Does Microsoft Project suck, or is it people that don't know how to use it?

So here I’ve got Microsoft Project. It’s a complicated app, with all sorts of neat things to allow for resource and task scheduling and input of actuals and calculation of this and that. I can spend lots of hours crafting a nice schedule, and if I spend hours adjusting it properly, I can make it work.

Then, I see people who don’t spend the time, link all tasks end to end, assign one resource for an entire group of people (500% overallocation = 5 people!), and then complain when their schedule falls apart.

Microsoft Project is hard to use.
Yeah, but scheduling projects is hard!
No, it’s Project’s fault for sucking!

And I really end up back at the fact that know one knows how to use it efficiently. The people that can spend the time to learn the app’s ins and outs don’t manage the projects “YOU ARE THE MICROSOFT PROJECT BUTTON PUSHER”.

I dunno. Is there anything better or do all project management apps suck? Are youbetter off just making estimates in Excel and hiring good people? (Probably).

What are you using it to schedule? It’s atrocious for software, I know that.

Microsoft Project REALLY SUCKS.

The Microsoft Project development team doesn’t even use Microsoft Project.

It sucks.

Yes. The second part is the important bit–the Excel thing is just so there’s a record, you know, in case someone gets hit by a bus.

  • Alan

When we last tried it as a team, the main problems were that it was difficult to reorganize tasks once they’re entered (important on a software project since the requirements, scope, detailed breakdown, etc. can change so much over the life of it), and the web interface for updating your own tasks was just horrible, with huge tables with scrollbars nested within scrollbars, and poor feedback.

I think our project manager still uses it, but only privately and at a much more generic level. For specific tasks we just update wiki pages with our current task lists and estimates, and he takes them from there.

Project will only be a burden if you aren’t somehow tracking things already. Just start with some common place to collect info and grow from there. Once you’re at the point where everything is well organized and you actually have thoughts like “hmm, I really need to see this as a GANTT chart” should you go to project.

Bringing in MS Project before you have things organized well is like buying ProTools because you’re thinking about learning to play piano.

One more tip, if you do want to use MSProject, make sure you’re using it for yourself, not for upper management. A few years ago I set up a project server, got everything into project, kept it constantly updated, and of course nobody above me ever logged in to see the info.

Now I just keep everything organized somewhat free form in some wiki pages. I loves me my work wiki. There’s a certain magic that happens when people actually write shit down. Granted, you have to spend a few months hounding people before they get in the habit of taking notes to the wiki, adding comments to project docs, etc., but it is completely worth it.

A well-organized wiki, with the tasks broken down into 5 man-day or less chunks, is much better than trying to get the whole team using MS project, in my experience. Confluence Wiki is pretty good overall for this, though it has it’s limitations.

MS Project is an expert’s tool, not meant to be used by everyone on the team. I generally try to reserve it for the project manager’s use in tracking the critical path for us, to get an early warning of potential choke points. Frankly, I’m at the point where I don’t care what the tools are, as long as I have a professionally trained project manager who knows what the hell he/she is doing. Trying to get along without one in something as complicated as game software development is simply stupid.

We use it for construction scheduling, with only the contstruction rep having access to actually use it. The rest of us just look at it in the weekly construction planning. It works very well for that purpose. So I don’t know that we are using it to its full capabilities, but for a large project it’s done a good job of making sure all the parts come together when they need to.

It’s not “either/or”, it’s “both/and”.

I’ve been successful tracking projects using Microsoft Project, as long as I follow one simple rule: all tasks must be either 0% complete or 100% complete. Whenever I set a task completion to something in-between, Project goes nuts and reschedules all kinds of stuff, splitting tasks and moving things around that I don’t want changed.

I seldom use it anymore though, as I’m not a full time project manager.

Our project does nearly everything in Excel including GANTT charts. We’re using Project for something, not sure what, probably because we never discuss anything but how sucky Project is in those meetings.

Project is incredibly hard to use because it sucks so badly.

Sure you can use it to track resource usage by the hour, etc, etc, but if you actually wanted to use any of these fancy features, you’ll spend the rest of your life creating / editing / fixing tasks in Project.

I use it (because I have to on the job), but I keep it as spare and simple as possible given the deliverables I’ve got to track.

I was forced into a project management role at a former job and also forced into using Project as it was required and expected by the executives. Not too many months later I had to leave the job for various reasons, but now that I look back I feel I can place a significant portion of the blame on how horrible horrible horrible Project was and how mystified upper management was at my hatred for the tool since they never actually had to use it and no one had the ability and/or balls to sit down and tell them what total crap it actually was.

Now I’m being asked to use Basecamp and I am finding that it is on the complete opposite side of the spectrum - far too lean on features by comparison. At least from my first few forays into it, anyway. The only PMJ tool I think I’ve ever actually liked was Cadence, although if I had the freedom/desire to engineer something today I’d probably use something like the wiki method described above.

Project is a perfectly good tool, it’s just that it’s badly, badly misused. (Like Word pre-2007, it’s a tool whose UI encourages you to use it poorly, by putting in lots of dates and fake dependencies and such.)

If you have to use Project and don’t really know how to, I highly recommend Uyttewaal’s Dynamic Scheduling with Microsoft Project.

^-- From a guy who works for Microsoft.

The problem with is is that it’s buggy as all hell. What’s hilarious is that some of the free alternatives I’ve seen are just as bad.

It’s not that it’s hard to use, it’s that it’s impossible to use, because it will at some point muck up your schedule – and this after you’ve had to coax and cajole it into adjusting things properly.

It’s a horrible piece of software, may it burn in hell. It might be useful for a project that will take five years or longer where objectives change on a weekly basis, but for the rest of the world it’s completely useless.

Excel fo life, yo.

I was not joking when I said that the Microsoft Project team itself does not use Microsoft Project.

It sucks.

It’s a fine application for what it was designed for - stuff like construction work. Things that are fundamentally Gantt-chart based work badly for software; of course the Project team doesn’t use it to schedule themselves.

The fucker middle managers at the IT hell hole where I work have caught the GANTT-fever these last few months.
They populate the charts with ridiculous tasks assigned to people I see in their desk about 10 minutes per month. Like fucking Hitler moving his unexistant paper divisions over a map in his bunker.
Or worse they ask us to make them ourselves.
Luckily the same laissez-faire attitude that allows the absenteism, laziness and borderline sabotage going on all the time lets me shout at them where they can stuff their charts while I actually try to get something done.

It may have been designed for simpler projects like construction work but I suspect that’s not how it is marketed and used. I have a friend that’s a site manager for a construction company so I’ll ask him if he’s ever seen Microsoft Project in action. I know in the IT world I’ve only ever run into it being used (badly) for development

We use dotProject. It’s free and works fairly well for our shop. I tried Microsoft Project but realized it was overkill for simple project management. We don’t have the resources to put one guy on an application for the whole day to make it look nice. Most people just want to update their project, make requests, schedule some things and move on with their real work. The fact that dotProject is web based also frees up the ridiculous licensing needed for MS Project. MS Project has a web server but you still need to have MS Project installed on your local machine to use half the features.