column titles, etc. Some options are only available from menus accessed through right clicking.

11. The best way to see everything that is going on when creating an assignment is to create an assignment from a split screen with the Gantt chart or Task Sheet above and the Task Form with the View Work or Resource Work.

This is also known as the Task Entry View. Double click on the little bar in the lower right corner of the Gantt chart view. The Task Form will appear and can be changed to show the Work, Cost, and Schedule information. Double click on the Resource Name to see the Resource data.

12. When printing Gantt charts, set up the view to the way you want to see it printed before you click Print Preview or File | Print in Project 2010.

Then go into the Print Setup settings and turn off the legend and adjust the settings.

13. When creating a work breakdown structure (WBS), indent from the top down.

When removing an indentation, work from the bottom up and outdent.

14. To alter a relationship type, add lead or lag time, and delete a relationship, double click on the link line between tasks.

15. A helpful formatting to add to the Tracking Gantt is the Status date line.

To add this line, right click in the Gantt chart, click on Gridlines. Select Status Date on the left, select a line style and color, and click OK to close the box. The Status date will be shown when it’s entered in the Project Information box in Project 2007 or by entering the Status date using the Status date button on the Project ribbon bar in Project 2010.


Related Content

Webinars (watch for free now!):
Tips and Tricks Refresher – We All Can Benefit From These Time Saving Tips
Fundamentals of Project Management

Articles:
Tips for Initiating a New Project Schedule with Microsoft Project
7 Habits of Highly Effective Microsoft Project Users


 

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18 Comments
  1. Nice list, thanks.

    Reply
  2. As a new MS Project user, I sincerely appreciate your list!

    Reply
  3. I am a new MSPS user in am environment using MSPS 2010 Server version. Love this list and enjoyed your sessions at the recent Microsoft Project conference in Anaheim.

    Reply
  4. “The Status date will be shown when it’s entered in the Project Information box in Project 2007 or by entering the Status date using the Status date button on the Project ribbon bar in Project 2010.”

    In Project 2010 if entering Status date using The Status button we have the grid placed at the beginning of the workday. If entering status date in the Project Information in Project 2010 box we have the grid placed at the end of the workday.

    Why is it so?

    Reply
  5. Looking for information on MS Project

    Reply
  6. Is there something specific you are looking for?

    Reply
  7. Very useful list.

    What is the best way to report high level milestones on a programme plan by exporting to powerpoint?

    Reply
  8. I have a project where some of the link lines go back to the start time. I cannot find a constraint that is responsible.
    Is this unique to my project/

    Reply
  9. I have seen this problem before and it is frustrating to say the least. What I check for is any Actual start dates or constraints on tasks. Manual tasks will also produce this type of behavior. Check resource calendars, task calendars, and any tracking data on the task.

    If this doesn’t work get back to me and you can send me the file and I will look at it for you.

    Reply
  10. Hi Ellen,

    thank you for this very useful article. Actually I would like to use the reporting feature of standard Microsoft Project, which seems to be quite easy but some part of it is quite tricky. For example I can’t manage to get rid of field name within the legend that gives a not too fancy overview on my reports. Could you please recommend a comprehensive article, which introduces the efficient use of this module?

    Thank you in advance.

    Reply
  11. I will need you to be more specific regarding which reporting module you are referring to and which level of MS Project you are using to be able to answer your question. The name field is the key field for views and must exist for the view to work.

    However, in all of the levels if you would like to remove the legend from a report that option is in Page set up. File –> Print –> Page setup –> legend. Lower right side, select off.

    Reply
  12. Do you know if there is a way to keep blank lines when filtering?
    We can have hundreds of summary tasks in a single project, so we insert blank lines above each summary task to help them stand out. (easier on the eyes)

    However, if a filter is used, it filters out the blank lines and we have to manually insert the blank lines again before we print.

    The blank lines are giver an ID when inserted, but no other values.
    It isn’t letting me filter with no values… unless I’m missing something.

    Please help, we are wasting up to 30 minutes with each custom schedule just inserting blank lines…

    We are using Project 2010.

    Thanks in advance.

    Reply
  13. I am sorry to say since blank lines are not recommended to put in a schedule, there is no way to keep them when you have them. If you are filtering it is looking for the valid values in fields and not blanks and the values. Some of the standard filters can’t be changed. You might consider re-creating the filters and requesting the blank lines. You could also use the auto filter and request the value you want and blank values in the field.

    Take care

    Reply
  14. Hello Ellen – helpful list – thanks. I’m tracking a baselined project and I notice that tasks that have both predecessors and successors, and which are scheduled to have 3 day duration are shown as milestones after the Actual Start and Actual Finish dates are inserted. I think this is because Actual Finish was before scheduled Start, but I can’t check this. If I go back to Entry View, the tasks are still shown as milestones, not the 3-day duration tasks I put in prior to baseline & tracking.

    Could you please explain what’s going on when task bars transform into milestones of their own accord when tracking dates are inserted?

    Thx

    Reply
  15. Hi,
    Thank you for this very useful article.I can’t understand this tip “To combine projects on a temporary basis for reporting and linking tasks between projects, create a new window.”can you plz explain?
    Thanks,
    JackThomas,
    MS Certified Programmer

    Reply
  16. Many PM’s need to create a weekly status report which would include info from multiple project files. You can use New Window to combine selected projects quickly, create reports and then discard the file. This is used when multiple project managers are managing their own projects but combined reporting is required.

    However, the combined file can be saved and it is of the same format as an insert project with an update link.

    I hope this helps.

    Reply
  17. Hi Ellen,
    I am doing a bit of delay analysis and I have a base schedule within which I have included a number of impacts representing the effects of the delays that have affected the project.

    They all represent end delays and as such I have given them a predecessor (FS link) from that activity. For their successor(s) I have detailed the same activities as those of its predecessor.

    If I understand it correctly, what should happen is that the schedule should extend when the ‘impacts’ are ACTIVE and return to it’s base state when they are NOT ACTIVE… but unfortunately this does not happen. In fact the base status is kept when the impacts are ACTIVE and extends when they are NOT ACTIVE.

    Any thoughts on the matter?

    Thanks & Regards

    Reply
  18. You must be working with a custom add in. What you are doing is not a capability of the standard software. Sorry, I can’t help you with this.

    Reply

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