Go beyond Excel for project management

You can admit it — you've been using a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet to manage your projects, and you don't really see a good reason to change. You're not alone.

It's tempting to start a project plan in Excel because it helps you quickly list all your projects, arrange them how you want them, and even create something that resembles a Gantt Chart view (Gantt Chart view: A predefined view that displays project tasks on the left side of the view, and graphical bars corresponding to the task's durations on the right side of the view.). But a spreadsheet falls short when it comes to calculating changes to your project.

When you find yourself juggling multiple projects, interrupted schedules, and shared resources, maintaining a schedule in a spreadsheet becomes an overwhelming task. With its dynamic scheduling engine, resource management tools, and support for better communication, Microsoft Project can help you stay on track.

What do you want to do?

Take advantage of enterprise-wide resource management

When you use spreadsheets to track projects, what happens when a single resource is assigned to multiple projects? You must manage resources outside of your project plan, either manually or with a third-party program. Resources often end up unintentionally overallocated (overallocation: The result of assigning more tasks to a resource than the resource can accomplish in the working time available.), and you can spend lots of time trying to reschedule the work.

Using Microsoft Project Server, all projects in your organization can draw from a central, enterprise-wide resource pool (resource pool: A set of resources that is available for assignment to project tasks. A resource pool can be used exclusively by one project or can be shared by several projects.). This enables project managers to quickly see the availability (availability: Indicates when and how much of a resource's time can be scheduled for assigned work. Availability is determined by project and resource calendars, resource start and finish dates, or the level at which the resource is available for work.) of a resource before assigning that resource to a task.

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Let Project calculate the effect of date changes

Let's say you've been tracking a project in a spreadsheet. This project has a task that can't start until a different project produces a specific deliverable (deliverable: A tangible and measurable result, outcome, or item that must be produced to complete a project or part of a project. Typically, the project team and project stakeholders agree on project deliverables before the project begins.). That deliverable is scheduled to be done on June 18th. It's now June 25th, and you're still waiting for it. How long will it take you to update your spreadsheet with a new date for the task that depends on that deliverable? Maybe not long if the task is near the end of the project, but what if it's near the beginning? And what if your project has well over 50 tasks? Over 100 tasks?

Project can help you quickly adjust your project schedule and resource assignments (assignment: A specific resource that is assigned to a particular task.) with its dynamic scheduling engine. It handles a date change and its effects seamlessly, accounting for all dependencies, deliverables, and resource assignments. Not only does it automatically recalculate the schedule, but Project also highlights the dates it changed so that you can quickly see the effect of each schedule shift.

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Use flexible reporting methods

You have an impromptu meeting with your manager in ten minutes to discuss your project's status. You want to bring a report of your project's progress, but on such short notice, the best that you can do is print your spreadsheet and hope that all the data is accurate. You'd like to provide your manager with a more robust report on your project, but it's just not possible on such short notice when you're using a spreadsheet.

With Project, you can quickly generate a visual report that uses a template that exports the data to a PivotDiagram in Microsoft Visio Professional. You can choose which fields that you want to highlight in the report, including any custom fields that you have set up for your project, and present a clean, concise report for your meeting with management.

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Integrate with Excel

By exporting your project data to Excel, you can continue to use its powerful spreadsheet functionality while taking advantage of Project to track your project's schedule and resources. You can also import or embed Excel data into your project plan.

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