One of the key skills that we hear about in project management is gaining a handle on multiple projects and viewing the integration among them. This can be a pain point for project managers who don’t have access to an enterprise system such as Microsoft Project Server or Microsoft Project Online, but who still want to create views, reports and snapshots or link project files together (essentially, tying tasks from one project to another file).
I find that the best way to create integrated activities as well as a snapshot report of work over time is to leverage the “master project” in Microsoft Project.
In this article, I’m going to give you a few best practices around creating a master project. And in case you’re wondering, yes, these techniques will definitely scale if you need them to; my company has managed programs and portfolios of $500,000,000 and upwards using master projects.
The Benefits of a Master Project
Why use a master project?
- Master projects give you the ability to create a permanent collection of projects that can be viewed at any time;
- When viewing your project list, a master project enables you to view the master project and subprojects all at one time in a list;
- A master project lets you create consolidated project reporting;
- Master projects provide a way to link different project files together, meaning you can also link different tasks between project through the master project; and
- You can establish snapshots (non-linked schedules) so you can historically review progress over time vs. trying to have multiple columns of dates and times within a single file.
Getting Started with Master Projects
Before you begin creating your master project, you need to determine if you want each subproject’s SharePoint site to be available in the master project SharePoint site. If yes, then don’t publish the subproject until the master project is published. Once the subprojects have been saved, checked in and closed — but not published — you’re ready to create your master project. Here’s how:
1. Using Microsoft Project Pro, create a new blank project and select the subproject tab.
2. Navigate to your first subproject and click on it one time only. Then click the circle next to the appropriate mode and select insert.
To add additional subprojects, select a new blank row within the master project and repeat steps 1 and 2.
3. Once you’ve selected all the subprojects you want to include in the master project, click the file tab to save your master project and any changes to the subprojects as needed
4. The dialogue box below will pop up, where you can name and save your master project. Select “No to all” if you’ve inserted your subprojects as read-only.
Now you’re ready to publish or save your master project and create the SharePoint Site.
5. Select the File tab from Projects Ribbon.
6. Click “Publish” if you’re connected to Project Online or Project Server. If you’re working on a local file, select Save As and save the master project file into a local directory. Note that your subproject files also need to be accessible from the file that you’re using as a master, meaning that you should save them in a directory to which you have access.
If you’re connected to an Enterprise version of Project, you’ll publish the changes. Note that you may choose to not save any changes to local files that were inserted.
7. The dialogue box below will pop-up; Select “No to all” if you’ve inserted your subprojects as read only or “Yes to all” if you want to update your local files with your changes.
One of the nice parts about saving and publishing files into an Enterprise version of Project is that you can have Project Server or Project Online automatically create an entire SharePoint site that’s connected to your project. Then, if you decide to link files, documents, deliverables, issues and risks, you can have them connected and available for viewing or assign them to the actual tasks in Project.
8. The following dialogue box will pop up. Select “Publish” if you’re connected to the Enterprise version of Project.
You’ll see the following dialog box to save all local files you’ve inserted.
Once the publishing is complete, you can close and check the master project in. Now you’re ready to publish the subprojects. To do this, you’ll need the URL information from step 8.
9. Open the subproject and then click check out | File & Publish. Or if you’re saving a local version of Project, choose File Save As.
10. The dialogue box below will pop-up; select Publish. Close and check in the project. Repeat those steps for all subprojects.
Creating Snapshots of Projects
One way that you can create historical snapshots of single and multiple projects is to use the master project; but instead of having linked files, choose not to link them. This is an excellent way to take snapshots and — in Project 2007 or higher — gain the ability to compare project files against each other to identify the differences.
Let’s look at an example. Click on the Project tab and select subproject.
Once you’ve selected this, it will bring up the Insert Project dialogue box. Make sure you turn off the checkbox for “Link to project.”
With Link to project turned off, any and all projects will simply be inserted as regular tasks with a summary task for the top level row of the project.
Notice the standard Project file icon isn’t there.
Each of these files are embedded as if you had copied and pasted them; they’re not linked to the original file.
If you ever want to compare one version of a Project file to another, simply use the Compare Projects button found on the ribbon. If you’re in Project 2010, it will be found on the Projects tab. If you’re in Project 2013 or Project 2016, you’ll find it on the Reports tab. This screenshot shows Project 2013.
The master project functionality gives you the ability to connect and view multiple files, do resource assignments, link tasks and create snapshots. It’s truly masterful.
A version of this article initially appeared on the Advisicon blog here.