How to Use Microsoft Project for Beginners

How to Use Microsoft Project for Beginners
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Getting Started

There are no prerequisites to the course you are embarking upon. To begin learning how to start a project in Microsoft Project, this tutorial lesson, as well as the ones that follow, are written assuming the reader need not have any prior experience with any project management software. For that matter, you only need to know two things to start creating your first project using Microsoft Project application:

  1. You need to know how to start the Microsoft Project software installed on your computer.

  2. You must have a broad idea of your own project and its activities (also referred to as tasks).

How to use Microsoft Project Microsoft Project Logo The guide is written in such a way that it does not matter whether you have Microsoft Office Project 2013, 2007, or Microsoft Project 2003, or any earlier version up to Project 98 installed on your computer. The limitations of the older versions, if any, and the new features of the newer versions will be dealt with, as necessary and relevant to the tutorial. For this MS Projects tutorial, I will give you an idea of a sample project and its activities, with which we will learn the steps required to create a project. You can (and it is recommended that you do) try out all the steps you learn here on your own project after completing each lesson. When you are finished with this lesson, be sure to check out some of the other Microsoft Project tutorials available at Bright Hub. Ready to start. Here we go…

Entering Data for the Sample Project

For the sample project, assume you are the Project Manager with an event management firm, and the first simple project entails organizing a musical concert at one of the local auditoriums. The major activities involved, as you can realize, will be fixing a suitable date with the artist, identifying and finalizing terms with one of the local auditoriums, coordinating with the media and placing advertisements for the event, getting tickets printed and selling tickets. Besides these tasks, you may also want to address the administrative tasks of organizing hotel accommodation and transport for the artist’s troupe. How can you plan all these activities on a calendar, using Microsoft Project? Here are the steps: Open the Microsoft Project software on your computer (In most cases, you may have the application icon on your desktop, which you can double-click to start the application. Otherwise, click on Start-> Programs-> and look for your software and click).

How to use Microsoft Project Opening Screen with Guide - Blue Pane marked

You should see the opening screen of Microsoft Project. (Note: Click any image in this tutorial to see a larger view.)

Microsoft Project Tutorial Opening Screen without Guide

In case you can see a blue Guide pane to the left of the “Gantt Chart” divider, as shown in the top figure above, please close this blue pane by clicking on the X at the top right of the blue pane. That way you will increase the visible workspace for entering data in our sample project. Once the Guide pane is closed, your screen will appear as shown in the figure above, with only two panes - the Task pane and the Calendar pane to its right. Enter Tasks and Duration Now you can start entering the data in the Task pane for our sample project. For the moment, ignore the first column in the Task pane, and enter the data only under Task Name and Duration columns. The tasks and the durations you need to enter are as follows (the default unit for duration is “days,” and therefore you only need to enter the numeric part):

    • Call up Artists - 5 days
    • Finalize Artist and performance date - 2 days

As you enter the task duration, you can see a Blue bar appearing on the right, graphically indicating the duration. This is the task bar, and the collection of these bars is called the Gantt chart. We will worry about this later. For now, keep entering the further tasks:

    • Call auditoriums and check date availability - 6 days

    • Negotiate with auditorium - 3 days

    • Confirm auditorium and pay in advance - 2 days

    • Book advertisement slots in media - 21 days

      How to use Microsoft Project Project Initial version

    • Print tickets - 20 days

    • Sell tickets - 10 days

    • Organize accommodation for artist’s group - 5 days

    • Organize travel arrangements - 5 days

After you have entered all of the above tasks and durations, your screen should look like the screen shot above. At this point, please save the project (File-> Save as) in a folder of your choice with file name as “Concert 0”. (Concert Zero, to indicate this is the Zero-th version of your project). All Microsoft Project files are saved, by default, with an extension “.mpp”, and we will use the default extension.

Enter Project Start Date and Task Dependencies

Great.. If you have gone this far without any hitch, you are almost there. You are, of course, wondering why all the activities are starting on the same date, right? By default, Microsoft Project will assume the Project and all activities start on the current date. As a Project Manager, let us say you are tied up till the end of August, and hence you would like to devote time to this project only from September 1.

