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Microsoft Project 2010 : Setting Up Project for Your Use - Defining Project Information (part 1) - Understanding the Project Information Dialog Box

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10/28/2014 9:42:39 PM

When you sit down to plan the scope of a new project, it is important to ask yourself exactly what your objectives are, and to take your time and be thorough. Planning a project can be daunting, especially to the novice project planner, but taking the time to plan and organize your project at its beginning provides for much smoother and more efficient execution during later project stages. Project 2010 will aid tremendously in the process of planning, creating, and maintaining a schedule that is appropriate for the project you will manage.

There is no such thing as perfect project planning. It is inevitable that situations will arise during your project that require modifying your plan. The best defense is a comprehensive, realistic project schedule that anticipates setbacks and provides the foundation for your success as a project manager.

Tip

You should enter all known information about the project at the beginning. The more information you know about any aspect of the project, the more consistent and organized your project will be.


How you configure Microsoft Project 2010 affects how you schedule and manage your project. These settings can vary from project to project, and you should make them work for your benefit. You can change many of these settings after you have entered tasks and resources into the project, but by addressing these issues up front, you can make Microsoft Project work for you, and avoid working against Microsoft Project.

Microsoft Project is an excellent tool to help you manage the three main areas of information of any project schedule (scope, schedule, and cost), but before you enter any tasks, you should ask yourself the following questions:

  • What makes up my entire project? What is the agreed-upon work scope and what should be considered out of scope?

  • What expectations have already been set for start and completion dates? Do I have any set constraints on the schedule of this project? If so, the scope of the project must be very tightly managed.

  • How much is the project going to cost? Do I have any set constraints on the budget of this project? Again, if expectations have been set, the project scope must be closely managed.

These questions will help you establish the correct parameters for creating the schedule.

Understanding the Project Information Dialog Box

You can define, view, and edit some key information about your project using the Project Information dialog box. To view the Project Information dialog box, click the Project tab, Project Information. The Project Information dialog box will appear (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. The Project Information dialog box enables you to set high-level properties for your schedule dates and scheduling approach, make calendar choices, and enter custom field data, if you have created custom fields.

The Project Information dialog box is used for entering basic information about a project. It includes project start and finish dates, as well as the base calendar to use for scheduling. The following sections describe the settings in the Project Information dialog box in greater detail.

You can also view Summary Project Information by selecting the File tab, Info. Underneath the thumbnail view of your project, Project Information is summarized in the right-hand pane.

Note

The Project Information dialog box in Project Professional also includes additional, enterprise fields that are not part of the Project Standard. These fields include Priority and any project-level enterprise custom fields. Note that the Priority field also exists in Project Standard, but the only place where you can specify it is if you display the zero-level project summary task in the Gantt Chart view.


Start Date, Finish Date, and Schedule From

One of the key decisions to make in the Project Information dialog box is whether you are going to schedule your project from the start date or from the finish date. By default, Project uses the start date. This is the preferred method of scheduling because it provides the most flexibility in determining when work must begin. Tasks within the schedule are set to begin as soon as possible so there are no artificial time delays in the plan. The finish date will also be as soon as possible, based on the relationships established between tasks. Most project managers use this default option if they can because it is intuitive and the logic is easy to follow.

Often project managers are given a target end date, and consequently, might be tempted to set the Schedule From option to “Project Finish Date.” If tasks’ task mode is set to Auto Scheduled, and as always there is too much work and too little time, the project start date will be calculated into the past. Deciphering how to pull the start date forward to a current date is much more problematic because all of the tasks are starting as late as possible. This method is time-consuming and difficult to manage, so be aware of the consequences if you choose to use it.

In Figure 2, the project is scheduled to begin on Monday, January 3rd, 2011. You can change the start date by typing the date in the Start Date field, or by clicking the drop-down arrow and choosing the date from the calendar. When you enter a start date, Project schedules the first auto-scheduled task to begin on that date, and calculates the project’s schedule based on that date and the sequence of auto-scheduled tasks that follow.

Note

You cannot choose both a start date and a finish date for your project. If you schedule from the start date, Project automatically calculates the finish date based on the duration of the project’s tasks. If you schedule from a finish date, Project schedules the project’s final task to finish on that date, and its start date is determined by the duration of the tasks.


Click the drop-down arrow in the Schedule From field and choose Project Finish Date to schedule your project from the finish date. You can enter the date in the Finish date field by typing it in or choosing from the calendar with the drop-down arrow. Project schedules the final task to finish on the finish date, and schedules the task before it to finish in time for the final task to start, and so on, until the first task is scheduled and the project now has a defined start date.

If you choose Project Start Date in the Schedule From field, Project allows you to enter only the start date. If you choose Project Finish Date, you can enter only the finish date. You can change this setting as often as you like, but be aware that the logic at the task level does not automatically change, so the logic for the task constraint type will remain as it was.

Tip

Although Project provides the ability to schedule the project from a finish date, it is not recommended. Most common practice is to schedule the project from the start date, which is also easier to manage because if the schedule slips, it is more natural to perform actions that bring it back to the planned finish. If you do decide to schedule the project from the finish date and the project slips, Project will push the start date further into the past. Unless you are experienced with Project and project management concepts, it will be difficult for you to manage the situation and figure out the appropriate actions to repair the schedule. It is also a lot more natural for most people to schedule forward instead of backward.


