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Microsoft Project 2010 : Creating Master Schedules (part 1) - Setting Up a Master Project File

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1/24/2013 5:53:50 PM

This section explains what a master schedule is and how to create one. Master projects let you create rolled-up reports across multiple projects and create external dependencies between tasks in different projects.

1. Setting Up a Master Project File

A master project is a file that contains inserted projects from other source files that can be linked dynamically. If you choose to link to the source file, then every time the source file is modified or changed in any way, the master file is automatically updated to reflect those changes. You also have the choice to make changes to project information while in the master file; those changes are automatically reflected in the source file. In other words, this is a bidirectional dynamic link.

If you choose not to link the inserted project file, the current version of that file is inserted; there is no synchronization between the files if one changes.

To set up a master project file, you can either insert project files into an existing project file or create a new one from scratch. In this example, you'll create a new project file from scratch. Follow these steps to begin a new master project file:

  1. Click the File tab to get to the backstage.

  2. Click the New tab.

  3. Under Available Templates, double-click Blank Project.

  4. Click the File tab in the newly created project file.

  5. Click Save As, and save the new blank project with an appropriate name, such as Master <_______> Project.

You now have a blank shell into which you can insert subprojects or existing project files. Instead of entering tasks into the Task Name column, follow these steps to insert existing project files into the master project file, as shown in Figure 1:

  1. Go to Project tab => Insert group, and click the Subproject button.

  2. In the Insert Project dialog box, select the project file (or multiple files, using the Ctrl key) to be inserted.

  3. Select the Link to Project option if you wish.

  4. Click the Insert button to insert as read/write, or choose Insert Read-Only from the Insert drop-down list.

Figure 1. Inserting subprojects into a master project file

As you can see in Figure 1, you have the choice to insert the project file as read-only. Doing so allows the dynamic link to exist but doesn't let users of the master file save any changes made to the source file. This is useful if you're using the master file for reporting and communication purposes and you don't want the users to make changes to the data in the source files.

Real World Scenario: Master Files for Dashboard Reporting

I worked with a biotechnology company that needed to track five milestones across each of its development projects. The client wanted to be able to capture an overview of these milestones in a one-page report. The company didn't want anyone to change the source data from the master file; only project managers were allowed to make changes to their respective project files. So, in this case, it made sense to insert the project files into the master file as read-only.

After the master file was set up, I created a filtered view specifically to display the five milestones across the projects. Because the client wanted the milestones to be automatically updated, project files had to be inserted with the Link to Project option: that way, when a project manager updated the source plan, the filtered view in the master file stayed in sync.

To generate the weekly milestones report across projects, the client opened the master plan, clicked the Custom Filtered view, and could quickly generate a report to print or copy into a presentation.

After you create the master file, you can save it with the inserted files embedded, so that the next time you open the master file it automatically finds the source files. Because the embedded files point to source plans in specific locations on your network or hard drive, it's important to keep the source files in a folder or location where they won't be moved. This way, when you open the master file, Project will find the source files when it searches for them using the embedded location. If you move the source files, Project will force you to search for the inserted project; if it can't be found, you'll get the message shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. The file can't be found.

My recommendation is to keep the source files in the same location and avoid moving them, so the master file is stable. If you create a master file that isn't linked to the source file, then this is a moot point, because the master file won't search for the source files. This kind of master file, which doesn't link to source files, is a static snapshot of the inserted files that can be saved as a one-off file. Because master files are so easy to create in Project 2010, this option is useful for sharing consolidated plans.

When you save a master file, you're first prompted to save the master file, and subsequently you're prompted to save the inserted files. If you make changes to the source files in the master, you're prompted to save them; select Yes or No for each individual inserted project, Yes to All, or No to All, to save or not save all the projects at one time, as shown in Figure .

Figure 3. Saving master files

In Figure 14.3, two of the inserted projects have red exclamation marks beside them, indicating that they were inserted as read-only files. If you make changes and try to save them, you'll be prompted to save under different filenames.

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