Discovering a “Lighter” Microsoft Project

“Light.” “Easier.” “Less clumsy.” “Lighter.”

These are the words and phrases I hear most often from our customers when they talk about Microsoft Project. They want an easy-to-use scheduling tool, and Project just doesn’t seem easy.

Of course, that’s why good training is valuable. It turns Project into an intuitive tool – right? Well, that’s what we patiently explain, “You just need to understand how Project works, and then it all makes sense.” Watch the demonstration. Do the lab. Put it to work on your project. You’ll get the hang of it.

Recently, we took another approach. We realized that we had expert’s blindness. We knew what they should be doing and tried really hard to explain that, but it wasn’t working. We quit explaining and started listening. What is so frustrating? Why is that difficult to learn? Most importantly, “How do you want to use Project?”

Microsoft Project is Powerful. And We Like That.

To be clear, we also have clients that eat up all the features that Project has to offer. Reports. Budgeting. Resource leveling. They want it all and they learn to use it. Our Mastering Microsoft Project courseware is used by Microsoft Learning Solution Partners all over the world, demonstrating that Project has plenty of power users who appreciate its rich feature set.

The problem is that for some users, Project is too powerful. There are too many features.

What Does a Light Version Do?

What does “light” mean to these Microsoft Project users? Why are they even using Project?

Requirement #1: Our clients all want “schedules that show responsibility for tasks.” (That’s really two requirements, but I don’t tell them that.) They appreciate the visual schedule representation of a Gantt chart. Or their boss appreciates the Gantt, so they need to make one. They also want to assign clear responsibility to every task.

Requirement #2: Show a critical path. Not everyone looking for a lighter version of Project even knows what Critical Path means, but quite a few do. They want a scheduling engine.

How about project size? Does that make a difference? Not really. Their projects can be fifty lines or over one thousand. Excel just doesn’t get their job done. (Really, when does Excel provide a decent alternative to Project?)

Requirement #3: Use a baseline to show schedule variance. Actually, this is my requirement, not theirs, but this is a key reason that we recommend Project over all other web-based “easy” project scheduling tools. If you don’t have a baseline, your schedule loses half of its value as a management tool. When I demonstrate a Tracking Gantt, everyone understands it, and they all want it.

What else? Nothing. Nothing else. That is all they want. Just a scheduling tool that shows task responsibility.

Give Them What They Want

With a clear understanding of the users, and how they want to use Project, our team created a combination of a Project template, a custom Project ribbon, a simple step-by-step method for planning and updating a schedule, and training that takes a fraction of the time of our usual classes. We call it Tame Microsoft Project!

  1. Tame Microsoft Project Template: MPUG readers will recognize this as an .mpt file. Open the template and it contains two custom views: one configured for planning the project, and the other configured for updating the schedule. Other configurations include a Fixed Duration task type, because the last thing users want to figure out is task types.
  2. A custom Ribbon: When you use fewer features of Project, you need fewer tabs. Our Tame ribbon has a Plan tab and Manage tab, each providing access only to the features the user needs to plan and manage the schedule. The Plan tab, shown below, contains every feature needed from setting the Project Start Date to setting the Baseline.

  1. A step-by-step method for planning and managing a schedule: Project works best when we follow some basic rules, such as setting a Project Start date before entering tasks. The buttons on the Versatile Plan tab are organized left to right to reinforce the correct steps.
  2. Training focused on the steps of planning and managing: Our Tame Microsoft Project! class is typically five to six hours long, when delivered live. That’s less than a third of the time of our Mastering Microsoft Project class. Taking it online, at your own pace, gives you the option to review topics once you start putting the Tame approach to work on your own projects.

What Is Lost With Microsoft Project Light?

Your copy of Microsoft Project doesn’t change. All the features are exactly the same. The Tame ribbon and custom Tame views focus the user on the features they need, but they don’t change anything. When a user decides to start tracking cost or leveling resources, there is nothing in their way.

Summary: The Typical Project Light User

As we listened to the clients that wanted a simpler version of Microsoft Project, it became easy to identify them. Is this you? Maybe you are the classic Microsoft Project Light user!

  • You DO manage schedules using Project
  • You DON’T manage costs with Project
  • You DO need to know WHO is assigned
  • You DON’T need to know how many hours a person will work per day or month

Our Tame Microsoft Project users can be working on part-time projects, where resource leveling is too much overhead, or major construction projects where they use accounting software to track costs. “Light” doesn’t refer to the project size, it describes the effort to use Microsoft Project.

To MPUG readers, the author is offering a 30% discount for Verstile’s online, self-paced training that includes the full Tame Microsoft Project solution. Use discount code: Tame30.

Related Content

Webinars (watch for free now!):
Task Planning using Microsoft Project
What’s the value of Schedule Risk Analysis?

Levels of Project Scheduling Proficiency
Are You Using the Team Planner View Feature in Microsoft Project?
Resource Leveling: Scheduling vs. Leveling

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Written by Eric Verzuh
Eric Verzuh, PMP, earned his PMP in 1992. He is the author of the bestselling Fast Forward MBA in Project Management and the PMP® Deep Dive, a better, faster, and more fun exam prep program. You can contact Eric via email at
  1. Eric: What an excellent idea and approach: I am amazed that I didn’t think of this myself. Seriously, as one currently training the next generation of Schedulers, I can see how using a “tamed” view of MS Project would provide the student with a bolstered level of confidence knowing that they have “mastered” the basics.

    Thank you!

  2. How does this work in a managed portfolio environment where you need to do capacity & availability forecasting? (On-prem Project Server and cloud PPM platform) I would assume some level of granularity is lost by not proactively managing duration and work, but I would worry more about data accuracy than precision.

  3. Great post, love the method changing the ribbon 🙂 did that for TPC as well.
    Thanks Eric, always nice reading your articles.

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