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6 de julio de 2014

Is Microsoft Project a de facto standard?

Microsoft Project is for sure the most extended tool for planning and controlling predictive individual projects. Could we say that it has become a de facto standard? As we cannot imagine a CFO or an accountant not using Microsoft Excel, could we say the same thing of project managers and their knowledge on Microsoft Project?

If we knew which is the highest version of Microsoft Project installed in the computer of a given project manager, could we know for how long he is not managing projects? Let's imagine he has Project 2003. Project 2007 was released in 2007, and most active project managers had it upgraded in 2008 as the latest, but this one has still 2003 in his computer: Does it mean he is not managing projects since 2008, or even longer? If he has Project 2007, is he not managing projects since 2011, or longer?

Let's assume he has Project 2010 or 2013. Can we say that he is an active project manager now? The answer is no, we can't. Most people update Project just because it is part of the Microsoft Office. Many people think they can learn Project as they do with PowerPoint, or Word. They install the software and think: “I will learn how to use it when I need it”. Shouldn't they learn project management fundamentals before?

If you need to know if a project manager is using Project properly, don't ask him about screens, menu items, or features like manually scheduled tasks, for instance.

It would be far better if you ask him about project management with Microsoft Project: Is he using the project summary task? Does he use it for tracking? Where is the critical path of a project? Where is the total slack and the free slack for a given task? Does he know how to filter milestones, how to enter planned and actual work? Does he manage resources? costs? ¿earned value? Does he know how to set a project buffer?

Day to day experience with Microsoft Project can be very frustrating to many users lacking project management fundamentals. Using Project to draw Gantt charts is certainly better than using another tools, but only a few are able to plan resources, or to use tracking views to explain schedule and cost variations. Project is definitely not a tool like Microsoft PowerPoint®, Microsoft Word®, or Microsoft Excel®. Those ones can be learned while using them, in a self teaching approach. Many users use Project only to draw Gantt charts, or even worse, they use another office tools for planning and controlling schedule, with the consequent productivity loss.

Microsoft Project is associated with Microsoft Office, but it is not just an office tool. The wide diffusion of Microsoft Project® has converted it in the standard to manage single predictive projects, but since people think they can learn it on the job, like any other office tool, they are not using it properly in the end.

You need project fundamentals before using Microsoft Project

Have you ever felt that Microsoft Project behave weird? In order to use it properly, you have to have some project management concepts clear first. Those who really understand how to manage project scheduling and cost will understand better how to use the tool. The user should control the software, but with Microsoft Project it is the other way around many times: the software controls the user. Are you managing your project or are you managing Microsoft Project? Let's not be afraid of using Microsoft Project anymore!

A 30 years old software

Microsoft Project is a software with a long history. Since the first version for Windows in 1990 to the last one in 2013, it has been 10 releases in the market. It is a quite improved software through 30 years lifetime. Only experts can be proficient in all of its features. Following is a timeline with the versions released by Microsoft:
  • Year 1984: First release for DOS developed by an external company.
  • Year 1985: Microsoft bought all rights to the software and released version 2.
  • Year 1986: Version 3 for DOS.
  • Year 1987: Version 4 for DOS.
  • Year 1990: Version 1 for Windows.
  • Year 1991: Version for Macintosh.
  • Year 1992: Version 3 for Windows.
  • Year 1994: Version 4 for Windows and Macintosh.
  • Year 1995: Project 95
  • Year 1998: Project 98 for Windows 95 and Macintosh (last Mac natively compatible version)
  • Year 2000: Project 2000
  • Year 2002: Project 2002
  • Year 2003: Project 2003
  • Year 2007: Project 2007
  • Year 2010: Project 2010
  • Year 2013: Project 2013

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