Five reasons to migrate to Microsoft Project 2010

Microsoft Project 2010 comes with new features that are a welcome relief to the Microsoft Project learning curve. Here are five reasons to switch to Microsoft Project Professional 2010.

The latest version of Microsoft Project Professional 2010 launched in May 2010, yet many project managers I've asked haven't upgraded yet. I can relate -- I have Microsoft Project 2010 installed but, for consulting purposes, I'm still delivering with Microsoft Project 2007.

I learned my lesson about common Microsoft Project versions when I inherited a program with all the project managers using different versions of Microsoft Project 2003 and Microsoft Project 2007. The project team struggled with file-size bloating as team members saved from one version to the other so that everyone could access the project schedules. I still shudder at the questionable decision making to fund a multimillion dollar project without providing project managers with the same version of Microsoft Project, but I digress.

New features and enhancements in Microsoft Project 2010

In this latest Microsoft Project release, you'll find a lot of practical project management tools in addition to some useful bells and whistles to help in your delivery. (I'm an early adopter, so I'm a sucker for bells and whistles.) Before making the switch, you should consider if your organization has certified the software for their desktop clients or if all your project collaborators will be using the same version.

Microsoft Project 2010 comes with some new features that are a welcome relief to the Microsoft Project learning curve. Here are five reasons to switch to Microsoft Project Professional 2010. For more information about some of these new features, check out Microsoft's Project Quick Start Training page. (Note: I am not including features that are exclusive to Microsoft Project Server 2010.) 1: A better interface Microsoft Project 2010 adopts the Microsoft Office 2010 Ribbon (Figure A), which is designed to help you execute all your tasks, resources, and project information faster. It took me some time to get oriented to this navigation, but now I like the way menu commands have been replaced by the logical command grouping. As project managers, we often think in terms of task, resources, the project, and all the associated views. Figure A

Microsoft Project 2010 Ribbon navigation (Click the image to enlarge.)

I also like Microsoft Project 2010's overall usability. Using the zoom slider, inserting columns, and selecting more commands from the context-sensitive menus were welcome features. In previous versions of Microsoft Project, team members often had questions about how to zoom in and out of the time scale; it's a much more intuitive process in Microsoft Project 2010, which always helps the learning curve.

2: Improved resource planning One reason resource leveling can be such a pain in previous versions of Microsoft Project is because of the lack of visibility into resource conflicts. In previous versions of Microsoft Project, you could identify resource overallocations, but you had to switch to a different view to resolve the overallocation. Microsoft Project 2010 introduces the Team Planner View (Figure B), which allows you to view team assignments and modify and move the tasks on a team member basis. It's nice to finally have a view that lets me manage overallocations and tasks with the assigned resources. Figure B

Team Planner View (Click the image to enlarge.)

In Figure B, Analyst B is scheduled to develop design specifications for Interface 1, Interface 2, and Interface 3 and is also scheduled for Interface 4, Interface 5, and Interface 6. By dragging and dropping the Interface 4, 5, and 6 tasks, I can easily resolve the overallocation. If you switch to the Gantt chart view, it leaves the focus on the selected task, which is another nice usability feature.

3: More flexible scheduling Microsoft Project 2010 allows users to manually schedule tasks independent of project calendars or task dependencies. In my opinion, this dumbs down project scheduling -- the scheduling tool should consider resource calendars, task dependencies, and company holidays. I assume manual scheduling was added to ease the Microsoft Project learning curve and allow novice project managers to pick dates without causing constraint issues.

If you are managing a small project that is more task-list focused, then the manual scheduling option will make Microsoft Project work easier for you. For simple task management, Microsoft Project's automatic scheduling functions may have been too much for "checkbox project management." There are a lot of benefits to applying dynamic scheduling and using the Microsoft Project scheduling engine. I have seen some benefits to using the manual scheduling feature when developing a separate milestone chart and  identifying only the key dates for management review.

4: Improved help with Task Inspector Microsoft Project 2010's new Task Inspector feature makes it much easier to identify problems and scheduling issues. The Task Inspector feature helps identify specific tasks that are causing the scheduling problem and provides options to resolve the issue. Figure C shows how the Task Inspector helps identify the source of the problem that was described in the resource overallocation example mentioned above. Figure C

Task Inspector (Click the image to enlarge.)

The Task Inspector lets me reschedule the task or view the overallocated resources in Team Planner; it also lets me know the specific factors affecting the task.

If you are managing a large project schedule and want to determine which task is causing problems, you'll find the Task Inspector feature to be a welcome addition to Microsoft Project.

5: Timeline View

The Timeline View provides an overview of the project schedule and lets you select only the tasks and milestones that need to be communicated. This is very different from filtering the Gantt chart to display only the milestones and the summary tasks. I can pick any summary task, milestone, or individual task and depict it in the Timeline View. Since the view is automatically created based on the project data, any changes in the dates are immediately reflected in the Timeline View. I save a lot of time and develop a meaningful chart based on changing project schedule data.

For more about this feature, read my Microsoft Project 2010 tutorial on the Timeline View.

Have you upgraded?

Let me know in the discussion if you've upgraded to the latest version of Microsoft Project. If you have, what are some of your favorite features? If you have not, what's holding you back?