Among Microsoft Project 2000’s most useful features is its ability to automate e-mail messages about almost every aspect of a Project plan, from status updates to tasks assignments. This feature, which is configured via Project’s Workgroup options sheet, can save time for the consultant or project manager. Setting up these features takes about 15 minutes, and when you’re done, you’ll never again have to copy and paste a Project task into a blank e-mail message.

Second in a series

This is the second installment in a series of articles on Microsoft Project features that consultants can use to manage distributed teams. The first article discussed Microsoft Project’s built-in workgroup management features. The next will cover the Microsoft Project Central feature.

Background issues
Before deciding to implement the Microsoft Project Workgroup features, you should review these two key underlying issues.

OS/mail client compatibility: Workgroup features can be used on any Windows platform from 95 through XP. Team members don’t need to have the full Microsoft Project client installed, and the Workgroup features work with many e-mail programs, including Outlook and Eudora. However, this function integrates best with Microsoft’s own e-mail system, Outlook. In fact, Microsoft Project tasks that are accepted via Outlook mail instantly integrate onto the user’s Outlook Tasks list.

Security: Workgroup features do not pose unique security vulnerabilities in and of themselves. However, these features do demand the same precautions you would take prior to installing any program that makes client systems open to information exchange via the Internet.

For example, these features should only be run on systems that have updated antivirus products. In addition, all users of the Workgroup features should be educated on handling file attachments.

Existing network security architecture may also pose a problem with running Microsoft Project Workgroup features seamlessly. Some organizations block users from running file attachments directly in their e-mail program. Users may get a warning or may not even see the file attachment. Project managers may have difficulty sending out messages because Workgroup features access your e-mail client’s address book, which existing security measures may erroneously detect as a virus at work.

The best way of dealing with these issues is to speak to your MIS department and walk them through how these features work. In most instances, there will be easy workarounds for security blocks without completely disabling them. If you are working with team members outside your organization, make sure you also let the MIS department know.

Setting up
Setting up Microsoft Project Workgroup features requires three primary steps:

  1. Install and configure Microsoft Project Workgroup features on the project manager’s system that’s running Project 2000.
  2. Distribute installation files and the short tutorial for Microsoft Project Workgroup features to team members.
  3. Run a test scenario for Microsoft Project Workgroup features between the project manager and team members.

Installing Microsoft Project Workgroup features on the project manager’s system
The steps for installing Microsoft Project Workgroup features on a project manager’s system are:

  1. Locate the \WGSETUP folder on the Microsoft Project CD.
  2. Click WGsetup.exe to install Project Workgroup features.
  3. Click Continue to bypass the startup screen.
  4. Type the username and organization in the appropriate fields and click OK.
  5. Confirm the installation folder and then click OK. (Change the location for installation if you desire.)
  6. Choose the Program Group in which the program icons will appear and then click Continue.
  7. Click OK to confirm the successful installation of Project Workgroup features.

Configure Microsoft Project Workgroup features on project manager’s system
Only two setup features are mandatory for using workgroup features. First, you need to confirm that e-mail is the default method for handling workgroup messages. The steps are:

  1. Open a Microsoft Project file for which you will use the workgroup features.
  2. Access Tools | Options and then click the Workgroup tab.
  3. Make sure that Email is indicated in the Default Workgroup Messages field, then click OK to return to main Project window. (If you were to select Web in the Default Workgroup Messages field, you’d active the Project Central intranet functionality that we’ll discuss in our next installment.) See Figure A.

Figure A

Second, you need to identify the e-mail addresses for each team member. The most straightforward method is to use the Resource Sheet to type in each team member’s e-mail address.

  1. Open the Resource Sheet from the View toolbar to the left of the main Project window.
  2. Select the location on the Resource Sheet where you will insert the Email Address column (it will be to the left of the column you highlight).
  3. Choose Column from the Insert menu, select the Email Address field from the list window, and click OK.

After adding the Email Address field to the Resources Sheet, enter the e-mail address for each team member in the appropriate cell, as illustrated in Figure B.

Figure B

You can also tell Project to access your e-mail client’s address book to select the correct e-mail profile. Using this method, if a user’s e-mail address is changed in the address book, the Project file will automatically update.

To enable this feature, access the Assign Resources dialog box from the toolbar, select a team member, and click the Address button. Project will prompt you through the selection process. Repeat this for each team member. (See Figure C.)

Figure C

The optional elements for configuring workgroup features are located in the Tools | Customize Workgroup dialog box, as shown in Figure D.

Figure D

From here, you can do the following:

  • Customize the list of fields shown in workgroup messages. You can also indicate which ones the recipient can edit.
  • Indicate how recipients will report work hours for each task: by day, by week, or for the entire period you have defined in the workgroup message.
  • Indicate whether or not you want to track overtime hours.
  • Indicate whether or not team members can decline tasks.

You should set all these properties for each project file. To cut down on some overhead, you can create an Microsoft Project template with the settings you prefer and use it for each new project.

Distributing workgroup installation files to team members
Once you have set up your Project file, most of your work is done. At this point, package the workgroup installation files from the Microsoft Project CD in a .zip file or other self-extracting archive. This file can be set via e-mail or placed on a Web/ftp site for team members to download and run on their client systems.

Testing workgroup features
I have used Project’s Workgroup features on several projects and have learned through trial and error that it’s best to run a test scenario to uncover any possible issues or questions. This test should involve the project manager, team members, and MIS if necessary. It involves sending out only a few workgroup messages, having team members respond, and taking note of any issues that arise.

You will not have to run this test for every project, but you might have to for any major elements that may change (e.g., working with different organizations, changes to e-mail/security configurations.) It may take a day or two to actually complete the whole drill, but if you don’t uncover any big issues, you will spend only a few minutes actually running the test.

Are there other features of Microsoft Project that save you time?

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