n this latest Microsoft Project release, you’ll find a lot of practical project management tools in addition to some useful bells and whistles to help in your delivery. Microsoft Project 2010 comes with some new features that are a welcome relief to the Microsoft Project learning curve.
1. The Ribbon Navigation
The first and most obvious change is the replacement of menus with the “Fluent User Interface (UI)”, more commonly known as The Ribbon. Since I first used Project in 1996, we’ve had a range of features that were hidden in menus. Now, this interface—already in place for core Office 2007 products—provides more graphical and contextual information by combining the menu and toolbars.
Compare this snapshot of a common Project 2007 menu, with toolbars.
With this view of the Fluent UI, which shows those commands used most often with a larger icon. The UI shows only relevant commands depending on what you’re viewing, such as the Gantt Chart Tools tab that appears at the right because of the active Gantt Chart view.
Compare the Format menu for the Gantt Chart…
with the Format menu for the Network Diagram.
You can even customize the Ribbon so that it contains exactly what you want to see where you want to see it.
Yes, it took me a while to get used to this new interface, and I’m still working to find some of my old friends. Nonetheless, after a brief period of adjustment I am finding that I’m able to use a lot more of the tools more quickly (and, most of my old Keyboard Shortcuts work in the same manner).
2. The Timeline
The Timeline area displays in a simple view the key phases and milestones associated with a Project Schedule. This feature, though simple, is remarkably beneficial for quickly showing everyone the high-level view of the project and its deliverables.
You can easily add to the Timeline by right-clicking a Task or Milestone, and choosing Add To Timeline. In addition, the Timeline shows the time frame shown in the Gantt Chart, as shown below.
3. Manually Scheduled Tasks
When first planning a project, it’s likely that you will have some dates associated with your phases (represented by Summary Tasks), specific tasks, or milestones. Now, rather than Project always assigning a default date and duration to tasks and milestones, you can create Manually Scheduled Tasks.
Observe in the picture below:
- Task 1 is Automatically Scheduled: the Task Mode property (which now appears as a column in the default Gantt Chart view) is set to Automatically Scheduled. This mode is what you’re used to from previous versions of Project. It is, however, no longer the default mode.
- Task 2 is Manually Scheduled: the Task Mode property defaults to the Manually Scheduled, which prevents the scheduling engine from acting on the task.
- Task 3: You can change this Task Mode property using the drop-down field, or by selecting the Manually Scheduled checkbox in the Details (formerly Split Screen) view.
While we may argue about when or whether one should use the Manually Scheduled task mode, or set it to the default mode, I personally feel that it provides a needed tool that Projects Schedulers can use when it is appropriate.
4. Team Planner (Professional Only*)
How can you tell whether your resources are working more hours than they have time available? When will your resources work on tasks? When are they available? In Project 2007 and could to use assignment views, such as Task Usage and Resource Usage. With Project 2010, you can use the newly minted Team Planner.
This excellent view focuses on the resources, and the tasks to which they are assigned.
In this view, you can see that the Programmer is overallocated: we know this because he shows highlighted in red. However, unlike previous versions we can see not only that he is overallocated, but where he is overallocated in the Gantt Chart view. Notice the red lines show the overallocated time.
Now, we have several options for resolving this issue:
- Use the Leveling tools, which were available in previous versions of project
- Use the Move Task menu, and choose the When Resources Are Available entry
- Manually drag and drop the task from the Programmer
- ….to the Tester (not that we’d want to do that in real life).
This graphical view of resources can help Project Managers visualize the allocation of resources to activities, and more easily work to resolve issues of overallocation.
5. SharePoint Synchronization (Professional Only*)
Project Managers who have the 2010 versions of Windows SharePoint Services (WSS) or Microsoft Office SharePoint Services running will be able to synchronize project schedules with SharePoint-based Task Lists.
In the new Outspace’s Share area, you can connect to the SharePoint site, and then configure the fields you with to synchronize. Most exciting: the synchronization is bi-directional and will allow you to update fields from either the Project client or the Task list on the server; and, you can synchronize custom fields.
The new features of Microsoft Project 2010 desktop will make developing and managing a project more intuitive for Project Managers new to the tool, and will provide many new tools that will enhance the experience for existing Project Managers.