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Common Misconceptions about MS Project that People Get Wrong

I’ve been a Microsoft Project user, teacher, and consultant for the last 27 years. I’ve become very familiar with the strengths and weaknesses of this software product. As a 17+ year Project MVP, I have come to learn about and work with the Microsoft Engineering and Marketing teams for many MSP releases, and I am a constant champion for  improvements. I’ve also seen and heard many misconceptions people have about what Microsoft Project can and can’t do.

Microsoft is changing their Project PPM toolsets (adding, blending, and centralizing). We see MS ToDo, O365 Planner, Project Desktop, Project Online, Project Server, Project for the web, and Project Operations, blending with MS Teams and other office/task hub capabilities. No wonder people sometimes get mixed up or don’t fully realize the strategy Microsoft has around growing and supporting these tools for project management.

Today, I wanted to begin to clear up some of the misconceptions that are out there. I am touching on just a few, but this is the first in a series that will explore the top five issues that surface on a regular basis. I hope you find my in depth look at these misconceptions helpful. Please reach out to me directly with questions, comments, or even to just check back to see if new feature releases address your needs. I am looking forward to a MPUG hosted live panel discussion on the topic of these misconceptions and more in December of this year. Stay tuned!

Here is the first of five top misconceptions that people make when using MS Project (in all its forms).

Misconception #1: “Project is Not for Agile or An Agile Tool”

This is one of the more common statements I hear from people. In fact, I have been hearing this since Agile became a hot topic. Scrum masters say things like: “We don’t use project because it isn’t “Agile,” or “Project Doesn’t have any Agile features, it’s a “Waterfall tool.”

To set the record straight, MS Project Isn’t an Agile tool…go ahead, read that again! Correct, it’s not an Agile tool, but neither is it a Waterfall tool. MSP is actually a relational database. Yes, that’s right, all of those “Agile” tools out there (well, the good ones) work within a relational database framework, MS Project included.

While Microsoft may have taken a while to add some “Agile” view options, many of us have been using it across all types of methodologies (i.e. Prince2, Waterfall, Agile, Lean, and many others). We have the capability to add columns and views to sort, filter, and group data ITIL, etc.

Microsoft may yell at me for not just saying, “Project is Agile,” but I want to explain exactly what it is and what it is not. The bottom line is that Project has some amazing flexibility, and now that all the versions have the ability to work more agile-y, it’s far from just a Waterfall tool anymore.

Project Desktop Agile Features

Microsoft Project Desktop has native Sprint and Agile capabilities, as shown below. You can add columns, filters, groupings, and custom fields to manage sprints, even from within a Waterfall overall schedule. If you don’t have a template like the one shown below, reach out to me directly and I’d be happy to share one with you.

 

You can also shift to a Task Board (more of a Kanban model or what you would find in O365 Planner with task cards) and manage your project’s work with buckets.

Just find the Task Board on the View menu (there is a Sprint board there, as well).


 

Easily manage tasks by dragging and dropping between categories, buckets, or columns. Even set the % complete as you drag tasks to/from their categories.

 

 

I enjoy using more of a Sprint view to keep tasks organized, as shown.

 

 

Generate sprints based on the length of your project or edit the duration of them and manage your backlog and velocity based on work archived (or story points) accomplished per sprint. This method will behave like a Task Board. Simply drag, drop, or double click to edit more of the details, and then switch to the Sprint or Task Board Sheet views or the Gantt Chart view based on your preference.

Regardless of what view you are using, remember MSP is a relational database. It’s an umbrella that will hold all native project views and data, plus organize it in a more Agile fashion. MPUG has many how to articles on this topic, and I also have free articles and videos linked to in my bio.

Project for the web Agile Features

Certainly the new addition to the Project family, Project for the web (P4W), would have the native Board view for end users, right? In fact, one of the intents of this tool is to allow users to migrate from Office 365 Planner to Project for the web. This capability is soon to be released, but MSP couldn’t do this without having a Task board that behaves and operates the same way that Planner does.

 

 

You can switch from the Timeline or Grid view to the Board view and continue managing in a much more Kanban-esque or “card view” way. It’s quick, easy, and provides an option for transitioning between grid, timeline, and/or Board view.