MS Projects tutorial Project Information window

For doing this, click on “Project” on the Top menu bar and click on “Project Information” from the choices in the drop-down list. The Project Information window should pop up as shown here. For now, ignore all other fields on this window, and look at only the first field “Start Date”. Change this to September 1 and click on “OK”. Immediately you will notice this window closes, and all the Gantt bars on your project have moved to a start date of September 1. (I know you are curious to know what the other fields on the Project Information window mean; we will come back to this topic in a later lesson). Now let’s move to the question of how to give instructions to Microsoft Project that our activities need to follow some logical sequence. This is done by using “Task dependencies” or “Precedence relationships”. There are several ways in which this dependency instruction can be given. For this lesson let us do it by simply “linking” the tasks graphically. First off, we know that the second task “Finalize Artist and performance date” can start only after the first task “Call up Artists” finishes. To indicate this: 1) On the Gantt chart. position the mouse on the center of the task bar corresponding to the first task, until the mouse cursor turns into a 4-way arrow. 2) Hold down the left mouse button and drag the mouse pointer over the second task (Finalize artist..) which is to be linked. and then release the mouse button. You will notice a link line from the finish of the first task to the start of the second task. 3) Repeat the above steps for linking task 2 with task 3, then task 3 with task 4, task 4 with task 5, and task 5 with task 6 since they all follow a similar sequential precedence relationship between them.

Microsoft project tutorial - with dependencies Concert Project - With Task Dependencies

The precedence relationship between task 5 and task 6 may be debatable, but for this project let us assume we want to be sure about availability of an auditorium before we book slots for advertisements, and therefore that this is a reasonable relationship for now. We will go into other possibilities in later lessons. 4) Task 7 (Print tickets), as you can see, need not wait till completion of task 6, but can start as soon as the auditorium is confirmed. Hence, you will link task 7 with task 5. Task 8 (Sell tickets) will follow task 7. 5) Tasks 9 and 10, which are administrative tasks, can logically be taken up as soon as the date with the artist is confirmed, and hence both of these can be defined as tasks immediately following task 2. Now you have completed all task dependencies, subject to the assumptions we have made. Your Project should appear as shown above. Again save this file (File->Save as) in the same folder, but with File name as “Concert 1”, to indicate your “First” complete version.

End of First Lesson

Congratulations!!!. You now know how to start a project with Microsoft Project. Just to understand what all Microsoft Project software has done for you, behind the scenes even for a simple project like this, you can

    • Scroll to the right on the Task pane and look at the columns for Start date, Finish date and Predecessor.
    • Click on View->Network Diagram.
    • Click on Report in the Top menu bar and choose Reports (if you are using any version prior to Project 2007, please click on View->Reports->Summary); and try out some of the reports.

Go through these Reports and digest them to the extent you can.

How to use Microsoft Project - summary report Project Summary Report

MS Projects tutorial - tasks report Critical Tasks Report

How to use Microsoft Project - tasks report Top Level Tasks Report

Some of the reports you can try are given above. Do keep working with your file - practice, needless to say, makes you perfect. If you have any questions, please fill them out in the comments section below this article, and we will address them soon.


  • Screenshots taken by Author

This post is part of the series: Step By Step Tutorials on Microsoft Project

This series of articles take you through the steps involved in building a complete project using Microsoft Project software. The series starts with a very simple project spanning just ten tasks, and the builds on the simple project by introducing new elements. A hands-on approach is used throughout

  1. Step-By-Step Tutorial on Microsoft Project: Getting Started in Twenty Minutes
  2. Task Insertions, Amendments and Other Features in Microsoft Project (Lesson 2)
  3. Getting to Know the Menus and Toolbars in Microsoft Project (Lesson 3)
  4. Toolbars Continued, Plus Tips and Tricks in Microsoft Project (Lesson 4)
  5. Types of Task Relationships in Microsoft Project (Lesson 5)