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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.

Written by Jacques Goupil

Jacques Goupil, PMP, MCP, MCTS, is the Business Development Managing  Director at PPM Works, Inc.,  a consultancy focused on delivering project, portfolio, and business management solutions. He has been implementing Microsoft Project solutions since 1998 and has over 15 years of professional experience in project management software design, implementation, and development.  Coming from a Program Management background, Jacques has successfully implemented PMOs at many Top 50 firms and he shares his experience and knowledge as a guest speaker and panelist at several industry conferences (including the Microsoft Project Conference, PMI Conferences, and the Project Summit).  He was selected by Microsoft as the Lead SME for the Microsoft Certification Exam, Managing Projects and is a Certification Instructor Microsoft Project Users Group.  He is currently on the Board of Directors at the Boston YMCA and two Microsoft Project Users Group Chapters.  Jacques motto is ‘Health and Family first’ and he shares his passion as a community volunteer and family advocate.  He is currently training for the 2014 Boston Marathon (his 14th Boston).  Most recently Jacques delivered a full credit Professional Development Day for PMI and presented at Project Summit 2013 on topics including Project Server 2013, Project Online, as well as PMO Development.  Connect to his professional network or send him an e-mail at: Jacques.Goupil@ppmworks.com.

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