written by: Eric Stallsworth
• edited by: Michele McDonough
• updated: 11/12/2010
This is an article about how to leverage Microsoft Office Visio 2007 for designing project schedules. The discussion here is how a collaboration between Visio 2007 and Project 2007 can enhance your management of projects.
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Usually, when we're discussing project managament applications, the first thing that comes to mind is using Microsoft Office Project 2007 or something similar. That's not unusual since that particular tool is definitely designed with project management in mind. But Project 2007 doesn't necessarily have to be the only tool you use.
Microsoft Office Visio 2007 also includes some basic project schedule creation tools that can be useful. And, when you combine some of the reporting functions of Project 2007 with Visio 2007, the integration can yield some impressive results.
So, lets take a look at just how to utilize Visio 2007, as well as the collaborative features between the two software packages.
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Creating a New Schedule in Visio 2007
Visio 2007 as a standalone project management tool is what you would expect. It's not specifically designed to be a project management tool that can stand on its own. Having said that, there are some useful tools that Visio 2007 provides which can enhance a project manager's arsenal. For example, you can create a project schedule directly within Visio 2007 using the default scheduling templates provided.
When you first open Visio 2007, you will see the Getting Started page. Listed in the left pane are the various default template categories, one of which is Scheduling. If you click on that link, the right pane will show four templates - Calendar, Gantt Chart, PERT Chart, and Timeline. You can also get to the templates by clicking on File -> New -> Schedule and choosing one of the templates listed there.
Double-clicking on the Gantt Chart template creates a new Visio drawing based on that template. You are then immediately prompted to choose the various options for the chart. On the Date tab, you get to choose how many tasks to create, what the Timescale range will be for the chart, and what the major and minor Time units will be. If you switch to the Format tab, you can modify what symbols will be used (if any) for the various parts of the chart. Once you click Okay, Visio will create the chart according to your requirements.
From this point, you can double click on any of the fields in the chart and change the actual data for each listed Task. The interface is very similar to using Microsoft Office Project 2007. You can change task durations either by changing the Start/Finish dates or you can just drag the bar length in the Gantt chart itself. If you right-click on any Task, you can insert a new Task from the menu list. If you highlight multiple tasks, you can create relationships between them (i.e. one task dependent on another's completion, etc). On the left hand side you can leverage Viso's graphical abilities by dragging over Link lines, callout text boxes, milestones, or even a Legend for your chart.
Once you have your schedule created the way you like it, you can print it or even save it in any number of different formats. Sure the functionality is limited when compared to Project 2007, but there is definitely enough here for basic project schedule creation. The interface is clean and easy enough to understand, particularly if you're already familiar with something like Project 2007.
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Collaboration with Project 2007
If you already have a project documented in Project 2007, you can still leverage the design capabilities of Visio 2007. The process basically involves importing or exporting the data, depending on which perspective you begin from. You can import the data from a saved Project 2007 file. (Incidentally you can also use this method to import data from a CSV file, a TXT file, or a Microsoft Office Excel 2007 file.) Or, you can export the data from Project 2007 using the Visual Reports tools provided by that application. Each method produces different results, so you want to choose the right method for your particular reporting needs.
Importing a Project 2007 file into Visio 2007 is fairly simple. You click on Gantt Chart and Import, which kicks off a wizard. You walk through the wizard, indicating which file you want to use, the Time Scale you want, and which task types you want to include. Once you click Finish, Visio creates the schedule based upon your data. Incidentally, you can't have the Project file open when you attempt to import or it won't work. Now that you've imported the data, you can manipulate it just as if you created it within Visio itself.
From the other direction, you can export the data out of Project 2007 into a Visio 2007 file using the Visual Reports tools off Project 2007's Report menu. When you click on Report -> Visual Reports, you get a number of default templates for both Microsoft Office Excel and Microsoft Office Visio. If you uncheck the checkbox for Excel, you can see just the templates that apply for Visio. Unlike the templates available in Visio 2007, here you get access to a number of different reports in addition to creating a schedule. There are baseline reports, cash flow reports, resource availability reports, etc. So there are definitely more options from this perspective.
You won't see any templates that create a Gantt chart or a basic schedule when you go this route. But the idea is that Project 2007 is already giving you a Gantt chart by default so why re-create the wheel. What it does give you is a set of more defined reports that can be displayed using Visio 2007, like the Baseline Report or Task Status Report. These will give you a different view of your project schedule, but they aren't quite a standard schedule view.
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The Microsoft Office Suite is a powerful set of applications, and it's nice to see how integration and collaboration flows through them. Project 2007 is definitely a powerful tool in the project management realm, but you can see how utilizing Visio 2007 with Project 2007 can provide some very nice benefits.
Even using Visio 2007 as a standalone tool can be beneficial, and its actually surprising to some just how robust the application is, given that project management is not its primary focus. Hopefully you have learned a few new tricks and have a larger appreciation for Visio 2007. Its a useful tool, and not only for creating flowcharts. As the Office Suite of applications advances, each version seems to add these types of little gems. So check out what Visio 2007 has to offer. You never know when you might stumble on something really good - like what you've seen today.
Need help creating your initial project schedule or looking for tips on how to keep your schedule on track? Check out this series of articles and find templates, examples, tricks of the trade, and more.