Microsoft Project Guide for Beginners: Everything your need to know

Getting started managing a new project using Microsoft Project? Learn how to use Microsoft Project piece-by-piece in the Microsoft project software guide.

Microsoft Project Guide

Microsoft Project is a powerful project management software developed and sold by Microsoft. It is designed to help project managers develop a project schedule, assign resources to tasks, track progress, manage the budget, analyze workloads, and more. The program can be used for small or large-scale projects and has an intuitive interface that makes it easy to use. 

But MS Project can be difficult to use, especially if you’re just starting to use the software. 

So, how do you use Microsoft Project? 

In this Microsoft project guide, we will explain how to use Microsoft Project by going over its functionality piece by piece. You’ll also learn some advanced MS Project features and uses.

This guide applies to Microsoft Project 2013, Microsoft Project 2016, Microsoft Project 2019, and Microsoft Project 2021.

Summary: Tips for using Microsoft Project

Before you get a basic understanding of how to use Microsoft Project, here are some tips that will help you get the most out of this software: 

  • Use templates: Microsoft Project comes with a variety of templates that you can use to create your projects. Templates can help you save time by providing a starting point for your project.
  • Plan your project: Before you start using Microsoft Project, it is important to take some time to plan your project. This will help you identify the tasks that need to be completed and the resources that you will need.
  • Set deadlines: Microsoft Project can help you track deadlines and ensure that your project stays on schedule.
  • Assign resources: Microsoft Project makes it easy to assign resources to tasks. This can help you track who is working on what and ensure everyone has the information they need to complete their tasks.
  • Microsoft Project Tutorials: Microsoft offers a variety of tutorials that will help you learn how to use Microsoft Project.
  • Microsoft Project Help: If you get stuck while using Microsoft Project, you can find helpful information in the Microsoft Project Help section.
  • Microsoft Project Forums: There are many forums where users can ask questions and share tips about Microsoft Project.
  • Microsoft Project Reports: Project comes with a predefined reports dashboard Report tab, allowing you to create and customize graphical reports for your project as well.

Introduction to Microsoft Project

Here is the basic information you need to know about Microsoft Project:

What is Microsoft Project?

Microsoft Project is a project management software developed and sold by Microsoft, and helps users to manage the time and resources for any business or individual. It helps project managers develop a project schedule, plan, assign resources to tasks, organize, and effectively control projects. Project managers can also use it to track project progress, manage the project budget, and analyze workloads. Microsoft Project is a popular tool of choice for project managers, as it offers many features and is relatively easy to use.

What can you do in MS Project?

With Microsoft Project, you can create project schedules, track project status and resource utilization, control costs and manage risks. 

MS Project creates budgets based on assignment work and resource rates. As resources are assigned to tasks and assignment work estimated, MS project calculates the cost, equal to the work times the rate, which rolls up to the task level and then to any summary task, and finally to the project level.

MS also categorizes resources based on time of completion, i.e., each resource can have its own calendar. This feature defines what days and shifts a resource is available for use.

You can also generate reports to analyze the project performance and help you make better decisions.

 Microsoft Project isn’t suitable for solving problems of available materials (resources) constrained production. For this, additional software is necessary to manage a complex facility that produces physical goods.

Who uses MS Project?

Microsoft Project is widely used by organizations for project scheduling, resource allocation, budgeting and project management. It can also be used for personal tasks such as managing your household chores or planning your wedding day.

What are the Benefits of Microsoft Project?

Microsoft Project comes with various benefits.

  • Visualize your project plan and schedule in standard-defined formats.
  • Schedule project tasks and resources effectively and consistently.
  • Helps in planning tasks and tracking the progress of work on them.
  • Provides alerts when something goes wrong with the schedule or there's a delay due to some reason.
  • Track information regarding the work, duration, resources, skills, and personnel requirements for your project.
  • Generate reports to share in project progress meetings.

Microsoft project versions

There are several versions of Microsoft Project that you can choose from:

  • Standard Edition
  • Professional Edition
  • Project Server Project Online

How much is Microsoft Project?

The prices of Microsoft Project depend on the version and year.

You can get the Microsoft Project Standard Edition 2019 for $449.99. This is the most popular software version, and it comes with all the features needed in a project management tool. The MS Professional 2019 edition goes for $559.99.

