Why is self learning MS Project not value for money?

When we do corporate trainings, some of the managers who were sent for training, invariably asked me this question. I am using MS Project for many years why you think I should attend this training.  My answer normally goes like this. We had several professionals in earlier classes who came with the same frame of mind and within couple of hours of training, you started hearing these voices….Oh! it is like that!!, It is so simple, Oh! I need not to enter any dates!!, Every time duration change was a big headache. Many of them shared that they had learned several things which they were not aware of and now the life would be much simpler.

Even in open house classes many people who were using MS Project for years joined us looking to learn advance features.  When they went back after the course they appreciated more the basic things they learned than advance.

I have seen many people telling me that they had stopped using MS Project because it was consuming lot of time, “my excel is ok”. The fact was that they did not use the MS Project properly.

Following are some common mistakes, most of the people do…

  1. Not setting up project options and continues working with default options. For example, efforts are estimated in person days but entered in hours by calculating every time.
  2. Not setting project calendar. Not defining holidays. This makes tasks to get scheduled on holidays when work cannot happen.
  3. Defining WBS incorrectly or on the run which keeps changing frequently.
  4. Estimating efforts in person days but entering in duration column which represent time span not efforts.
  5. Entering start and finish date for every task. That means using MS Project like excel, even worse.
  6. Using Must Finish On (MFO) constraint to track deadlines
  7. People are unaware but step 5 & 6 can generate enormous amount of work for project manager and take away flexibility of the schedule. If project is little big or complex, it may become unmanageable.
  8. Not scheduling ongoing or repetitive activities like status meetings, project tracking etc. Even if some people schedule these activities, they schedule them as normal project activities which are effort driven while such tasks are duration driven.
  9. Re-baseline the project on every change. It is like chasing a moving target.
  10. Not tracking cost of the project.
  11. Do not manage resources availability. Resources are scheduled even when they are on leave. This point and point no. 2 can give incorrect picture of project/activities finish dates.
  12. Only planning and not tracking the project as do not know how to track the project or it becomes very complex.
  13. Unawares of view customization and reporting features, prepare manual reports while MS Project can provide better presentable reports with minimal efforts.
  14.  Struggling with duration column, enter some value which gets changed as soon resources are assigned. Struggle to change this value every time, resources are changed.
  15. A task is to be stopped half done due to some temporary unavailability of resource but do not rescheduling uncompleted work when resource is available.

These are few of several mistakes project managers keep doing and make their life difficult. For project managers who are already overloaded in today’s world managing never decreasing large inventory of open tasks, these mistakes just make the situation worse.

Self learning is not as simple as it appears. It takes lot of time in doing R&D to learn new features. When a situation encountered of which PM does not have any clue, he/she takes help from peers who are as good as he/she is or use some books or MS Project help to come out with a workaround. These workarounds are normally not very efficient in managing the situation. There is no problem in using books or MS Project help but in absence of time, people do not read the full stuff.

Self learning does not come cheap. If we take average salary of a PM today as Rs.1,00,000/- per month in Indian scenario and standard working hours 160, per hour investment on PM is 100000/160 = Rs.625. If we say a PM spent 16 hours (2 days) over a period of time to self learn MS Project, total investment will be 625×16=Rs.10,000/-. More than the cost of 2 days training. And outcome is some workarounds and inefficient way of using MS Project. I have not included the cost of hours lost in making some of the mistakes listed above and struggling. Even in international scenarios considering $80,000 per annum as salary of a PM, cost of 2 days investment come out to be over $650. It is a good amount especially looking at the outcome.

This tool is there for Project Managers which must help saving their time and managing the project better but if tool is not used properly, it has an inverse impact, consumes time and mess up the things. MS Project is a rule based engine and before you use it, you must know how MS project functions, best practices, useful features and a systematic way to plan and track the project. This will help using the MS Project more effectively, saving precious time, better control on the project, better forecast and work as helping hand not as an overhead. A proper training needs some investment but it pays back much more than the investment.

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