Anyone who has used Microsoft Project will tell you – if they are being honest – it is not easy to use.
Think of it this way: Microsoft Project is a program built specifically for project management. That makes it unlike any other Microsoft Office product. I can use Microsoft Word to write a book, pen a love letter, finally kickstart my career in beat poetry, and so forth. I can use Microsoft Excel to make a budget, track orders, maintain my list of fantasy football stats, and yes, manage a project plan. But I can only use Microsoft Project to manage a project plan. That makes its menus, buttons, and behavior specific to the discipline of project management – and, as a consequence, intimidating for new users.
So what is a new user to do?
When I was starting out as a Microsoft Project novice, I found the Microsoft Project: Step by Step book an invaluable resource. It is now current for the 2013 edition of Project. Authored by Carl Chatfield, PMP and Timothy Johnson, MCTS, it weighs in at 557 pages in 21 chapters and 4 appendices.
In the 2013 edition, the book is organized around a fictional project, namely … publishing a book. It’s an ideal example, because book publishing is complex but not overly technical. So task and resource names make intuitive sense.
Chapters are short and to the point, with titles such as “Building a task list,” “Assigning resources to tasks,” and, further on, “Sharing information with other programs.” Each workflow is explained step by step, so you can follow along with the book in one hand and your other hand on the mouse.
Best of all, the book comes with a set of practice files organized by chapter. This is helpful for two reasons: (1) it allows the novice to gain exposure to more advanced topics without first having to completely construct a project plan from scratch, and (2) it makes the book skimmable – if the reader wants to skip one chapter and pick up with the next one, a practice file for the next chapter is ready to go, with all of the changes from the previous chapter baked in.
Microsoft Project is not for the faint of heart, but the Step by Step book got me proficient in the program in about a week’s time. If you’re bringing on a new team member who’s not familiar with Project, I highly recommend you park them in front of this book and a computer so they can get up to speed. The alternative is to pay down the road, with considerably more than a week’s worth of weeping and gnashing of teeth!