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Setting Up a Project Document

Find out how to create a more accurately calculated schedule, by correctly setting up a new Microsoft Project document. This sample chapter from Using Microsoft Project 2003 covers the information you need for a new project, selecting environment options, and defining a calendar of working time.
This chapter is from the book

Chapter 3: Setting Up a Project Document

In this chapter

Supplying Information for a New Project

Selecting the Environment Options

Defining a Calendar of Working Time


Supplying Information for a New Project

Setting up a new Project document correctly from the beginning will help make your use of Microsoft Project 2003 much easier. Before you enter the first task in a new project, it's a good idea to examine several settings and make any required changes to them. Although there are no defined rules for doing this, by following the steps outlined in this chapter, you will be able to create a more accurately calculated schedule.

You generally use most of the default settings in Microsoft Project 2003 to schedule tasks. Microsoft Project 2003 also allows flexibility and adaptability to accurately reflect the actual workings of each individual project. You can change many of these settings after tasks and resources have already been entered into the project. However, by addressing these issues up front, you are guaranteed to create a schedule that is based on logic and calculated reason.


Although you can address the preliminaries of a project in any order, the order in which the topics are presented in this chapter is the order recommended when you begin developing your first project.

You should understand the working conditions in a project, including the working calendar and holidays, before attempting to set up the project. Microsoft Project 2003 calculates the schedule for activities based on this information, so you should outline this information before you begin using Microsoft Project 2003 to schedule tasks.

When you begin working with Microsoft Project 2003, you typically start by setting up the environmental working options. Next, you define the working time calendar, considering working hours and nonworking time. After you set up a calendar, you might want to print it for review at a later time. You might also want to use the same calendar for other projects; to do this, you need to use the Organizer, which is described later in this chapter (see the section titled "Working with the Organizer," or you could also use a template upon which to base new projects.

Microsoft Project 2003 includes two wizards to assist in the process of setting up your project: the New Project Wizard and the Calendar Wizard. Using wizards in Microsoft products makes the setup process easy and complete. You are strongly encouraged to take advantage of these new wizards to expedite your setup time and allow you to focus on defining the scope of work for the project.

When you start a new project, you must consider whether you want the project to be scheduled from a specific start date or scheduled backward from a predetermined finish date. It is not possible to do both. When Microsoft Project 2003 calculates the forward-scheduling of tasks, it considers many factors, including the duration of the tasks, the base calendar selected, the settings set by the user, dependencies defined between activities, the calendar of the resource assigned, and, if one is created, a specific task calendar that is assigned to the activity. When Microsoft Project 2003 calculates the backward-scheduling of tasks, it does essentially the same thing it does when forward-scheduling, except that it calculates backward from the project's fixed end date.

In addition to calendar information, you need to provide summary information; Microsoft Project 2003 inserts this information into many of the reports it can generate, and this information enables Microsoft Project 2003 users to search for specific contents of files saved on your computer. You enter this summary information into the Properties dialog box, which you access by selecting File, Properties. The following sections describe how you input data into the Project Information and Properties dialog boxes.

Using the Project Information Dialog Box

To start a new file, choose File, New or click the New button on the Standard toolbar. Microsoft Project 2003 now displays the options available to you in a sidepane called "New Project." You then need to select whether you want to create a new project from a template or start a blank project. Selecting Blank Project automatically initiates the Project Guide to guide you through the process of creating a new project. The pane now displayed is the Tasks Pane, which is part of the default Project Guide. Each option is designed for you to select each option in turn and be "guided" through the process of creating your new project.

Selecting Define the Project, for example, allows you to enter the start date of your project without ever having to manually select commands from the menu.

After each option has been invoked in the Tasks Pane, the Project Guide will allow you to move on to other aspects of project creation. After you have worked your way through each section of the guide, you will have created your project plan. The Project Guide makes the whole process intuitive and easy for novice users to get up and running quickly with Microsoft Project 2003. For more information on the Project Guide, see the section titled "Using the New Project Wizard."

Of course, if you are a more experienced user you may prefer to simply access the Project Information dialog box.

