Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Managing a project visually with Microsoft Project and MindGenius

In October's article, I demonstrated how to manage a project using MindGenius’s Resource and Gantt views. Small projects and individual task lists can be easily managed using a mind map, however, as projects grow in size and complexity, advanced scheduling tools like Microsoft Project are used. Fortunately, MindGenius integrates well with Microsoft Project and helps project managers analyze complex project schedules.

Microsoft Project and MindGenius both produce useful Gantt charts to depict the project timeline. However, when reporting status, it is helpful to provide a project status snapshot using a color coded work break down structure. Using a color coded graph to identify late and at risk tasks, provides a quick status at a glance. Figure 1 displays the color coded work breakdown structure that identifies late and at risk tasks for a project schedule.

Figure 1. Graphical WBS
Developing a one page status graphic is easy using MindGenius. The following 6 steps will show you how to import the work breakdown structure, find troubled tasks and correctly color code them based on project status.

Step 1. Import the Project Schedule into MindGenius

a. In MindGenius, select File – Import – Microsoft Project
b. Browse to a Microsoft Project file and click Ok
c. The Import Microsoft Project options dialogue box appears (Figure 2)
d. Click Ok

Figure 2. Import Microsoft Project options

MindGenius will also create tasks in Outlook however for larger project schedules, I would not import the tasks into Outlook. The import options allow you to select the types of Microsoft Project data that can be imported as well as defaulting the MindGenius Gantt view. Displaying the Gantt view automatically is a personal preference and for this tutorial, I prefer to use the default mind map view.

Step 2. Change the format to a work breakdown structure format

The initial map will be imported as a mind map in the Output Tree – Top down format (Figure 3). This format is useful for brainstorming but for project managers prefer a graphical work breakdown structure view.

Figure 3. Default Map

To create a work breakdown structure, click on Map Layouts (Figure 4) and select the Affinity layout.

Figure 4. Map Layouts

Step 3. Display the level 1 structure

a. Select Display Levels and select level 1 to collapse all the nodes to top work breakdown structure nodes.

Hint: The shortcut key Shift-Ctrl-1 will also quickly collapse or expand the map based on the corresponding number. Pressing Shift-Ctrl-2 will expand the work breakdown structure to 2 levels from the root node.

Figure 5. Work Breakdown Structure format

For large projects, project managers can use the Map Explorer view to traverse the mind map and focus on relevant nodes and task. This is helpful when examining a specific set of tasks similar to collapsing levels in Microsoft Project.

Step 4. Identify the Late Tasks using Task Quick Filter

Similar to the previous tutorial, use the task filters to identify any late tasks.

a. Select Analyze
b. Set the “With actions/tasks scheduled to be completed” option to Overdue
c. Select Hide non-matches
d. Click apply filter

Figure 6 Quick Filter

The mind map filter will identify all the tasks that are late and need to be updated. The project manager can also create a Resource Map based on the filter to identify late tasks by resource.

Step 5. Meet with the team to understand the true status of these late tasks

Using the filtered map (Figure 7), the project manager can record relevant notes against each task, update the percent complete and adjust the forecasted end date. By clicking on the Pencil icon, the Note Editor will appear and additional meeting notes can be documented against the specific task.

Figure 7. Reviewing late tasks with the team

Based on the updated mind map, the project manager can update the Microsoft Project schedule using the notes from the meeting. My preference is to update the project schedule manually although project managers could export the mind map and overwrite the Microsoft Project file. I recommend updating the Microsoft Project file manually and use the visual map to facilitate the status meeting and report status. When the mind map is exported to Microsoft Project, it creates Must Start On constraints. As a best practice, project managers should have dynamic project schedules that are free of schedule constraints.

Step 6. Color code the late and at risk tasks

Based on the team status meeting, the next step is to color code the late and at risk tasks using the Format – Branch Fill command. For project status reporting to executive management, I include the color coded work breakdown structure in the status deck before the detailed status report. Late tasks are marked red, at risk tasks or tasks that have issues are marked yellow and the rest of the map is left the default color. Project managers may choose to color completed nodes blue or on-track nodes as green based on the amount of data in the map.