Microsoft Project 2021 is a new version released with Microsoft Office 2021. The Microsoft Project Standard 2021 is $774.99 while the Microsoft Professional 2021 is $1289.99.

Microsoft Project versions 2016, 2013, 2010, and 2007 may be cheaper but they lack the functionality and features you get in MS Project 2021, Microsoft Project 2019, or Microsoft Project app in Microsoft 365.

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Microsoft Project features

The most important features of Microsoft Project include:

  • Task scheduling
  • Resource allocation
  • Cost estimation
  • Time management
  • Work breakdown structure (WBS)
  • Team collaboration
  • Reporting capabilities

Microsoft Project templates

Microsoft Project templates are pre-built project plans that you can use to create your own projects. They include tasks, resources and a schedule. The project templates are available in different formats, such as Gantt Chart view, Resource usage view and Calendar view.

The standard template is designed for office workers who need to create small projects, such as implementing new policies or procedures within their organization. The standard template offers high-level overviews of the overall project, tasks and milestones so you can stay on top of things at a glance without getting bogged down in too much detail right away!

Project Professional is usually used by managers who wish to manage complex projects with multiple teams working on different aspects at once. This version has more robust features like advanced scheduling options, which allow users more control over where resources should be allocated within their organization’s workflow processes; this gives them more power over what gets done when it needs done most effectively throughout all stages of development (or “iterations”).

How to use Microsoft Project: Basics

If you are just getting started with Microsoft Project, here are the basics of using Microsoft Project for beginners. 

How to open MS Project

  1. Click on the Start menu
  2. Go to All Programs
  3. Click on Microsoft Office
  4. Then click on Microsoft Project.

Toolbar and Icons in Microsoft Project

 Microsoft Project gives you a fair amount of control over how you see the project with the MS Project toolbar in the View menu. It allows you to choose the view you want: 

  • Gantt chart,
  • calendar, 
  • network diagram, 
  • task usage, 
  • tracking, 
  • etc. 

You can pick the view that is most relevant to you. This may change throughout the project, so you’ll be using the toolbar feature often.

There is also a Toolbar option under view. It opens up another window to the right with more options. 

The Standard and Formatting options in MS Project are defaults, but you can change theM as you like to see what you want to see at any particular time.

The icons on the toolbar offer a popup screen tip if you hover your mouse over them, to help you familiarize yourself with the visual vocabulary of MS Project. The icons should be commonplace to anyone with some computer literacy: New File, File Search, Print Preview, Spelling, Undo, etc.

Add tasks

  1. Open MS Project 
  2. Click View > Gantt Chart.
  3. Type a name in the first empty Task Name field at the bottom of the task list, and press Enter.

Creating a new project in MS project

Creating a new project in MS Project is easy. To create a new project, follow these steps:

  1. Click the File tab and then click New.
  2. In the dialog box, choose Project and click OK.
  3. In the Create New Project dialog box, enter your project information in the fields provided and then click OK.
  4. The first time you open Microsoft Project after installing it on your computer, you will see this dialog box with default values already entered for most of its fields so that you can begin creating your first project right away!

Outline tasks

You can indent and outdent tasks to show hierarchy — that is, to turn your task list into an outline of your project. An indented task becomes a subtask of the task above it, which becomes a summary task.

  1. Open MS Project 
  2. Click View > Gantt Chart.
  3. In the Task Name column, click the task you want to indent.
  4. Click Task > Indent Task. Indent Task button in the ribbon. 
  5. The task becomes a subtask.
  6. Click Outdent Task to move the task back to the level of the task above it. It’s no longer a subtask.

Link tasks

You can link any two tasks in a project to show their relationship. This is called task dependency. Dependencies drive the project schedule, i.e. once you link the tasks, every change you make to one affects the other, which affects the next one, and so on.

To do this: 

  1. Click View > Gantt Chart.
  2. Hold down Ctrl and click the two tasks you want to link (in the Task Name column).
  3. Click Task > Link the Selected Tasks Link Tasks button on the Task tab of the ribbon.