You use the Project Information dialog box to record basic information about a project, such as the project start date and the base calendar to use for scheduling. To access the Project Information dialog box at any time, you choose Project, Project Information.

Figure 3.1 shows the Project Information dialog box that appears in the Standard edition of Microsoft Project 2003. Figure 3.2 shows the Project Information dialog box that appears in the Professional edition of Microsoft Project 2003.

Figure 3.1Figure 3.1 The Project Information dialog box defines the start date for a project.

Figure 3.2Figure 3.2 The option to have the Project Information dialog box appear when you open a new project is available under the General tab of the Options dialog box.


If the Project Information dialog box does not display when you open a new project, choose Tools, Options. On the General tab, mark the Prompt for Project Info for New Projects check box. Then start a new file; the Project Information dialog box should now appear (see Figure 3.3).

Figure 3.3Figure 3.3 The start date of the project should be defined from within the Project Information dialog box, not the start field of the first task of the project.

The fields in the Project Information dialog box are as follows:

  • Start Date, Finish Date, and Schedule From—The Schedule From drop-down selects whether the project forward-schedules from a start date or backward-schedules from a finish date. To define a specific date for a project to start, you can type the date in the Start Date text box or click the Start Date drop-down button to choose a date on a calendar. If you must schedule a project to finish on a specific date, select the Schedule From list box and choose Project Finish Date. You can then type a specific date in the Finish Date text box. This will move the project to schedule backward from this date.

  • Current Date and Status Date—Microsoft Project 2003 uses the information in these fields to perform several date-related calculations. If you leave the Status Date field set to NA (for example, if you want to see the values in the Earned Value fields calculated up through and including the current date or a date you specify), Project uses the date in the Current Date field as the status date. This date is also used in the Complete Through field in the Update Project dialog box, as well as in the placement of progress lines in the Gantt Chart view. See the section "Changing the Current Date and Status Date Text Boxes," later in this chapter, for more information about when and how you might want to use this field.

    For information on telling Microsoft Project 2003 that work on the current project is complete through a specific date, see "Analyzing Progress and Revising the Schedule."

  • Calendar—You can use the Calendar list box to select a different base calendar for scheduling the project. The section "Scheduling with Calendars," later in this chapter, explains when you should use the default base calendar (Standard) and when you should consider using a different calendar.

  • NOTE

    If the base calendar you want to use is defined in a different project file from the one you're currently using, you must use the Organizer to copy that calendar into the current project file before you can select it (see the section "Working with Calendars," later in this chapter).

  • Priority—When you are sharing a pool of resources across multiple projects, you can identify which project has the highest priority by changing the Priority field in the Project Information dialog box. You can set this project level priority between 0 and 1000 (1000 being the highest priority).

    When you have a resource that is assigned too much work, and they don't have enough time in which to do the work, then the resource is said to be overallocated, and you can have Microsoft Project 2003 attempt to resolve the problem. For more information, see "Resolving Resource Assignment Problems."

Understanding the Start and Finish Date Text Boxes

When you're starting a new project document, you enter either a start date or a finish date into the Project Information dialog box to function as an anchor point for scheduling the tasks in the project. Microsoft Project 2003 computes the other date. You cannot specify both a start date and a finish date.

If you enter the start date, Microsoft Project 2003 schedules the first task in the project to begin at that time and calculates the project's finish date based on that starting date and the sequence of tasks that come after the first task. New tasks that are added begin as soon as possible when you schedule from a start date.

If you enter the finish date, Microsoft Project 2003 schedules the tasks from the end of the project first and works backward. The final task is scheduled to end by the finish date; the task that precedes the final task is scheduled to end in time for the final task to begin, and so on. By the time Project schedules all tasks to end in time to meet the finish date requirement, the program has calculated a start date (that is, the date by which the first task must begin for the project to be completed by the specified finish time). New tasks that are added begin as late as possible when you schedule from a finish date.

