Ask the Experts: Why Self-Taught with Microsoft Project Isn’t Such a Great Idea

Mike from Dallas asks: Our company is starting to use Microsoft Project Server and they want to send me to class. If I have been using Project Standard for a long time, why do I need to attend a class?

Answer: The quick answer is to make sure you use the software correctly. I have had students in my classes over the years who told me they didn’t need to be there. Most have been self taught or had a poor class years ago. After two hours they begin telling me that I’m showing them aspects of the software they didn’t know existed. I also hear a lot of, “Oh, that’s what that is supposed to do…”

Some frequent errors of the self taught are:

  • Not setting options and assuming the defaults. Not understanding options.
  • Not setting up the calendar and the calendar options before entering the first task.
  • Plugging start or finish dates on every task.
  • Creating a WBS that cant be used to manage a project.
  • Assigning only one resource to a task because it changes the length of the task if more than one resource is assigned.
  • Making assignments without seeing number of hours that are being assigned, which results in inflated hours and cost.
  • Planning the project and not managing the project.
  • Using data from the project to create another project just to report to management.
  • Updating the baseline weekly (he actually told me every Friday).
  • Never re-scheduling uncompleted work.
  • Being frustrated because they plug a value in the duration field and it gets recalculated after resources are assigned and not knowing why.

Just because you have used Project for six years doesn’t mean you’re using it the way that your installation will require you to use the software. It also doesn’t mean that you’re using the application to its full potential or correctly. I find that most users work with the software as if it were Excel and not a project management tool. The software is very powerful and most users are losing a lot of functionality that could make their jobs so much easier. More training could help solve this situation.

Self taught isn’t as easy as it looks. This product is different from the other Office products. Project has a flow to the software that follows the Project Management Institute Project Life Cycle. What makes this product so much different than the other Office modules is that when you start using it you must:

  1. Follow a set of rules.
  2. Understand the project management concepts behind the software.
  3. Know what you need to accomplish.
  4. Know what you want the schedule to tell you and do for you.
  5. And design the input to give you the results you require as output.

Many people just “make the software do what they want it to do.” These actions might not align with the needs and requirements of the Project Server installation. When users aren’t on board to follow the process, the integrity of the data becomes increasingly questionable and results become less predictable.


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Written by Ellen Lehnert
Ellen Lehnert, PMP, Microsoft Project MVP, MCP, is a independent consultant and trainer on Microsoft Project and Project Server. She has taught Microsoft Project over 400 times and is the author of  MS Project 2010 and 2013 published courseware. Ellen is also a contributor and tech editor for many reference books, a developer for the Microsoft Project certification tests and is a frequent meeting speaker for Microsoft, MPUG and PMI. Contact Ellen at

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