Jim Ebert is a Project Manager and Principal Scrum Master at ThreeWill. He has over 30 years of experience as a business and technology leader with demonstrated success in managing and delivering mission-critical projects and initiatives.
When Microsoft came out with Project for the Web, or “P4W”, instead of trying to replicate everything online that the full desktop version of Microsoft Project provides, Microsoft started from ground zero, targeting a solution that would meet the needs of approximately 70-80% of all projects while also creating a cloud-based tool that would be easy to use. Microsoft has done well on both accounts. Project for the Web works well for people with limited project management experience (“accidental PMs”), as well as those that are experienced but whose projects do not need all the sophistication of the full-featured desktop version.
Now, Microsoft has a couple other “planning” type tools – e.g., Microsoft “To Do” and Microsoft “Planner” to name a couple. So how do you know when you would want to use these versus Project for the Web? Well, Microsoft To Do is really targeted for individuals. It is a nice tool to manage your to-do items with a nice user interface that integrates well behind the scenes with Microsoft Outlook tasks and email reminders. I particularly like how each day you can select the to-do’s that you want to focus on for that day in your “My Day” view. For me, To Do is a much easier tool for managing my to-do’s than Outlook’s Tasks.
Microsoft Planner is good for the individual as well, but also for small teams, where the primary purpose is to list and manage the status/grouping of stand-alone activities in an Agile Kanban type view. At ThreeWill, we use Planner a lot when we are capturing feedback during our project retrospectives or to share and track team-level to-do’s.
Project for the Web comes into play when you need to begin establishing relationships (sequencing) between your project activities, and when you need to have an understanding of the duration and efforts of these tasks so that you can begin to understand the project’s timeline. Project for the Web is where your schedule comes to life.
Now, Project for the Web may sound like a panacea for all projects. Unfortunately, it may not meet the needs of some of your projects. If your project is highly complex where, for example, you need to be able to establish complex relationships between tasks, versus just “start-to-finish” relationships, then Project for the Web will not work. In these cases, you will need to go for the more advanced “Project Online” desktop version of Project.
But if Microsoft Project for the Web does sound like it can meet your needs, then let’s take a quick walk-through in creating a project. The intent of the walkthrough is not to show you all the capabilities or how-to’s. The intent is to show you how quickly and easily you can get a project schedule up and running with resources assigned, dependencies between tasks established, and task durations entered. So, let’s go!
Accessing Project for the Web (P4W)
1. First, you will need to be sure you have a Project license. There are three cloud-based Project license options. Click Compare project management solutions and costs to see the differences in features between each version. A Project Plan 1 license will give you all that you need to create project schedules, but you will need at least a Project Plan 3 license if you want any reporting capabilities (reporting capabilities are not covered in this blog).
2. Once you have your license, you can open Project by selecting the “Project” icon in your Office 365 portal’s (https://portal.office.com) “App launcher” waffle.
3. When you click on the Project icon, you will be taken to the Project home page where you will have the ability to create a new project or see a list of projects and roadmaps you have already created or have been shared with you. You will also see a “Go to Project Online” link at the bottom of the page, but this link is for schedules that require more advanced features than Project for the Web and is not covered in this blog. Similarly, this blog does not cover creation/management of Roadmaps.
Creating a New Project for the Web Schedule
4. From the Project home page, click the “New blank project” button.
5. Once you click the button to create a new project, the following page will display. The default view to display is the “Grid” view. We will get to the “Board” and “Timeline” views a little later as I like to create my tasks and schedule from the Grid view to start (old desktop Microsoft Project habits die hard!).
6. To give your project a name, click on “Untitled project” where the following will display, and you can enter the name of your project and its start date. Once you have done this, then click the “X” to be taken back to the main screen. I have called my project “Business Readiness Plan”.
7. Once you are back on the main screen for your project, you can begin entering tasks by clicking “Add new task”. Easy, right? Below is a list of tasks that I have entered for my project.
8. After entering tasks, you can indent any that should be a subtask. Just right-click an item and select “Make subtask”. See below for how I have done this with the list of items entered above. You can indent (or outdent) one item at a time, or multiple items at the same time. Below is how I have organized my tasks into groupings and subtasks.
9. Above is only showing a couple of additional default display columns – “Quick look” and “Assigned to”. To add additional columns to this “Grid” view, click on “Add column” to see a list of column options.
10. To hide a column, just click on the column’s header you wish to hide and select “Hide Column”.
11. To change the position order of a column, just click on the column and drag it to where you want it. Below are the changes I made to my columns in my Business Readiness Plan.
12. Once you are showing the columns and the order you want to display, begin entering values into these columns. Depending on how you enter values, other column fields for a task may auto-fill. For example, if you enter “6 days” in the duration for a task, then the Start and Finish dates will auto-populate. Likewise, if you enter a Start and End date, but no Duration, Duration will be auto-filled. Feel free to click and play to see how these interactions work. It is neat.