How to create a timeline in MS Project

Creating a timeline in MS Project is easy. To create a timeline, follow these steps:

  1. Click on the View tab and then click Timeline. 
  2. In the dialog box that appears
  3. Click OK to close it.

Change your view

MS Project starts you off with the tried-and-true Gantt Chart. But you have dozens of other options for viewing your tasks and resources and how they’re all connected. So, you can change any view to meet your specific needs.

  1. Click the View tab.
  2. In the Task Views group or Resource Views group, click the view that you want to use.
  3. To see all the available views, click Gantt Chart > More Views, and then choose from the options in the More Views dialog box.

Create the structure of your project (WBS)

A WBS is a hierarchical structure of all the deliverables, activities, tasks and subtasks of a project. It can be used to define what you're working on and how much time it will take to complete your project.

A well-defined WBS can help you manage your time, money and resources more effectively by preventing you from overloading your team with too many projects at once. It also helps other stakeholders understand how long each stage will take so they can plan their own work accordingly to meet deadlines or milestones.

Tips for Creating tasks and subtasks

Once you have created your tasks and subtasks, you can begin setting the following properties on each task:

  1. Set dependencies between tasks. For example, if Task A needs to be completed before Task B can begin, then create a dependency between the two tasks. This will help Microsoft project schedule them correctly in the calendar view and display their start/finish dates correctly in the Gantt Chart View.
  2. Set duration for each task based on factors such as number of resources or estimated effort per resource assigned to that task. This helps Microsoft Project calculate accurate estimates of cost and completion date(s).
  3. Set start date based on when work actually began or when it was due (if this is not already set as part of your company's standards). You may also want to enter finish dates for all your projects as well so that you know when they will be completed by (if this is not already set as part of your company's standards).
  4. Assign resources to tasks according to their availability during those periods in which they are needed for work completion purposes e.g., if someone comes into work for four hours per day Monday through Friday mornings only then assign them one day out of five where their availability matches their need instead because otherwise, they could easily get overbooked with 100% utilization which would cause many problems down the road like burnout etcetera .
  5. If you are a results-oriented leader, then don't just set goals and expect people to figure out how to reach them. Instead, ask questions like "what resources do you need?" or "how much time do we have?" and then help your team members find ways to get those things done.

The critical path

The critical path is the longest path of tasks in a project. The critical path determines the duration of a project, and therefore it has a significant impact on the final outcome.

The Project Management Institute defines the critical path as “the longest sequence of dependent activities from start to finish that determines the overall schedule duration”.

To determine the critical path, you first need to calculate all task durations for each activity. Then you need to identify which tasks have dependencies on other activities (i.e., they cannot start until another activity has been completed), and finally, you must identify which activities are part of your project’s longest path through all tasks that depend upon one another—this is your project's "critical" or "critical" chain (or simply "critical").

Defining the durations of tasks and subtasks

To define the durations of tasks and subtasks, you should first identify the type of task that you are creating. There are three types of tasks in Microsoft Project:

  • Duration-driven work breakdown structure (DDBWS)
  • Sequential activities
  • Free form activities

Duration-driven Work Breakdown Structure (DDBWS) Tasks

Assigning resources to tasks

You can assign resources to tasks in the Task sheet, Task form, and Resource form. If a task has more than one resource assigned, the average of all assigned resources is displayed as hours per day.

The following procedures explain how to view assigned resources in each of these areas:

  • In the View tab on the ribbon, click Task Views > Gantt Chart.
  • In the Navigate group, click Next Task (to go to the next task) or Previous Task (to go to the previous task).

Adding estimates on the cost and time of each task

The task duration and cost are the time it takes to complete a task, while the task estimate is a guess of how long it will take to complete the task.

To calculate project duration, you simply add up all of these estimates together. For example, if you have three tasks that each have an estimated duration of one week and budget of $100 USD per week, then your total project budget will be $300 USD ($100X3).

Setting up baselines

A baseline is a point where you compare your actual results to the planned results. Setting up baselines allows you to see how the project is progressing and when things are taking longer than expected.

You can set up baselines for different time periods, like weekly or monthly, or for individual tasks in each project phase. It's also possible to set them up at the end of each phase—or even after every task!

When creating a baseline, all team members must use Microsoft Project at the same time (e.g., 9 AM Eastern Time) to compare apples to apples across their tasks and projects.

