MS Project: An Ever-Evolving Solution

From DOS to Windows 10

I started using Microsoft Project (MSP) in its earliest DOS beginnings around 1986, and it reminded me of Microsoft’s Excel. In other words, I initially felt Project was a subset of Excel. Project and Excel have something very much in common: every row is a single record, and when new versions are added, new fields are also added to each row, making the record longer along with adding new overall features. At the time, I really would have liked it if Microsoft had combined these two products because there were many Excel features that I wanted to use in Project. But let’s face facts: Microsoft is in the business of selling software, and they were not going to combine these two! I got to thinking about my history with the MSP the other day, and thought the software’s evolution might be an interesting topic to explore. First, let us look at the different MSP versions and some of their key features:

MSP (version1 or V1) was released in 1984. Microsoft bought the all the rights in 1985, and released V2, V3, and V4 for DOS. V4 was the final DOS edition. MSP 3.0 was a significant upgrade occurring in 1990, and ran on Windows 3.0. It introduced many new features (for example: macros, toolbars, print preview, spell-checker, resource allocation review, and planning wizards).

MSP 4.0 (16-bit version) was a 1994 upgrade, which ran on Windows 3.0 and subsequent versions (3.1 and 3.5). It was first iteration to use what we now think of as the common Office menu. Also included were right-click context menus, Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) programming language, the calendar view, assign resources dialog, recurring tasks, and the ability to create reports. MSP 95 (V4.1) was an upgrade released in 1995. It was the first 32-bit version and was designed for Windows 95. It introduced Open Database Connectivity (ODBC) support, autocorrect, and answer wizard (like all Office 95 applications).

MSP 98 was a significant upgrade (1997), and although it ran on Windows 95 still, it introduced Office Assistant, new view bar, AutoFilter, task splitting, Assignment Information dialog, Resource availability dates, new task types, Tracking Gantt and Resource Usage views, Web features, PERT analysis, resource contouring, effort-driven scheduling, and cross-project linking. Also, the ability to analyze time-scaled data in Excel and to save Excel pivot tables was a part of MSP 98. MSP 2000 was a system transition featured upgrade that ran on Windows 95 and 98. New features included ability to create personal Gantt charts, ability to apply filters, Autosave, task calendars, and the ability to create projects from templates. It introduced a project management server called Project Central using Microsoft SharePoint as its foundation.

MSP 2002 was another system transition featured upgrade that ran on Windows XP, and for the first time, came in two editions. They were the Standard (less features) and the Professional (more features and the version required for Project Server 2002/portfolio management). This upgrade included task panes, safe mode, smart tags, import/export mapping wizards, and the ability to save multiple baselines.

MSP 2003 was a minor upgrade, which contained SharePoint support and ran on Windows XP. It provided users with the ability to create charts in Visio, an add-in for comparing projects. Office Project Server 2003 also arrived at this time, although it was less than user-friendly. Next, we saw MSP 2007, a minor upgrade and the last to contain the menu bar and toolbars of Windows XP. Most of the new features were not overly exciting (for example, background cell highlighting and change highlighting), but MSP 2007 included new visual reports and the desktop OLAP (Online Analytical Processing) cube. Alongside this release, we also saw Office Project Server 2007, which was much more manageable/user-friendly that previously available.

MSP 2010 was a significant upgrade, and the last to run on Windows XP. The new features included a ribbon interface that organized all the commands. Plus it was customizable with Excel-like column filtering, it introduced task modes (Auto Scheduled and the new default Manually Scheduled), and you could save your files using PDF and XPS formats. For MSP Professional, you had new features that included the Team Planner view, the Inactivate tasks feature, and SharePoint Task List integration that could be used with Project Server 2010. Inactivate tasks is an interesting feature because it allowed the user to experiment with project plans and perform a what-if analysis. At this point, we also saw Microsoft bring volume licensing activation.