Some special comments to note when adding resources into the “Assigned to” field:
- Resources available to add must be people registered in your tenant. At this time you cannot provide access to Project for the Web for external users.
- When you are adding someone other than yourself for the first time, you may get a pop-up like below requesting that you connect your project to a group. You can create a new group by selecting “Create Group” or add your project to an existing group (e.g., Teams group) by selecting “Add to a group”.
- For my example, I added Ulenda to my project, but since the project was not yet associated with a Microsoft group, I attached my project to my “Jim’s Teams Sandbox” Microsoft Teams group by selecting “Add to a group” and then choose the group from the list in the dropdown.
13. Below shows the results of me adding values into the “Durations”, “Assigned to”, and “Depends on” columns.
14. Once you have something like above, if you then click on “Timeline” in your project header, you will see your timeline flow based on what you have entered.
15. I am not going to show all the things you can do in the Timeline view, but suffice it to say, you have a lot of flexibility in this view with your schedule. For example, you can:
- Click on one of the duration bars to display the following to the right of your screen (I clicked on the “Business Processes” task). Here, you can add notes to the task, adjust the “Start” date, “Finish” date, “Duration”, “% Complete”, the tasks assigned “Bucket” (more on Buckets below in the “Board View” section), etc.
b. Instead of the above, use your mouse to change some of a task’s settings. For example:
i. Adding/Adjusting Task Dependencies
- If you hover over the left or right end of a task’s duration bar, you can adjust the task’s dependencies. Below shows how I am making Task 9 dependent on the completion of Task 6.
- The following shows that Task 6 and 9 are not linked as there is no arrow between them.
b. By hovering the mouse over the end of Task 6, a blue circle with a blue dot in the center will display.
c. By clicking on this blue circle and holding down the mouse button, you will see blue circles appear for other tasks.
d. While still holding down the mouse button, you can then drag the mouse to the circle to the left of the duration bar for Task 9, where a blue dot will then appear in that circle and a line will be displayed between the two tasks, as shown in the image below.
e. When you release your mouse button, the two tasks will now be linked, and the start of Task 9 will be adjusted accordingly (moved out) as shown in the image below. Also note that Task 10, which was dependent on the completion of Task 9, was also adjusted (moved out in timeline).
ii. Changing the Start or End Dates for a Task
- If you select a task’s duration bar and hold down the mouse button, you can drag the bar to the right or left in the timeline to adjust its start/end dates. Note, if a task’s start date is dependent upon another task’s finish date, you will not be able to change the start date of that task to be before the other’s finish date (actually, you can drag the bar as such, but it will be repositioned back to where it was). However, you can drag the taskbar to the right (future) if necessary. But also note that any follow-on tasks will also have their start dates adjusted as well. Oh, the joys of project scheduling!
a. In below, you can see how Task 10 begins the day after Task 9.
b. By clicking on the Task 10 duration bar and dragging it to the right, you can see how it is now starting several days after Task 9 ends, instead of the next day after.
iii. Changing the Duration of a Task
- You can change the duration of a task by selecting the task, hovering over the task with your mouse, and then selecting the blue bar that appears on either the left or right side and then dragging the bar.
a. In below, I have selected the right bar of Task 10.
b. After dragging the bar to the right, you can now see how the duration of Task 10 has been increased.
16. The Board view is like what you would see in Microsoft Planner. It allows you to “bucketize” your tasks in any type of bucket scheme you desire. If you are an Agile shop, one of the ways you might utilize this view is by assigning your project tasks into Sprints.
17. Below shows how the Board view looks by default when you create a new project.
18. Below is how I have updated the view to put my Business Readiness project tasks into Sprints:
- I renamed “Bucket 1” to “Backlog” by clicking on the bucket name and renaming it.
- I clicked on “Add bucket” to create a bucket called “Sprint 1”.
- I then added buckets for “Sprint 2” and Sprint 3”.
- After creating my Sprint Buckets, I selected tasks and dragged them into their respective Sprint buckets. For simplicity’s sake, each Sprint for my project is only one week.
e. There are other grouping views when on the Board page. By clicking on the “Group by Bucket” drop-down, you have the following choices:
i. Below is what the “Assigned to” view looks like.
ii. Below is what the “Progress” view looks like.
iii. Lastly, below is what the “Finish date” view looks like.
There you go. By going through the above activities, Microsoft Project for the Web can get you up and running with a project schedule quickly and easily. Again, it may not meet all the needs of your project if you have highly complex relationships between tasks, but P4W is not intended to meet those kinds of needs. It was created to satisfy the needs of 70-80% of projects. Microsoft, smartly, will be evolving the P4W based on user feedback, allowing it to develop and grow organically.