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Timesavers

Saving Time with Tips, Keyboard Shortcuts, and Macros.

Project has many data manipulation tools and ways to set up easy access to different commands. Implementing these shortcuts will allow you to work faster and with less mistakes. Also, it will give you the advantage of having better control over your work schedule. Let’s get started!

 

Tips

In your scope statement, make sure you clearly define what elements are not in your project’s scope to help you avoid scope creep, as it causes an increase to the financial plan and timetable of the project. If stakeholders decide they want an additional “pet deliverable” after your project has begun, they will have to decide whether the request is worth the price or should be moved to a follow-up project.

Even if you are starting a new project, do not start it from scratch. Avoid reinventing the wheel! Your project might be a unique endeavor, but I am sure there are many similar projects that have the basic tasks you’ll need to use even if you will have to update the dates and resources. Templates (*.mpt) are often used as a basis for a new file (*.mpp) because they contain features that are common to many projects. Just edit the tasks, names, dates, and so on to fit your current project. Numerous pre-built templates come with Project to help you get your project started on the right track. You can find more templates online (for example, https://www.smartsheet.com/microsoft-project-templates). Note that Project has an option for specifying your template folder. Go to File > Options > Save to see saved template folders (Browse for more folders), as shown at the bottom of Table 1. From this location, you can find templates that you’ve previously created or downloaded. This may be helpful to other PMs in your organization.

Table 1 – Save Templates

 

To save time and the drudgery of defining the same resources over and over, create a Resource Pool for resources you will be using on many different projects. Other PMs can use the same pool for their new projects. In Project, create a new file, and in the View tab’s Resource Views section, select Resource Sheet. Import your resources or fill in the information about your shared resources. When done, save the file with a name that makes sense (for example, Resource Pool). When you want to utilize, open the resource pool file first and then your regular project plan, which is now the active file. In the Resource assignment tab’s Assignment section, choose Resource Pool and Share Resources. Then, select the active resource pool file. It’s usually best to select Pool takes precedence because the resource pool has the final say about resource information (see Table 2). Then, click OK. Insert the Resource Names column, and, to select a name from that task cell, click the down arrow, turn on the checkbox for your chosen person(s), and press Enter.

Table 2 – Share Resources Dialog Box

 

If you are jumping back-and-forth within a group of related projects or a portfolio, save time by inserting the projects into a master project (or consolidated file), so you have one place to go to do your updating. When you update the master file, it will automatically update sub-projects and vice versa. You will also be able to view the critical path for the entire master file (not by sub-projects), which will give you a better perspective for managing your entire portfolio. For more in-depth information on creating a master file, read my previous article.

If you look in the upper left-hand corner of your Project screen, you will see the Quick Access Toolbar, which shows small buttons for Save, Undo, and Redo. Click the down arrow and the below box or table will show up. In this way, you can add a new command to your toolbar to save you time. A mark appears to the left of the commands that are currently on the toolbar. If you want to use the Print Preview command, for example, just click it to add it to your toolbar. If you click More Commands, you will be able to pick from more than 40 commands to put on your toolbar. Another approach for doing all this is by way of File > Options > Quick Access Toolbar. Add, remove, or reorder your most used commands to save yourself time and effort.

Table 3 – Customize Quick Access Toolbar

 

Keyboard Shortcuts

Project has over 60 keyboard shortcuts. The below list shows the most popular ones used. These should be at the top of your list to know and use, too! Some of the same shortcuts can be used in other Microsoft Office programs. You will likely have little use for and a hard time remembering the remaining keyboard shortcuts (for example, Remove all task dependencies from the selected tasks: Ctrl+Shift+F2), so focus on those shown in Table 4.

Table 4 – Popular Keyboard Shortcuts

 

Note: If you have a problem that Project Help (F1) can’t resolve, you should try Microsoft’s support website (http://support.microsoft.com) or use your favorite search engine to look for an answer. Type in the error message, number, and/or keywords that describe your problem.

 

Macros

Many activities that you perform in Project are repetitive (for example, showing the critical path or creating a weekly graphic image snapshot of a view to be shared with others). The series of steps for doing such tasks can be recorded in a macro. Macros are recorded using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), which is a built-in macro programming language for Project and other Microsoft products such as Excel. Macros save you time and reduce mistakes because you are not typing and clicking as much.

Ok, let’s start with the process of recording. In the View tab’s Macros section, select Macros and then, Record Macro. A dialog box opens (see Table 5). In this example, I will show you how to view the Critical Tasks report. When you first see the default Macro Name, delete it, and put in a name (no spaces allowed, so put underscores (_) between words) that is meaningful to what you are recording. It’s nice to have a Shortcut key set up to automatically run your macro, but because most of the alphabet letters are used with the Ctrl key for Keyboard Shortcuts, only the letters A, E, J, L, M, Q, and T are available to use.

You can Store macro in the Global file (global.mpt), so you can run it in any Project file or choose from the pull-down menu to save it only in This Project file, depending upon your needs. In most cases, go with the default Row and Column references. When finished, click OK (the dialog box will disappear) to start recording. When you’ve performed and recorded your steps, go to the View Tab’s Macros section, select Macros, and then Stop Recording. To run this macro later on, use the shortcut of Ctrl+Q. Alternatively, in the Macros dialog box (View Macros), select the macro you want (in this case it’s CriticalTasks), and click Run to see the Critical Tasks report in a second.

Table 5 – Record Macro Dialog Box

 

In what ways do you save yourself time when working in MS Project? What shortcuts do you use? I’d like to hear from you in the comments below.

 

Ronald Smith
Written by Ronald Smith

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 Comment
  1. Some additional thoughts:
    Templates: A schedule template is a schedule that consists of process steps; hence, it is applicable to all project schedules that are to follow those processes. The Smartsheet site referenced shows the structure of a schedule without content. It does not provide any templates of projects.
    For project management, a template’s tasks are better if evidence based. That is, the task name includes the object the task produces. Thus, when the object is delivered, the task is finished. For example, “Analyze requirements” has no end point. Resources may charge time to such task without end; “Produce requirements document” is better. In other words, don’t describe the work; describe what is to be produced. Think like a manager and describe the object you want to receive.
    Resource Pool: the primary reason to link project schedules to a resource pool is to find the combined workload for comparison with resource capacity. By analogy, highway travel at rush hour is slow because the capacity of the roadway is exceeded by the traffic. It’s the same with project throughput.
    Quick Access Toolbar: the dropdown at the far right of the QAT enables it to be shown below the ribbon. There it can extend all the way across the screen and contain many more tools.

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