Current Date and Status

Project uses the Current Date and Status Date fields to perform several date-related calculations. The Current Date is supplied automatically from your computer’s internal clock. When viewing the Gantt Chart, the dashed date line represents the current date, defined by this field. Because it can lead to unnecessary confusion, it is not recommended that you change the Current Date field, unless your computer’s internal clock is incorrect. If you leave the Status Date box as NA, Project uses the Current Date as the Status Date.

You can use the Current Date as a point of reference when tracking progress. However, if you want to track progress using a date other than the Current Date, you enter that date in the Status Date field. The status date is what Project uses for calculating Earned Value and other tracking purposes.

For example, it is typical that project managers will track a week’s progress after the end of that week. If on Monday a project manager wanted to track the progress from the previous week, then he or she would enter the previous Friday’s date (or whatever date the workweek ended on) in the Status Date box. That information is then processed back to the project schedule and to the project manager, and he or she would use a status date that reflects the latest information.

To change the Current Date field or enter a Status Date setting, select the box and either type in the date or choose it from the calendar via the drop-down arrow.
Calendar

Project uses base calendars to define the default working and nonworking days for scheduling both manually and auto-scheduled tasks. In the Project Information dialog box, click the Calendar drop-down field to view all available base calendars, including the ones you have defined yourself. Out-of-the-box Project contains three base calendars:

  • 24 Hour— Continuous time from midnight to midnight, 24 hours a day.

  • Night Shift— Used for overnight work that begins at the start of one night and finishes the following morning.

  • Standard— The standard workweek in the United States: 40 hours, 5 days, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., with an hour lunch break.

The default base calendar is the Standard calendar. This calendar assumes five days of work each week (Monday through Friday), from 8:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m., an hour for lunch, and then 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. This Standard calendar does not designate set holidays; you have to do that yourself. To define the base calendar best suited for your project, you can edit the Standard calendar, use one of the other built-in base calendars, or create your own base calendar.

Statistics

Next to the Help button is the Statistics button. Click this button to view the Project Statistics dialog box. This box contains brief summary information about the project. You can also view it by clicking File tab, Info, Project Information, Project Statistics. Figure 2 shows the Project Statistics dialog box.

Figure 2. The Project Statistics dialog box provides a quick summary of a project’s status.

Data in the Project Statistics dialog box cannot be modified. It is simply a quick reference to view or print.

The top pane shows project Start and Finish dates in relation to current projections, the baselined planning assumptions, actual progress recorded, and the variance between the baseline and the current projections (you can identify the baseline used for this comparison by selecting the File tab, Options, Advanced, Baseline for Earned Value Calculation).

The bottom pane shows project Duration, Work, and Cost in relation to current projections, baselined planning assumptions, actual progress recorded, and remaining amounts. The remainders are calculated by comparing the actual progress to current projections.

Finally, in the bottom-left corner, the entire project duration and project work are shown in terms of percent complete.

The Project Statistics dialog box in Figure 2 displays statistics mid-way through the project’s duration; out of the scheduled 43 days, 24.99 days have been completed, or 51% overall. The Project Statistics box also includes Start and Finish variance values that enable you to easily see how many days the Start or the Finish dates vary from those that you planned.

Click Close to exit the Project Statistics dialog box.

Priority

The Priority field allows you to set the priority of the project. Although it is visible within the Project Information dialog box only if you are using Project Professional, you can still set it within Project Standard.

The Priority field is helpful when you are sharing a group of resources with other projects. When you use the leveling feature in Microsoft Project, if a resource is assigned to work on tasks from different projects at the same time, the project with the higher priority level is what the resource will be leveled to work on first.

All projects have the same priority level until you change it. The priority starts at a mid-point, 500. 1000 is the highest priority, and 0 is the lowest. See Figure 3 for an illustration of the Project Information dialog box in Project Professional, which contains the Priority field.
Figure 3. The Project Information dialog box in Project Professional has two additional fields: Priority and the Custom Fields.

Unsurprisingly, there are at least three ways to set the project priority:

1.
From the Project Information dialog box, which you can reach through either the File tab or the Project tab.

2.
By exposing the project summary task (File tab, Options, Advanced, Show Project Summary Task), selecting the task row, selecting the Task tab, and clicking the Information control.

Tip

The Priority field is not as useful within Project Standard as it is within Project Professional because you cannot easily compare the project to other projects you have created within the system. One of the ways to compare the project priorities is to create a master project or combine projects into one Project view using the Window command, such as when you want to review project priorities within a program.

3.
By exposing the project summary task, adding the Priority column by right-clicking on one of the columns in the view, selecting Insert Column, and then selecting Priority from the drop-down list.


Custom Fields

In Project Professional, the Custom Fields Table appears in the Project Information dialog box. The custom fields shown in the Project Information dialog box are Enterprise Custom Fields set within the server environment and do not exist in Project Standard.

 
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