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Microsoft Project Annoyances

Microsoft Project is a great planning tool but some features drive you crazy. A little more human engineering would have made the Project easier to learn and to use.  

ISP Microsoft Project Annoyances
Annoyance Business Impact Solutions
1. Column overflows. Microsoft prints "#####'  for overflow indicator similar to Excel.  
This also occurs in summary totals due to different levels of precision being rolled up.

The symbol "######" confuses new users who may not know why they can't see a result. False design because you don't get extra precision through multiplication. For example Work = 21.5 d * 7.5 h/d = 161.25 hours. The .25 is in 161.25 is false accuracy. Really the answer should be 161 hours. 

Rather than printing ##### which indicates a column overflow, the spurious decimal digits should be truncated so the column does not overflow. As well column overflow can be avoided by abbreviating the units.
Microsoft Project runs precedence arrows through task boxes on the Network diagram. As well Microsoft overlaps arrows through the center of the boxes. Makes it difficult to follow precedence arrows from one task to another which reduces the usefulness of the network diagram.  Microsoft should route the arrows around task boxes so a user can follow an arrow. The diagonal arrow format helps a bit
Dragging and moving tasks in your project schedule can destroy your plan if 'Autolink inserted and moved tasks' is left turned on. Microsoft Project unlinks the precedents for your task from the old position and links it into the new tasks in the new position without any warning. Changing precedents can have a big impact on your schedule. Turn 'Autolink inserted and moved tasks' off using tools-> options -> Schedule.
Conversion units for hours per day and hours per week have a huge impact. You cannot easily change this after you have loaded your plan. Microsoft Project uses these values to convert a duration or work value from days or weeks to hours. Somehow lock these figures after the first task has been loaded. Prompt a user when they setup a plan.

To completely avoid this problem by measuring work and duration in hours.

2. Rates are attached to resource pools and not to projects. 
  • Many clients negotiate different rates for each project.
Disconnect the project from the resource pool. Resource rates then apply to only this project.
Lack of easy access to assignment data.  For example would like to be able to build assignment filters.  
No access to time phased data such as timesheet postings.    
3. Unable to define shifts that run over midnight.
  • Use Microsoft Project to manage execution of project phases.
  • Communicate assignments 
  • Manage scope creep with change control.
  • Manage resource assignments.
  1. Split the midnight shifts into 2 shifts.
  2. Microsoft could relax this edit rule.
  3. This has been fixed in project 2007.
Summary task durations tied to critical path of sub tasks. When you insert the first sub task , you lose all the duration information stored in the summary task collapsing you plan.  Use a span task to step the summary task duration collapsing.
5. Universal default durations for duration and work should apply at all levels in the plan.
  • Mange workload over multiple projects. 
  • Forecast resource needs so new projects can start on time.
Change the duration measurement for large values.
Working time and elapsed time stored in the same field. Learn shortcuts to work more effectively with Microsoft Project

Reduce learning curve for new project managers using Microsoft Project

  1. Create quick setup with combination views.
  2. Build a plan with a template
  3. Use shared resource pools.
  4. Use outline numbers to communicate structure of summary tasks and sub tasks.
  5. Open multiple windows on a project to speed view switching.
  6. Create a calendar for each shift pattern
  7. Assigning resources to tasks.
Units does not display on the Resource Schedule detail format in the task form so you have to flip back to the Resource Work or 'Resource and predecessor' detail format.. Units and Work are the parameters for scheduling resource assignments.  The task forms now have room to include the Units column in the 'Resource Schedule' detailed form with the larger resolution LCD screens in common use.
email Brian Mullen with your questions


planning corp.
5361 Malaspina Place
North Vancouver
B.C.V7R 4L9
Easy to remember
ISPangle.com or iSPANGLE.com.

Copyright March  11, 2007 Brian Mullen, I.S.P. information systems planning corp.
Last updated: December 5, 2008