You can use the Schedule From list box to change a project's schedule as often as you like. If you want to see when a project must start in order to finish by a deadline date, you can change the Schedule From option to Project Finish Date and enter the deadline date. When you choose OK, Project recalculates the schedule, including a new start date. You can then view the Project Information dialog box again to see what the required start date is, given the new finish date deadline. While in the Project Information dialog box, you can switch back to scheduling from a fixed start date.

To select a start date or finish date, you can either type the date or click the drop-down button to select a date from a calendar (see Figure 3.4). To select a date in the current month, you simply click that date. To select a date in a different month, you use the left and right arrows to select a different month and then click the date.

Figure 3.4Figure 3.4 The Project Information dialog box allows the selection of dates via the pop-up calendar.


When you're managing a project, it's best to schedule forward based on a start date. If you schedule the project based on a fixed finish date, all activities must flow backward based on durations, linkages, and the calendars assigned; this is fine until you begin tracking the project. When you schedule from a fixed finish date, the start date is based on the actual time needed to complete each phase. What's wrong with this picture? Because both the start and finish dates are fixed, the schedule cannot expand or contract.

Also, scheduling from the finish date assumes that there is no project buffer, or extra time added to the end of the project, to allow for delays in completion of the project, unless you take that into consideration in selecting the finish date from which to schedule backward.

When you encounter a date field, you can use the built-in pop-up calendar to select a date.


If you change your mind about the date you selected, you can click the area designated Today at the bottom of the calendar to immediately return to today's date. This closes the calendar pop-up. Of course, pressing Esc closes the window entirely, without saving the changes you've made.

Changing the Current Date and Status Date Text Boxes

The computer's internal clock initially determines the date listed in the Current Date text box. Changing this text box has several implications:

  • The date determines the location of the dashed (current) date line on the Gantt Chart view time line.

  • The current date appears in the header of the Project Summary standard report as an As Of date. You also can display the Current Date text box in headers or footers on other reports by typing the appropriate code in the header or footer definition.

  • You can customize Project to start new tasks based on the current date instead of on the project's start date. You do so by selecting Tools, Options, selecting the Schedule tab, and changing a setting next to New Tasks: Start on Project Start Date or Start on Current Date.

The Current Date can be used for benchmarking the progress of tasks, but you can use an alternative date for this as well. If you specify a date in the Status Date field in the Project Information dialog box, this is the date Project uses for placing the progress lines in the Gantt Chart view. In addition, if there is a date in the Status Date field, Project uses this date when calculating the Earned Value fields and for tracking purposes in the Update Project dialog box.

To change the Current Date field or enter a date in the Status Date field, select the field and type the date or click the drop-down arrow to select a date from a calendar pop-up.

Displaying the Project Statistics Dialog Box

You use the Statistics button at the bottom of the Project Information dialog box to display the Project Statistics dialog box (see Figure 3.5). You can also display this dialog box by clicking the Project Statistics button on the Tracking toolbar.

Figure 3.5Figure 3.5 The Project Statistics dialog box gives a quick summary of the status of a project.

The Project Statistics dialog box displays summary information about a project. You cannot manually change the data in this dialog box; you can only view and print it.


You can use the Project Summary report (in the Overview category) to print out the project statistics. Reports are accessed from the View menu.

The Project Statistics dialog box shows the current, or currently scheduled, values for five project parameters: the start date, finish date, total duration, work, and cost. If you have saved the baseline copy of the schedule, the baseline values also are displayed, for comparison.

When work is actually performed on the project and progress on tasks is recorded, the information in the Actual row is updated. The percentage complete of the duration and work of the project are shown at the bottom of the dialog box, in the Percent Complete section.

To close the Project Statistics dialog box, click the Close button.

Using the Properties Dialog Box

In the Properties dialog box, you can view and edit a number of options that describe a project. To open the Properties dialog box, choose File, Properties. The Properties dialog box has five tabs; the Summary tab is the default.


You can display information from the fields in the Properties dialog box—especially fields from the Summary tab—in the header or footer area of printed views or reports for a project. See Chapter 13, "Printing Views and Reports," for more information.

