Project Management - Microsoft Project (Part 2)

Our team appreciates having Microsoft Project integrated with PowerBI and published on our team channel so that our leadership and clientele can see what we are working on.  Our litigation team also uses Projects to track time for matters for which costs are reimbursable. 

At the same time, Microsoft Project can be kludgy if you are unfamiliar with its quirks.  Here are 10 tips we learned for working smoothly within the tool:

1.  Create Projects:

  • Project Names: Projects remain available in drop-downs in perpetuity unless you delete them.  Since you cannot filter out closed projects from drop-downs, adopt a naming convention, such as prefacing projects with the current year, to identify current open projects more easily. 
  • Edits: In edit mode, you must select save before moving to another tab or screen to retain any changes you may have made.  If editing on the desktop version you must proactively select publish for the changes to be visible in the online version.  Team members will be unable to make edits until you republish.

2.  Project Center Filters: You can custom filter projects but cannot save those pre-sets.  Take a screenshot of your preferred filters so if you need to revert temporarily to the full list you can more easily reapply the filter.

3.  Kanban View: To access a Kanban board view, open the project in desktop and navigate to the View tab. Select Task Board view.  The desktop toolbars contain more options than does the online version.

4.  Assign Resources:

  • Originally we added all resources to the project.  From a practical maintenance perspective we found it more efficient to assign only those of us active in Projects.
  • Do not assign resources to the topline summary task. It doubles the hours and adds a summary task to the timesheet.

5.  Task Schedule: Fixed duration is the best choice if you expect to expend less than full-time effort over a longer period.  Other options are Fixed Work (compresses dates based on 8 hr work day) and Fixed Units.  Best practice is to manipulate the Duration and allow the start and end date to auto calculate. Note: For this to work the task must be set to auto rather than manual.

6. Task View:

  • To see the field %Work Completed in Project Online, select the “Task View”.
  • If all line items are not visible, make sure “No filter is selected.” If you do not see line 0 (topline for Project), make sure you have the “Project summary task” box checked.

If task completion gets out of sync you may have to reconcile manually. See tip 10 for more information.

7. Task Duration: If a timesheet has been submitted and approved, and the duration is set to a timeframe that does not include the timesheet's date range, your project will not reflect the time  recorded against that task.  To ensure you have an accurate reflection of the work completed in the project, durations should always be set to include the timeframes in which the work was completed.  

8. Baselines: Most groups use a project tool because they want to be able to assess where we started and where we ended up.  To this is Projects, once you have set the initial project timeline set a baseline.  If the project timetable shifts significantly, set a new baseline to be able to report on the delta.  Set a definition for "significant" within your team.  In our team a shift of 30 days or more merits a new baseline.

9. Timesheets: If you update task completion progress under schedule, then Projects assume the planned hours are the actual hours and books them against your timesheet.  For actual hours to be accurate, it is recommended that you update task progress and completion in the Timesheet view. To prevent changes on the project schedule that are not associated with a time entry, navigate to Server Settings along the left-hand sidebar then click Task Settings and Displays. Check “Only allow task updates via Tasks and Timesheets." Best practice, if you have made the final time entry on a task for yourself, is to save the timesheet, then click on the task to zero out the Remaining Work and, if needed, the Finish Date, then save the changes.

10. Closing-out Projects: If your completed projects are not showing as 100% even though actuals match planned work, check that both %Complete (percentage of the task's duration completed) and %Work Complete (percentage of the task's work hours completed) read 100%. To keep them in sync update from timesheets only. To mark a task as 100% complete tasks in the following order:

  • Work: Adjust Work hours to match time recorded in the Actual Work field.  This ensures that time entered on timesheets is not erased or additional time added.
  • %Work Completed field should auto-update to 100%.  If it does not and Work = Actual Work, check that the task is auto-scheduled.  If it still does not update, you can manually change to 100% assuming project was saved/published after Work=Actual Work.
  • % Complete field should auto-update to 100%.  Reasons it may not auto-update:
    1. Milestone or task with Work = 0.  In this case, go ahead and mark to 100% (equivalent of done checkmark).
    2. Work may have been entered over different duration than scheduled.  For, example, if you have 1 hr of work per day scheduled for 3 days, but enter 1.5 hrs on day 1 and 1.5 hrs on day 3, the % Complete field may read 67%.  As long as Work=Actual work (and is saved), okay to manually adjust.

Other popular project management tools for legal ops include Asana, Jira, Smartsheet, as well as apps like Monday and Wrike.  For us, Microsoft Project won out because it exists in our corporate network ecosystem and integrates easily with PowerBI. Also, we could build on a prior deployment by the Technology Project Management Office, and the look and feel was therefore already familiar to executive management.