One of the most power project management tool combinations is Microsoft Project 2010 and Microsoft Visio 2010. Importing project schedule information into Visio gives you more options for visualizing and presenting the data in presentations and status reports. It’s become increasingly important to communicate project management information to a wider audience in response to increased stakeholder attention to the finer details in projects.

Here are some ways that Visio 2010 can help you visualize and present project schedule information.

Create a project timeline with Visio

While the presentation capabilities of Microsoft Project 2010 are improving, Visio 2010 offers nice drag and drop control over how you present project information in a report or a presentation. Creating a timeline from scratch in Visio is ideal for smaller timelines or for project overview documents.

To create a project timeline from scratch in Visio, follow these steps:

1. Open Microsoft Visio.

2. Double-click Schedule under Template Categories.

3. Double-click Timeline to open the Timeline Visio template (Figure A).
Figure A

The Visio Timeline Template (Click the image to enlarge.)

4. Drag one of the timelines to the blank Visio page. Your options are: Ruler Timeline, Divided Timeline, Cylindrical Timeline.

5. Configure the timeline using the settings in the Configure Timeline dialog box and click OK. The timeline appears with the time configuration you set (Figure B).
Figure B

A Visio Timeline (Click the image to enlarge.)

6. Drag and drop milestones onto your timeline. Configure the milestone you dropped in the Configure Milestone dialog box.

Now that you have a basic timeline created, you can use Visio’s other formatting tools like the Design tab to change the appearance, background, colors, and effects you want to use with the timeline in your report or presentation.

Import project schedule data into a timeline

Creating a timeline in Visio is fine for small projects or if you want to create an overview schedule for a presentation. You also have the option to import project scheduling data into a Visio timeline.

To import scheduling data into a timeline, follow these steps:

1. Open Visio.

2. Open a Visio timeline template.

3. Click the Timeline tab to open the Timeline ribbon.

4. Click Import Data. The Import Timeline Data dialog box will appear (Figure C).
Figure C

Import Timeline Data dialog box (Click the image to enlarge.)

5. Click Browse. The Import Timeline Dialog Wizard appears.

6. Select the Project file you want to import into the Visio timeline. Click Open.

7. Click Next. The Import Timeline Wizard dialog box appears.

8. Select the Task Types you want to include in the timeline.

9. Click Next. Specify how you want the Timeline, Milestone, and Interval to render.

10. Click Next. The Import Timeline Wizard shows the diagram’s final specifications. Click Finish. Figure D shows an example of a Visio timeline created using data from Microsoft Project.
Figure D

A Visio Timeline created with data imported from Microsoft Project (Click the image to enlarge.)

Like most data imports between applications, don’t expect perfection. Figure D shows a raw import of data that needs some massaging in Visio. However, the massaging isn’t going to take a graphic artist because cleaning up the diagram is all drag and drop. Place your cursor on a Visio element you want to move, hold down the right mouse button, drag the element to where you want it, and release.

To delete an element as part of the cleanup, you need to select it so the grab handles appear, and then press Delete.

Create a Work Breakdown Structure with Visio

You can integrate Visio 2010 and Project 2010 by using the free WBS Modeler add-in for Visio 2010 (Figure E). With it, you can open a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) diagram using Visio 2010.

Using the add-in is a smooth process. The template has an import option similar to the other templates I highlight in this article.

The add-in includes its own user guide as part of the download to guide you through creating a WBS. Based on my testing, the add-in works better for visualizing a WBS for a smaller project or a phase of a larger project. When you install the add-in, it creates a Visio template called WBS Modeler.

Figure E

Use the free WBS Modeler add-in for Visio 2010 (Click the image to enlarge.)

While Project creates WBS charts, using Visio can give you more graphical control, which can come in handy when you need to highlight a portion of a WBS in a critical report or presentation.

Get your Visio diagram into a presentation or document

Now it is time to get that nice visualization of your project data into a document or presentation. I always recommend to users when completing a Visio diagram to select the entire diagram and select Group to put the diagram into a single object versus a collection of objects. This will ensure that nothing in the diagram shifts later on.

You have the following options to get your diagram into a document or presentation:

  • Copy and paste the diagram (now a single object) from Visio to your document or presentation.
  • From Word 2010 or PowerPoint 2010, go to Insert | Object. In the Object dialog box, click Create From File and then click OK. The Visio diagram appears in your document or presentation.

Visio as part of your project management toolkit

Microsoft Project isn’t always the best tool for communicating project information. Complementing Microsoft Project with Visio can offer you better project visualization and communications options to help present project status data to the widest audience.