The Summary Tab

In the Summary tab of the Properties dialog box (see Figure 3.6), you can supply descriptive information about a project and the people associated with it. You can include the options at the top of the tab (Title, Subject, Author, Manager, and Company) in reports as header or footer text. The options Category, Keywords, and Comments are useful when you're searching through previously created project files on your hard disk. You can use the Hyperlink Base option to indicate the main address to the hyperlinks you have in your project. This can be a link to another file on your computer or server or a link to a location on the Web.

Figure 3.6Figure 3.6 The Summary tab of the Properties dialog box presents descriptive options that are useful in reports and for searching for files to open.

To change any of the options on the Summary tab, select its text box and type an entry. Press the Tab key after you have finished typing the entry to move to the next option. Except in the Comments list box, pressing the Enter key on this tab selects the OK button and closes the dialog box.

If the newly created project originated from a template, the template name appears at the bottom of the dialog box.

You can select the Save Preview Picture check box to have Project save a thumbnail sketch of the current view when you save the file. You can browse these preview pictures when you search for files by using the File, Open command. The Save Preview Picture check box is not selected by default.

If you have trouble locating files in the future, you can use the Open dialog box to search for words entered in the fields of the Summary tab to find the needed file.

The General Tab

The General tab of the Properties dialog box describes the file that stores the project document. It provides statistics about the project file: the name, type, location, and size of the file, as well as the dates when the file was created, last modified, and last opened. This tab is blank until the document is saved as a file.

The Statistics Tab

The Statistics tab of the Properties dialog box provides useful statistics about your work with the project document, including when it was created, last modified, last accessed, and last printed. It also shows who last saved the file, which is useful for shared files in a workgroup. The Statistics tab also shows how many times the document has been revised and the total amount of computer time spent editing the file.

The Contents Tab

The Contents tab of the Properties dialog box displays the most commonly reviewed statistics about the current project schedule: the start and finish dates; the scheduled duration, work, and cost; and the percentage completed for both duration and work. The Contents tab displays summary statistics about the project schedule.

The Custom Tab

With the Custom tab of the Properties dialog box you can add additional properties to a file. Then, you can search for files by the values of these properties. Based on the information in Figure 3.7, for example, you could search for all projects that have Marketing in the Department Value field. The bottom row in the Properties list box shows that a property named Department has been created for this document, with the text value Marketing.

Figure 3.7Figure 3.7 The Custom tab of the Properties dialog box allows you to set up custom search parameters.

To create a custom property for a project, follow these steps:

  1. Choose File, Properties.

  2. Choose the Custom tab.

  3. Type a property name in the Name list box. The drop-down list below the Name list box lists commonly used properties. If you want to use one of these, select it.

  4. Use the Type drop-down list to define the type of data to place in the field. You should use this option only when you will type the value of the property instead of linking it to a field in the project file. When you link the property value to a project field, the Type drop-down list is unavailable. The allowable data types are Text, Date, Number, and Yes or No (logical).

  5. If you chose Text, Date, or Number previously, type a value in the Value text box. If you chose the Yes or No option in the Type list box, you see Yes and No buttons in the Value box. Select the one you want to use.

  6. Click the Add button to add the property to the list in the Properties dialog box.

If you want to link a property value to a project field, follow these steps:

  1. Choose File, Properties.

  2. Choose the Custom tab.

  3. Type a property name in the Name list box.

  4. Select the Link to Content check box (refer to Figure 3.7). The Type list box is grayed out, and the Value text box becomes a drop-down list. The name of the text box changes to Source.

  5. In the Source drop-down list box, choose the field that has the value you want the property to reflect.

  6. Click the Add button to add the property to the list in the Properties dialog box.

If you want to delete a custom property, select it in the Properties list and click the Delete button.

If you want to modify the value for a property, select the property name in the Properties list. This places the current name and value in the text boxes at the top of the dialog box. Change the Type or Value fields as needed, and the Add button automatically changes to Modify. If you change the Name field, you have to use the Add button to include it as a new property. You can then use the Delete button to remove the original, leaving the newly named version. Then you can click the Modify button to complete the change.

When you finish the custom properties list, click the OK button unless you want to make additional changes on one of the other tabs.

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