To color code a task:
a. Select Format – Branch Fill and pick the desired color
b. The node color will change
c. Continue coloring nodes for each relevant node in the map (Figure 8)
d. Once the map is colored for status, select File – Export – Image to export the map for your status report deck

Figure 8. Graphical Project Status Work Breakdown Structure
Once you start working with MindGenius, you’ll appreciate how well MindGenius imports and exports across a variety of file formats. Microsoft Word, Excel, Powerpoint, Microsoft Project, Outlook and even Microsoft Visio formats are supported in addition to images, PDFs, HTML and other mind mapping formats. By importing the Microsoft Project file into a visual format, project managers can communicate status quickly and visually identify problems in the project schedule. Thinking and communicating visually helps improve understanding and delivery. Instead of reading through several pages of a status report, managers can quickly understand the project status visually.

Download your free trial of MindGenius today, start importing your Microsoft Project schedule and start managing visually!

To download a template with step by step instructions on how to manage your project with MindGenius, visit: http://www.biggerplate.com/mindmaps/bv0dcjuD/manage-a-project-visually-with-mindgenius-and-ms-project.

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

Why is Continuing Professional Development Important?

After qualifying in your chosen field it may seem that your mission has been accomplished. But after initial training and qualifications are completed there can be a tendency to sit back and assume that additional experience required will be developed from on the job experience alone.

Continuing professional development is important because it ensures you continue to be competent in your profession. It is an on-going process and continues throughout a professional’s career.

The ultimate outcome of well-planned continuing professional development is that it safeguards the public, the employer, the professional and the professional’s career.

Well-crafted and delivered continuing professional development is important because it delivers benefits to the individual, their profession and the public.

  • CPD ensures your capabilities keep pace with the current standards of others in the same field.
  • CPD ensures that you maintain and enhance the knowledge and skills you need to deliver a professional service to your customers, clients and the community.
  • CPD ensures that you and your knowledge stay relevant and up to date. You are more aware of the changing trends and directions in your profession. The pace of change is probably faster than it’s ever been – and this is a feature of the new normal that we live and work in. If you stand still you will get left behind, as the currency of your knowledge and skills becomes out-dated.
  • CPD helps you continue to make a meaningful contribution to your team. You become more effective in the workplace. This assists you to advance in your career and move into new positions where you can lead, manage, influence, coach and mentor others.
  • CPD helps you to stay interested and interesting. Experience is a great teacher, but it does mean that we tend to do what we have done before. Focused CPD opens you up to new possibilities, new knowledge and new skill areas.
  •  CPD can deliver a deeper understanding of what it means to be a professional, along with a greater appreciation of the implications and impacts of your work.
  • CPD helps advance the body of knowledge and technology within your profession
  • CPD can lead to increased public confidence in individual professionals and their profession as a whole
  • Depending on the profession – CPD contributes to improved protection and quality of life, the environment, sustainability, property and the economy. This particularly applies to high risk areas, or specialised practice areas which may be difficult to monitor on a case by case basis. The importance of continuing professional development should not be underestimated – it is a career-long obligation for practicing professionals.
One industry with a strong CPD network is engineering, for more information on CPD requirements for Engineers around the world, visit:
Continuing professional development should be engaging and fun too and MindGenius partner, Continuing Professional Development, have achieved this by developing online CPD courses and incorporating MindGenius into them, have a look at these examples to see what that looks like:
Vivian Kloosterman, CPD, said: “Over the years of managing and leading professionals at all levels in our consulting organisation, one of the most significant barriers to accomplishing agreed project outcomes was poor planning. This was a real stumbling block for even the smartest and best qualified of our team. When a project is complicated, and they usually are, there was a tendency to just leap in and get started because, on the face of it, that was the line of least resistance. “At least I’m making a start and getting something done!”

Trying to plan a project in the correct sequence of linear steps is not an easy task. This is where MindGenius comes into its own and for this reason we use it to support our online courses. It is particularly relevant for our Project Management courses and courses such as Stakeholder Analysis and Risk Management. Its powerful mind mapping techniques allow you to put structure around all of that noise and complexity. You can do it quickly too, so that when your team is impatient to move on, they can - but with a structured plan in place. I wish we had been able to use this software and its capabilities years ago.”

Read more about CPD at http://continuingprofessionaldevelopment.org/why-is-cpd-important/