Microsoft Project Central is a great tool for managing projects involving distributed teams. Those of you who used Project Central in Microsoft Project 98 will find that the Project 2000 version has many more features. It’s not a tool that can be set up in a few minutes, though. It requires a decent technology infrastructure, someone who’s familiar with Internet Information Services and Windows server administration and security, and someone who can serve as the Project Central Administrator. It also proves most useful for project managers who handle multiple projects.

While there is a slight learning curve for managers and team members, its ability to centralize project communication and status reporting make it an extremely valuable tool. This article covers the features team members will commonly use in Project Central.

Third in a series

This article, the third of four that explore Microsoft Project, details features most used by team members in Project Central. The next installment will show how project managers use Project Central and how it is implemented. Previous articles covered Project’s workgroup management features and its utilization of e-mail.

To use Project Central, team members must have the following:

  • A Windows operating system: Internet Explorer and Browser Module for Project Central only run on a Windows platform.
  • Internet Explorer 4.01 or greater: If team members don’t run Internet Explorer, you can give them the Browser Module for Project Central from the Project CD to install.
  • A Microsoft Project Central access license: Managers need a copy of Microsoft Project to use Project Central; however, users only need an access license. The price of an access license is significantly less than purchasing a copy of Microsoft Project for everyone. An access license costs around $500 for the full version or $200 for the upgrade. (Both prices come from Microsoft’s site.)
  • Outlook: If team members want to transfer nonproject work activities to Project Central to maintain one central timesheet, they’ll need to have Outlook installed.

Common features
Project Central has several features for team members. Here’s a look at the most common ones.

Logon and Change Password
Project managers generally create Project Central user accounts when they submit the project to the Project Central site. The default password on the user account is blank (see Figure A).

Figure A
The logon screen

Once team members have logged on for the first time, they’ll be prompted to change their passwords. Team members will do so by clicking Yes in the dialog box. Once the password screen appears, team members will enter the new password once in the New Password field and again in the Confirm Password field before clicking the Change Password button. Project Central will prompt the user to reenter a password if it isn’t the minimum length required or is too easy to break.

Main Screen and Navigation
Once team members are logged on, they’ll be able to access features with the top tabs or the items under the Actions heading on the left (see Figure B).

Figure B
Main screen

Notice also that the main page provides a summary of what’s going on with individual team members’ project activities, including incoming messages, new tasks, overdue tasks, and status reports due.

Respond to Messages
Team members can view and respond to project managers’ messages, including task assignments, task updates, and request for status reports messages (see Figure C). This feature is actually the Web-based equivalent of responding to messages in Project’s e-mail workgroup features. (For more details, review the article in this series on using e-mail workgroup features.)

Figure C

Maintain Timesheet
Team members can track the hours they worked on one or multiple projects. Timesheet information is submitted automatically to the project manager when team members send a status report.

Figure D
Team member timesheet page

To maintain a timesheet (see Figure D), team members enter the number of hours worked on a task by day.

Transfer calendar entries from Outlook
If team members use Outlook as an e-mail client, they can transfer their calendar entries for the purpose of updating nonproject activities or nonwork items (see Figure E).

Figure E
Transfer calendar entries from Outlook, step 1

Team members can choose either to send the timesheet to the manager or Project Central. Since managers need to be in the loop and to keep the team member’s timesheet information in one location, team members should run the wizard twice, once for the manager and once for Project Central.

Next, the team members need to choose the date range for tasks being transferred (see Figure F).

Figure F
Transfer calendar entries from Outlook, step 2

On the next screen (see Figure G), the team members can edit the actual hours for tasks to be imported. Team members must indicate Yes in the Send To Timesheet field for each task to be imported.

Figure G
Transfer calendar entries from Outlook, step 3

Next, the team members confirm the items to be imported. A confirmation that updates have been made will appear in a dialog box.

Submit a Status Report
Team members can submit status reports that have been requested by a project manager or ones that they initiate. On the Status Reports Overview page, the team member can view a list of status reports requested by the project manager (see Figure H).

Figure H

On the Status Reports page (see Figure I), the team member types information into each section of the status report. (These sections are predefined by the project manager when the status report request is generated.) Team members can even insert tasks that they have completed into the Major Accomplishments section.

Figure I

Team members will click the Send button once the report is finished. A confirmation dialog box will appear once the report is sent.

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