Contributor Brian Kennemer often writes about Microsoft Project for TechRepublic’s IT communities. Here are two tips to help you make the most of Microsoft Project.

Another view on your data
Many Project users love to update or view information about their tasks with one of the task forms in the lower pane of their project plan. Splitting the screen using the Window | Split command allows you to see two views at the same time, with the lower pane being filtered for information that pertains only to the selection in the upper pane.

What you may not know is that this also works with either of the Usage views in the upper pane. You can select an assignment row in the Usage view and the lower pane will show you information about the task to which that assignment belongs (see Figure A).

Figure A
Split screen in Microsoft Project

Anyone who spends time using Microsoft Project will see that the best way to manipulate data for time-scaled assignments is in the Usage views, but the best way to make changes to whole tasks is with the task form because it allows you to change several fields at once.

To configure your view this way, simply open the Usage view of your choice—found on the left-hand side of the page—and then select Window | Split. Now right-click in the lower pane and pick the form you want to use.

Mark your status updates “accurate”
One of the many issues plaguing project managers is the fact that status reports and status updates to a Project plan are only accurate the second they’re received by the project manager. By the time the information is taken in by the project manager, processed, checked, and entered into the Project plan, it’s already out of date.

Even if you have a very good timesheet system that feeds directly into Microsoft Project, you’ll always have a latency period of at least a few hours. For most organizations, the latency for status updates is several days.

Microsoft Project can give you a place to notify those looking at your plan of the date the status was given. This is called the Status Date, and you can access it in the Project Information dialog box, which is found by choosing Project | Project Information.

Set the Status Date to equal the date the status was accurate. Then you can have Project draw a line on the Gantt chart to show the status date. Select Format | Gridlines. From the list, pick Status Date, and then choose a format and color for the line. Now your users will see the Status Date on the Gantt chart (see Figure B).

Figure B
Gantt chart with line showing status date

Share your Microsoft Project tips with us

Do you have suggestions for getting the most from Microsoft Project that have worked well for you or your clients? Tell us about them  in your comments below.