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.

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