I hate MS Project

Someone once asked me what my preferred project management tool is. Actually, a bunch of people have asked me that a bunch of times. My answer is always MS Excel. I say that somewhat tongue in cheek. Because MS Excel is crap for managing projects unless they fit that very specific project type in which you have dozens or hundreds of very similar tasks that do not have any dependencies in each other. For example, say you were asked to mow 200 lawns in 50 days with 2 crews. You can do them in any order. Just as long as they all get done within 50 days. Some will take longer than others. MS Excel, along with a good old fashioned calendar, is fantastic for planning and tracking a project like that.

Fortunately for me, from 2006 through 1/2 way through 2009, I had a series of large projects that fit this template perfectly. Hundreds of documents and dozens of work processes rewritten, re imagined, and remediated at three different companies. All through te magic of MS Excel and a little something I like to call leadership.
Enter 2nd half of 2009 and a series of projects that were more traditional in nature. Large and complex. Lots of dependencies. So I had to use MS Project. But I avoided managing resources in the tool like I avoid doing housework on a 72 degree sunny Saturday. And I was successful.
The past 6 months an the next few years – different story. It can’t be avoided. MS Project is the tool of choice for managing schedule, budget, and resources. It really is the right tool for this program.

Why do I hate it then?

It’s greatest benefit is also my greatest nemesis – flexibility. It allows the user to setup the project, indeed each task in the project, any way he wants. To make matters worse, there are ways to make changed to a task that cause it to apply to all (or most) other tasks, depending on how those tasks were set up or how the project was initially set up. In the mean time, if you are using MS Project to manage resource hours as well as schedule, be careful if you change the number of hours a task will take. It might change the task duration. Or it might not. Whether you want it to or not.

Every project becomes like a Rubic’s Cube. Turn one side to line up red and you screw up green in the process. I’ve met several people who mastered the Rubic’s Cube. I’ve only met one person who mastered managing schedule, budget, and resources in MS Project.

If I were you, I’d be very disappointed with this post. I would have expected this author to provide an alternative to MS Project. Or at least a satisfying answer as to why it sucks. Alas, the best answer I an give is a mutilation of a Winston Churchill quote:

MS Project is the worst project management tool, except for all the other project management tools.

Or, better yet, a bastardization of that FedEx slogan

MS Project: when you absolutely, positively have no other choice.

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3 Responses to I hate MS Project

  1. jspeer says:

    Steve – I agree. I had a point in my career where I relied on MS Project. I find Excel and my experience to be much more useful these days.


  2. Pingback: Most Project Management Tools Suck

  3. paulstrebe says:

    I agree wholeheartedly. I think Project is why many in senior management hate project managers — because they so seldom are able to get access to all that magical detail in the single-user format. “But they have the cloud version…” Yeah, and hardly any organizations buy it.

    I’m no shill for this company, but I’ve been using Smartsheet for a while and it really gets the job done. Simple enough that you don’t have to send people off to 4 hour “orientations.” I wish more people knew about it, as I’m tired of having to suggest it to people who are of the “if MS didn’t invent it, I don’t know about it” mentality.


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