How To Use Basic Microsoft Project Features and Tools

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published March 25, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Computer programs to organize tasks are something used in many industries. A common program to organize projects is Microsoft Project, which also allows you to create schedules, manage budgets, assess workloads and track progress. Knowing how to use this program can help you create detailed and organized projects and delegate tasks efficiently to your team members.

In this article, we discuss how to use Microsoft Project and its basic tools and explore the features it offers.

Features of Microsoft Project

Below are some features available in Microsoft Project:

Tasks and durations

When you open a new profile in Microsoft Project, the program provides a spreadsheet similar to those used in Excel and other programs. You can use that spreadsheet to enter tasks that work toward your team completing a project. You can also input how long you expect each task to take, giving the program a way to calculate project duration. As you enter each task and its duration, the program creates a Gantt chart based on that data. You then can save the document and change the chart.

Related: Gantt Charts: Purpose, Users and Uses

Project start date and task dependencies

Typically, those in the field don't want to start all tasks simultaneously because this can overload the resources they have. With Microsoft Project, you can alter the start date of each task by clicking on a task in the bar at the top of the screen and following the drop-down menu to the "Information" button. Then you can change the start date for your tasks and projects.

Another feature is the linking feature. It lets you create task dependencies, which are tasks you can't start until you complete another task or tasks first. To link two tasks, hover your mouse cursor over the Gantt chart task that depends on another until the cursor turns into a four-pointed arrow. Once it does, you can drag the task on top of the task that needs to be finished first, linking them within the program and creating a dependent task.

Related: The Importance of Project Management

Milestones

Milestones are a way to track the overall progress of your project. Project managers often use these to denote the end of a project phase, such as the coding or testing phase. To create a milestone in the program, click on the task in the Gantt chart to highlight it, then right-click the task to open a window with information about it. In that window is a tab labeled "Advanced," which you can click. Once there, find the checkbox at the bottom-left of the tab and select it to designate that task as a milestone.

Toolbar and icons

The toolbar feature allows you to access several tools that you can use to change your project document, and each tool has an icon that represents it. These tools include:

  • New file

  • File search

  • Print preview

  • Spelling

  • Undo

If you're unfamiliar with the icons representing these tools, you can hover your mouse over them in Microsoft project and the program displays a brief description of what the tool is and ways you can use it. This is a useful feature if you're searching for a specific tool you haven't used before and need for your current document.

How to use MS Project

Below are steps you can use to accomplish specific jobs in Microsoft Project:

1. How to add tasks

Adding tasks is the first thing you can do in Microsoft Project and is integral for using the program in the most optimal way possible. Below are steps you can use to add tasks to your document:

  1. Click the "View" menu from the options at the top of the program.

  2. Select "Gantt Chart" from the icons at the top left of the screen.

  3. Type a name for your task in the first empty "Task Name" field at the bottom of the task list.

  4. Press "Enter" to let the program create your task.

  5. Save your file using either the save icon at the top left of the program or by pressing "Ctrl" and "S" at the same time on your keyboard.

Related: Project Time Management: Tips for Prioritizing

2. How to change your view

Microsoft Project lets you change the way you see the projects you manage. While the default option is the Gantt chart, there are other options you can choose, such as:

  • Network diagrams

  • Calendars

  • Task usages

  • Sheet

  • Form

Each of these options displays the information you enter differently and can help you see different parts of your projects. You can use the steps below to change how you see your project document:

  1. Click the "View" tab from the choices at the top of the program.

  2. Choose either the "Task Views" or "Resource Views" groups, or you can click "Gantt Chart" and "More Views" to see a complete list of options.

  3. Select an option from the choices the program displays.

  4. Save your document by using the save icon on the top-left of the screen or by pressing "Ctrl" and "S" at the same time on your keyboard.

3. How to link tasks

One of the useful tools you can use in Microsoft Project is the linking tool. Follow the steps below to link your tasks and create dependencies and task schedules for your organization:

  1. Click the "View" tab at the top of the program.

  2. Select "Gantt Chart."

  3. Hold the "Ctrl" key on your keyboard and click on the two tasks you want to link.

  4. Click "Task."

  5. Select "Link the Selected Tasks" which is followed by a "∞" symbol.

  6. Save your document using the save icon at the top of the screen or by pressing "Ctrl" and "S" at the same time on your keyboard.

4. How to outline tasks

You can turn the tasks you enter into the program into an overall outline for your project using the "Indent Task" and "Outdent Task" options. You can use the steps below to create an outline in Microsoft Project:

  1. Click the "View" tab at the top of the program.

  2. Select "Gantt Chart."

  3. Click the task you want to indent from the "Task Name" column.

  4. Select "Task."

  5. Click "Indent Task" to make it a subtask for one above it.

  6. Click "Outdent Task" to make it a normal task like the ones above it.

  7. Save your outline using the save icon at the top of the program or by pressing "Ctrl" and "S" on your keyboard at the same time.

Related: How To Write an Outline

5. How to print your project

One last option you have in Microsoft Project is the ability to print your projects. This can help you share the document with your team members and give presentations about your project, including its timeline, costs and how the tasks depend upon one another. Use the steps below to help you print the document:

  1. Click the "File" tab on the top-left of the program.

  2. Select "Print" from the options on the left side of the screen.

  3. Select the printer where you want your document to be printed.

  4. Choose the number of copies you want to make.

  5. "Click the "Print" button with the printer icon to let the program execute the print function.

Please note that none of the products or companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

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