An Introduction to Microsoft Project 2010
Managing small projects at your nonprofit or library
June 28, 2012
This article was originally published on TechSoup.org
Microsoft Project 2010 is a robust project-management platform packed with features. While it can handle enormous projects with myriad components, it can be equally useful for managing the types of small-scale projects that modestly sized nonprofits often tackle. By using Microsoft Project 2010, your project-management team can benefit from the latest updates and features of a popular and fully featured software program.
Project-management software is more often seen in the for-profit world, but nonprofits and libraries can also benefit from being able to plan out projects with multiple tasks, resources, and constraints. A project can be anything with a discrete beginning and end, such as a fundraising drive, a membership event, or a board-member search. A formal project-management approach helps tie projects in to the organization’s overall mission. With time and resources often in short supply, a systematic approach to project management means that the projects a nonprofit undertakes flow more smoothly and are more likely to deliver optimal results.
Childreach International is a nonprofit that has put Microsoft Project 2010 to good use, along with other Microsoft software the nonprofit has received through Charity Technology Trust, a TechSoup partner. Childreach International works in partnership with local communities in the developing world to help improve children’s access to healthcare, education, child rights, and protection.
Childreach International decided that they needed a more formal process to help them with project management. A lot of employees had used Microsoft Project in their previous jobs, so they felt it was a good use of their time to adopt it rather than training people to use something new. They have had good success in using Microsoft Project to guide their projects.
Now let's dive into a tutorial that showcases some of the useful features that Microsoft Project has to offer.
Starting a Project
Let’s start a simple project for a few team members to work on.
Like Microsoft’s other 2010 software, Project 2010 features a toolbar at the top where the most common actions are displayed graphically. There are tabs, such as Task, Resource, Project, View, etc., that group several related actions. If you want to open a particular type of project, for instance, go to the File tab. From there you can choose from a default "New Project," a template, or a project created through either a Microsoft Excel workbook or a SharePoint task list.
Now that we have a basic project open, let’s add some tasks. To add a task, simply place the cursor in one of the cells in the Task Name column, click, and start typing. Once you give the task a name, duration, and start date, you will see it represented graphically on the right.
Let’s imagine that a nonprofit is setting up a booth at a local fair. The booth needs to be designed, built at the site, and promoted so that people will interact with it. Let’s create a one-day "Design" task, a two-day "Build" task, and a two-day "Promote" task. The "Promote" task can happen even before the booth is set up.
Tasks can be automatically scheduled or manually scheduled. Manual scheduling allows for vague descriptions, such as "soon" or "a couple of days" for due dates and durations, but Project won’t adjust the task if something else is changed. If a task is automatically scheduled, Project will change durations and start and end dates appropriately as you alter other settings. This is important if your nonprofit or library needs to change the project timeline, which it probably will. You can change from manual to auto scheduling in the Task Mode column.
You can make tasks dependent on one another by linking them. For instance, the "Design" task for our fairground booth needs to be done before the "Build" task can occur. To link these two tasks, select them by clicking and dragging in the gray, numbered column to the left of the tasks. Then click the link button in the Schedule portion of the toolbar. By default, linking tasks means that one has to start after the other one is finished. However, you can also link tasks so that they are required to start at the same time, finish at the same time, or finish before the other task starts. To change these dependencies, double-click on the arrow that connects the two tasks.
You can also group similar tasks into phases. For example, add another task called "Prep" above the "Design" and "Build" tasks. Click and drag over all three tasks to select them and then hit the indent button in the Schedule section of the toolbar. This makes the “Prep” task into a phase, denoted by a black bar encompassing the tasks beneath it. Using phases can also help you plan from the top down – coming up with the major phases of a project first, and then breaking each phase into its component tasks.
Assigning Tasks to Team Members
So now that you’ve created all of these tasks to complete, who is going to do them? Let’s add members of your team to the Resources sheet. Go to the dropdown menu in the View section of the toolbar. By default, this will show a button for Gantt chart and a small down arrow. Click the down-arrow part to get the list of views. Choose More Views, and then scroll down to choose Resource Sheet. Click Apply.
Here you will add resources much in the same way you added tasks. Click a cell in the Resource Name column and type in the team member’s name. In our fairground booth example, we have team members Allen and Jackie and a volunteer who has agreed to build the booth.
Project 2010 has a simple method for assigning tasks to specific resources: the Team Planner. The Team Planner view is new to Project 2010 and makes assigning tasks as easy as dragging and dropping.
To easily get to the Team Planner view, click the Resource tab in the toolbar and then click the Team Planner icon on the far left. You will see the resources at the top of the screen and unassigned tasks at the bottom. (You may have to drag the bar that separates the two sections upwards a bit to see the tasks.)
Drag a task that you want to assign to the row of the respective team member and align it with the date column. For linked tasks, like our "Design" and "Build," Project will warn you if the date you drop the task on is incompatible with the dependency you have already set up. Switch back to the Gantt chart view and you can see to whom each task has been assigned, along with its duration and start and end dates.
Another great new feature in Project 2010 is the ability to create project timelines quickly and easily. While on the Task tab, simply highlight the tasks you want to see on the timeline and click Add to Timeline in the Properties section of the toolbar. The timeline expands between the toolbar and the Gantt chart areas with the new tasks assigned to it.
Sharing Your Project with Others
Project offers a number of options for sharing your project with other team members. In the File tab, choose Save & Send from the options on the left-hand side. You can send the project as an email attachment or sync it with a SharePoint server. You can also save it to a SharePoint site. If you have a particular file type that you need for your project, such as a PDF, you can choose that in the File Types section.
Project management is a systematic approach to making the best use of limited resources while achieving program goals. Microsoft Project 2010 makes applying project-management principles to any nonprofit's endeavor easy and rewarding. Project 2010 can handle the smallest projects that need resource allocation, scheduling, and progress tracking, but it’s also capable of managing extremely elaborate and large-scale projects. For more about what Project can do, look into the resources below or try out the program yourself to see what capabilities would be useful for your organization’s technology needs.
About the Author:
Trenton DuVal is a contributing editor at NetSquared, a project of TechSoup Global.