When managing projects, software tools and utilities to help simply the process or ease the task. Little do most people know that such a tool is right under our very noses; at least most of us who use Microsoft Office.
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General Tips & Techniques
First, a few points: I will not be introducing, or explaining, any project management theories of any kind. We will simply be solving a 'hypothetical' situation, where a project manager wants to manage 'a' project, using applications that come along with Microsoft Office 2007. In this article, we'll be using Office 2007, and in particular for this article, Outlook 2007. Unlike other applications within the Microsoft Office suite, Word and Excel for example, older versions of Outlook (2003 or XP) work in pretty much the same way as Outlook 2007, with a few minor differences here and there; so, you could those earlier versions, as well.
Last but not least, because this is a fictional project, we might be mixing and matching methodologies, ideas, concepts, metrics, tasks, team members and so on and so forth.
Easily allow you to set up recurring tasks. This can be very helpful for project managers who like to schedule recurring events (such as meetings). Outlook will give you the choice of either setting the number of times the task/event occurs or when it will expire. See image 1 below.
Allow you to 'share' your current tasks with other members of your team (provided that you're on the same domain and using Exchange server at the back end). This way project managers can monitor the status of the assigned tasks, first hand.
Allow you to assign tasks to team members and have Outlook report back to you upon change of status or percent completed. See image 2 below.
Allow you to categorize and/or flag tasks for organization and follow-up. Remind you, upon your request, ahead of time, of tasks to be processed. Integrate quite easily with Microsoft Project and from there on synchronize with Microsoft EPM (Enterprise Project Management) Server. Will integrate almost seamlessly with Microsoft Office SharePoint Server 2007 (aka MOSS 2007), thus adding another layer of collaboration between members of the same team - we'll also cover that in another article. Comes bundled with Microsoft Office 2007, so, for a PM tool, is pretty cheap. For personal reporting, Outlook allows you to customize your own task view(s); that is in addition to the pre-defined views already available to you out-of-the-box.
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Unfortunately, with regard to managing tasks, Outlook does have limitations. Two of note are:
You cannot assign a single task to more than one person. This results in the project manager having to create multiple tasks with similar assignments for every team member involved. You cannot update tasks by adding task activities. Most project managers would like to see the history of a particular task, in the form of a dated activity list.
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From this we can conclude that for managing small simple projects, Outlook can be quite the helper. This is especially the case with projects that do not require direct upper-level reporting. However, as complexity rises and the need for complex reporting intensifies, so does the need for a better project management tool.