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Ask the Experts: Is Microsoft Project Overkill? And the Task Inspector Equivalent

Question: In my federal government agency, some have considered Microsoft Project to manage planning and scheduling for service operations. I suspect that it’s not the right tool for non-project work like day-to-day operations. I suspect that managers, team leads, and supervisors would be better served by enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, but, I’m not sure — I do not know enough about this subject.

Licenses for Microsoft Project are very difficult to obtain in my agency — demand exceeds supply. Also, the average user’s knowledge of Project is much less than other standard Microsoft Office suite tools. I’m thinking that Excel, Outlook, and/or a simple whiteboard could be used.

Can anyone suggest a simple, yet effective, computer-based approach to planning and scheduling for service operations (not manufacturing)?

— Mark

Answer: Mark, Project 2010 offers many options for organizations like yours trying to determine the best solution to meet user/technical/process driven needs. Here are a few points.

First, we use Project Server 2010 to manage our service company, so we know it can be done.

Second, the different roles you mentioned (managers, team leads, and supervisors) could all access Project/Resource/Task information via an intuitive web-based interface.

Third, you mention that Project licenses are tough to come by in your organization. Project Server 2010 allows web editing of project plans, which means many fewer Project Professional licenses are needed.

Fourth, with Project 2010 users can create projects in an Excel-like spreadsheet on the web. These could be very quick and easy projects or they could leverage a template with an associated workflow.

Fifth, I’d recommend talking with a Microsoft partner that specializes in Project and Project Server before ruling it out. To learn more about the capabilities of Project 2010, you might want to view an MPUG webcast I did, titled, “Project 2010: Is An Upgrade Right for Me?” You can find the recording in the MPUG Knowledge Library.

Question: Is there any equivalent feature for Project 2010’s Task Inspector in Project 2007?

— Laura

Answer: The 2007 equivalent to 2010’s Task Inspector is the Task Driver. To find that, in Project 2007, select a task. On the Project menu, click Task Drivers. Note that you can also keep the Task Drivers open and click from task to task.

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