 

 

There is a mass of users in MS Teams and Planner now, so moving to a more mature story option method for project management and way from simple work management is an important part of the Microsoft PPM tool agenda.

I’d love to hear from you in the comment section. If you enjoyed this article, you may wish to read more about MS Project misconceptions (listed below) or join me for my upcoming live discussion on these misconceptions and more.

  • The misconception of “P4W Can’t Be Customized”
  • The misconception of “Project Desktop is Going Away and PWA with it”
  • The misconception of “Managing Resources in Project is Too Hard”
  • The misconception of “Project Doesn’t have Reporting”

Tim Runcie, PMP, MCP, MCTS, P-TSP, MVP is one of 6 Microsoft Project MVP’s in North America and has held that title for 17 years in a row.  A seasoned veteran of complex programs, and portfolio management systems, Tim works with companies like Microsoft on next generations of Project, Program, and portfolio technologies.  Tim is an accomplished speaker, consultant, and educator, supporting the project management community for over 25 years. As the President and founder of Advisicon, Tim has written over 38 books on PM methodologies and technologies. Advisicon has recently added a non-profit division focused on helping faith-based and 501-C3 organizations with implementing and training on available business solutions and providing business coaching or process automation with the mission of “Serving those who Serve.”

Free resources are available at www.YouTube.com/Advisicon or on Tim’s LMS, www.Advisicon.thinkific.com

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  1. Agile Project Structure
    Hello Tim. Great article! I would be interested to discuss the project structure in your initial example. I see a lot of Agile projects organized that way, using Project Summary Tasks to represent the individual Sprints. It’s fine and makes sense but it makes it more difficult to perform a schedule risk analysis because it encourages poor practices like linking summary tasks (so Sprint 2 follows Sprint 1 etc.). I encourage our customers to build the schedule based on the work contained in the WBS, just as you would if it were not an agile project and then assign tasks to Sprints using codes. Project is flexible enough that you can still produce Sprint centric views but the underlying work is based purely on the order in which it must be completed to deliver the project. This allows a Quantitative Schedule Risk Analysis to still produce useful forecasts taking into account uncertainty and risk. I welcome your thoughts. Thanks again for showing how flexible Project is. John.
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  2. Scrum using MSP
    Excellent Article Tim. I have been using MSP for Scrum projects for a while, using the customizable columns that you mention and using Sprint-# as summary task, but not linking the summary tasks. One Q I have is starting which version of MSP can we see the sprint board (grid view) and the kanban board? I dont see them in MSP-2013. Please advise
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  3. Agile views with local Project (Project Professional 2019)
    Great article Tim. I knew about Task and Sprint board views in Project online (desktop client) but they are not available in local solutions (Project Professional 2019 is my current most used tool). Do you know if there is any way to include them as if they were and add-in? Will they be available in future local versions or maybe local products will disappear leaving only cloud (and pay per month-user) ones? Congratulations for your article.
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  4. Common Misconceptions with MSP
    Hi John, You have some great points in your statement.

    I love seeing a WBS and linking key risks, rankings, etc. to that as a roll up. Of course most of us manage to a lifecycle phase vs. the WBS, but natively having that allows you to rollup, group and consolidate key values (agile or no) with MS Project.

    ~Tim Runcie

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  5. Agile Views with Local Project
    Carlos, yes, some limits if you aren’t using the current version of Project Desktop Connected to Office 365. However, I have written other articles that I showcased a template for doing Agile, fields, groupings, etc. (but no Kanban or Task Board) view. Let me know if you want that template. E-mail me directly and I’ll be happy to send that to you.

    ~Cheers,

    Tim Runcie, PMP, MCT, MCTS, MVP

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  6. Scrum Using MSP
    Hi Lakshmi,

    Your question about which version you can see the Sprint & Task Boards on is something I hear very commonly. The short answer is that you need to be connected with Project Plan 3 or Plan 5 in Office 365. Both give you the Microsoft Project Desktop version and allow you to work with Project Online.

    Side note, if you are looking for the Task Board web experience, the license “Project Plan 1”, or Project for the Web, allows you to do that in the Web Browser view. While still limited, this is the tool that Microsoft is investing heavily in and intending to grow it’s capabilities.