MSP 2013 ran on Windows 7 or 8. The biggest (and my favorite) change was replacing all the text reports with graphical reports. The report features included a lively mix of tables, charts, and textual content—and still do! In addition to these reports being highly customizable, I believe, this iteration helped to make MSP 100% truly its own product. One other important feature to note is the task path, allowing project managers to quickly identify Gantt bars of the selected task’s predecessors and successors. For MSP Professional, we saw Skype integration. The project server came in two flavors: Project Server 2013 and Project Online (a cloud version). MSP 2016 was a minor upgrade and the last to support Windows 7 and 8. One of the new features released here was timeline view updates, which meant you could display multiple timeline bars with custom date ranges. Of course, along with MSP 2016, we got the server upgrades of Project Server 2016 and Project Online.

When MSP 2019 came along, it improved task linking and timeline view updates with more options. The Task Summary Name field was added, so you add a task’s immediate summary task name to different tables. Project Server 2019 included new timeline options, as well. MSP 2019 runs only under Windows 10.

I’ll admit, I did not want to purchase MSP 2019 when it came out. I was happily using MSP 2013 Professional, and had little use for the new features, but I finally decided to take the plunge and buy it. I purchased MSP 2019 Professional for $1,030.00 plus tax for a grand total of $1,143.00 (the Standard Edition is $620 plus taxes). Immediately, I noticed some “freaky tweaks” that add zero value (and maybe even some confusion). For example, when you right-click a task, the short-cut menu box pops up, and the last item shown is “Linked” (this replaced Hyperlink). The user is taken to the expected Insert Hyperlink dialog box. I asked a Microsoft expert on why this change was made, and he told me Linked and Hyperlink  are one in the same and it does not matter. This is basically true, but there is a difference. I discovered you can only have one Hyperlink per task, but you can have multiple Links for the same task or other tasks. For example, using the Insert button in the Notes area from the Task Information dialog box. My recommendation is if you have MSP 2013 or 2016, do not upgrade to MSP 2019. I feel it is exceedingly overpriced, and not worth the money.

I am hoping; however, that the next MSP version upgrade will be a significant one. In fact, here are a few ideas on improving it that I have submitted through MSP feedback feature ( Go to File > Feedback > Send a Suggestion > Post a New Idea).

  • Automated Workflows: When a task is completed, a notice or e-mail could be automatically sent out to team members that their next scheduled task(s) can start. This would help to improve productivity and could possibly be done easily by utilizing Power Automate (already used to create automatic processes and support day-to-day work).
  • Portfolio Features: For starters, I’d like to see a new field called “Portfolio.” Furthermore, the ability to have a Portfolio project plan template that automatically calls in defined related projects would significantly save time.
  • Excel Features: I’m an advocate for incorporating more Excel features! For example, Zoom to Selection, so that the selected range of cells fills the entire screen, and Freeze Panes, which freezes a portion of the sheet to keep it visible while you scroll through the rest. It would also be nice to have Page Layout, so that one could preview how the printed plan would look.

What versions of MSP have you used? Have you upgraded to MSP 2019? What ideas would you like to see incorporated into the next version?


Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication. From 2011 - 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks.
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  1. Hi Ronald, a great summary, alongside the one on wikipedia ( As for the next version of Project, well I’m not sure they’ll be a windows client for that at all as Microsoft have already released it, it’s known as Project of course, but it’s totally web based and is purchased on subscription ). I have no doubt that “classic project” will exist for a few years, but I’m not expecting any innovation in that area.

  2. Okay… here’s my question, too… At the rather lofty price point… do you think the volume of MSP users has declined over the years? I too have used MSP since 199x! It’s certainly a powerful project but… I teach fewer classes on MSP and am really looking at more cost effective solutions like MS Planner and others. As Walter Sobchak says in “The Big Lebowski,” am I wrong?

  3. MSP is out of date.
    For enterprise-wide projects based on Waterfall, there is a place for Project. However, Microsoft never adjusted it’s solution for the rapid expansion of Agile methodologies. More recently, there has been growing interest in Hybrid Project Management which combines both Agile and Waterfall. Project will not disappear overnight and might even be combined with Office 365. At the same time, PMs with distributed teams or use Hybrid or Agile methodologies are finding cheaper and more effective alternatives to Project.

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