I remember opening MS Project for the first time, playing around in the tool for a while, then thinking “I can do all this in Excel”. I put the tool away and never touched it again. That is until I became an official Project Manager. My thoughts at that point were “I should probably learn how to use this tool”. Well after many years and many projects, I realize that MS Project is a powerful tool at helping me manage my work. I now work with MS Project the way most people work with Excel. I find various uses for the tool that may be outside the norm.
For example, I facilitate a number of meetings or training sessions. If you think about it, a training session (or meeting) is nothing more than a small project involving Scope, Cost and Time. You have specific information that you need to deliver in a fixed duration. These training sessions are anywhere from 2 to 12 hours in duration. So just like a traditional project, if you do not have a plan, you are likely to get off track and run out of time before the targeted completion. And also like a project, if you have a baseline plan, you can compare your current status to the baseline to ensure you stay on track.
The following article will demonstrate how to leverage MS Project to help you construct an agenda.
Step 1 – Open MS ProjectStep 2 – Save file with meaningful nameStep 3 – Activate Project Summary Task
Click on >Tools, >Options, >View and place a check in the Show Project Summary Task option
Step 4 – Alter the Date format
Click on >Tools, >Options, >View and select the dropdown for the Date Format. Change this to 12:33PM
Step 5 – Change Duration format
Click on >Tools, >Options, >Schedule and change the option “Duration is entered in” to Hours
Step 6 – Change Project Start Time
Click on >Project, >Project Information and input the start time for your meeting.
Step 7 – Input your agenda items
This step would equate to PMI’s Time Management Process of Activity Definition.
Step 8 – Link Topics
This step would equate to PMI’s Time Management process of Activity Sequencing. Given that this is a meeting or training session, all tasks must occur sequentially. In other words we will use a Finish to Start type relationship between all tasks. We link these tasks together using the predecessor field. You could type in the predecessor for each task, but there is an easier way! To link a series of tasks together sequentially using MS Project, there is an option to Link Tasks. Here’s how to use it: first select all the tasks, then click on the Link Tasks option (chain link). Notice how all selected tasks are now joined together sequentially (Finish to Start).
Step 9 – Input Durations
AKA: Activity Duration Estimating. For each topic or agenda item, simply input the estimated duration it will take to cover that topic. By default, if we simply enter a number, MS Project will assume we are inputting hours. But in the case of a meeting, we need to input the duration in the form of minutes. In order to do that we simply type an “m” after the duration. For example, if we feel it will take 10 minutes to provide the Meeting Overview, we click on the Duration field for the Meeting Overview task and type “10m”. Then hit enter.
Complete this step for all items.
We can now see that in order to cover all of these agenda items, it is going to take a little over 2 hours. But if your overall duration is fixed at only two hours, you realize some tweaks will need to be made to this schedule or plan. There are two options we can take. Option 1 is to reduce the duration of at least one item. Option 2 would be to remove an item from this meeting.
We will select Option 1. Topic Two can probably be covered in only 10 minutes.
Notice that the overall duration is now 2 hours. We have a do-able plan!!
But wait….you just realize that the coffee and bagels are not scheduled to arrive until 9:30am. You must adjust the Break time so it begins at 9:30AM. No worries!!!! Simply highlight the entire task for Break and drag it down. MS Project will automatically recalculate and re-establish the links.
Step 10 – Add Resource Names
If different people are responsible for covering the various topics, you can leverage the Resource Names field to identify these individuals.
Step 11 – Save and print the plan
Step 12 – Manage to the plan
Distribute copies of your agenda at the beginning of the meeting. Just like a project, you want your team to know the objective, timing and assignments. Leverage your agenda just as you would a project schedule. Watch the time to make sure you stay on track. If you get off track, you will be able to tell how far off track you are and assess what needs to occur in order to get back on track.
This approach may seem like overkill for a short meeting, but if you have a long meeting or training session with a number of topics that need to be covered, I’m sure you will find this approach to be very beneficial.