    I hope this helps you

    Warm regards,

    ~Tim Runcie, PMP, MCT, MCTS, MVP

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  7. Project Web App vs P4W
    Hi Tim. Thanks for the article.

    I’ve always been a fan of MSP and can’t imagine tackling some of the complex projects I’ve managed without it. My biggest pain point had always been getting task status updates from Resources back into the plan. I am loathe to let other people edit my plans and in most cases very few people on my teams even had Project. We’ve created numerous ad-hoc ways to get around this; 1) Export to Excel and have team members update there, then update the .mpp, 2) Filter by Resource, copy into an email and ask them for status, 3) Sit in a meeting with Leads and project/screen share Project and go through tasks together 4) Have Leads all get Project and block off specific times where only one person could have it open to update tasks for their resources 5) Have Leads manage sub-projects in MSP that roll up into a master .mpp. The pain was always getting the status of work of non-Project users back into the plan.

    I rejoiced when Project Web App came out and we could create a site where non-Project users could manage their tasks and it would sync with my main project plan. The team loved it and it saved a lot of time. The minute we got comfortable with this, my company said “we are now agile (small ‘a’) and will be executing using Agile (upper-case ‘A’). I have strong feelings about anything ever being truly waterfall or agile, but I’ll save that for another thread. 🙂

    MSP does Scrum and Kanban really well, but I’m back to the initial problem: How can my team see and interact with their work on a web-based board like I can in my Project Online Desktop Client? We tried using cards in Planner but lost the reporting and it doesn’t tie back to a .mpp file. We saw an awesome custom solution between Project, Planner and Microsoft Teams by a third party, but it was expensive. Azure DevOps maybe, but I’m not managing “pure” software development projects, and it’s another licensing can of worms, so it doesn’t seem like a great fit.

    Jira is now organically creeping across our organization and the MSP stalwarts and I who championed Project Web App would like to stay with MSP, but we are losing the battle. Is P4W going to allow me to create a complex plan with thousands of tasks (Stories), and serve it to my teams in two-week chunks in the form of movable cards on a board with simple columns (To Do, In Progress, Done)? All I need is Project Web App with a web-based board view that team members can update themselves. I’ve been in Jira enough now to think it has exactly the opposite positives and negatives of MSP; great on the board where the work is happening, but clumsy when rolling up into more complex, cross-functional initiatives.

    Update – It appears you’ve answered my question with your response to Laskhmi, but thought I would share my experience. Thank you!

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  8. Project Web App vs P4W
    Hi Basil,

    You are not alone in the effort it takes to get resources to put actuals back into tasks that they are assigned to or the ones they originally estimated against. This is a common issue (Timesheeting, I think everyone doesn’t like doing it), but the task updating by resources is a very mature practices and is gold when it comes to analytics.

    We also wrestled and finally built (I have a development team that loves building solutions) where we connected TFS and Project and Planner to Project. However, Microsoft’s constant changes to the structure made it so problematic to maintain we stopped selling and promoting it. With Azure DevOps (ADO), I believe there is a good path forward here and another group and ourselves are looking at taking this potentially forward.

    All of this doesn’t answer your immediate need and your itemized list of approaches are all the norm (there are a few others), including a custom App that takes resource loading and uses Power BI to render visuals, but nothing native…. however,…. Project for the Web is being built to address what you are talking about exactly. You can also leverage the Project Accelerator (the Project App), which is a Power App, to customize or provide a new experience, while still having the P4W application as your scheduling tool.

    Microsoft has been so busy with their uniform movement (all of the M365 solutions, including Dynamic) moving forward that Jira was able to come in and provide a good solution. But today with ADO and Project back moving forward and P4W being connected to the Dataverse, I believe there are new options that will unseat Jira’s current market lead position.

    Excellent feedback and very thoughtful response. I know everyone here at MPUG appreciates your experiences and can certainly relate.

    Warm regards,

    ~Tim Runcie, PMP, MCT, MCTS, MVP

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  9. Resources
    Most users get messed up by the resource feature. You should be able to turn it off and be replaced by 20 Resource text fields. Add one resource in MSProject and you activate over 600 “relational database fields” —for a marginal benefit.
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