How to create a Gantt chart in MS Project

Project Gantt Charts allow you to see how the project is progressing and when things are taking longer than expected. You can set up baselines for different time periods, like weekly or monthly, or for individual tasks in each project phase. It's also possible to set them up at the end of each phase—or even after every task! When creating a baseline, all team members must use Microsoft Project at the same time (e.g., 9 AM Eastern Time) to compare apples to apples across their tasks and projects.

Create Milestones 

A milestone marks the end of a project’s phase. They’re a good way to track your progress and stay on schedule. You’ll want to add these to your Gantt chart. To make a task a milestone:

  1. Click on the task. 
  2. Once it’s highlighted, right-click to bring up the task information window.
  4. Click on the Advanced tab. There will be a checkbox at the bottom left. 
  5. Check this box and the task will now be designated as a milestone.
  6. Save. 

You will see it on your Gantt chart as a black diamond shape.  

Running reports in Microsoft Project

You can use the reports to see the status of your project. The report will show you how many tasks are completed, when they are scheduled to be completed and whether your team has fallen behind schedule. It also shows how much time it takes to complete each task in hours and minutes. This means that if you have a weekly status meeting every Monday morning with your boss, you can bring along this report so that he or she knows exactly where your team stands about its deadlines.

The cost of running Microsoft Project is not high as compared to other similar software applications usually used by businesses, such as Microsoft Excel or Google Docs, because it does not require any subscription fees for basic usage, unlike other programs do (such as Adobe Photoshop).

Displaying or hiding baselines

To display or hide baselines, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the View tab.
  2. Click Show/Hide > Baseline.
  3. Select the checkbox next to one or more of the following options:
  4. Display baseline bars (Default option). This option displays baseline bars that indicate how much work is completed and how much remains in a project. These make it easier to see what’s been completed and what’s left before the finish date, but they can also make it harder to spot other tasks since they take up space on your chart area. The default setting is “Display baseline bars.” If you don't have any baselines set up in your project, this option won't be available here because there aren't any baselines for Project to display yet!
  5. Show task names when creating or editing milestones/tasks

How to set working days in MS Project

You can set working days in MS Project for a project, task, or resource. This will affect when the work is done and when progress is reported on.

To set working days in MS Project:

  1. Click on the drop-down arrow next to the number of hours and choose “Working Days” from the list that appears (see screenshot below). This will display all available options for setting your working days for each item type.
  2. Choose an option from this list and click Apply/OK

Task board in MS Project

You can use the task board to track project work, communicate status and keep your team on track.

First, open Microsoft Project and navigate to the Tasks tab. If you have multiple projects open in MS Project, choose the project you want by clicking on its name at the top of the window or by clicking File > Open Project > Select a different project.

If you don't see any tasks in your list (for example if your schedule is empty), click File > New Task List and then select New Task List Wizard. Click Next> until all required fields are filled out (for example 'Project Name'). Click Finish when done adding tasks to create an empty task list for that project.

Showing critical and non-critical milestones

Critical milestones are deadlines that must be met in order to finish the project. These are often called "critical path" because they determine when the project will be done.

Non-critical milestones are not required, but useful for setting goals and showing progress. They can be shown or hidden on the Gantt Chart by clicking View > Show/Hide > Critical Milestones or Non-Critical Milestones.

Using multiple baseline for tracking progress

The most common purpose for multiple baselines is to track the progress of tasks against different dates. 

For example, you might have an activity that needs to be completed by a specific date and time. 

You can create a baseline for that activity, then set up another baseline for activities that are scheduled before or after it to allow you to see how much time remains in your project when each activity is completed.

You can also use multiple baselines for different purposes:

  1. To compare resource allocation across projects (for example, if you have one project with three resources and another with five resources)
  2. To compare costs across projects (for example, if two similar projects cost significantly more than others)

How to export Microsoft Project

Exporting is the process of saving a Microsoft Project file, which can then be used in other applications (such as Excel).

To export a project file:

  1. Open the project you want to save.
  2. Click File > Save As.
  3. In the Save As dialog box, choose a location where you want to save your current project and click OK.

Finally; You know how to use Microsoft Project

  • You can create a new project.
  • Create tasks and subtasks.
  • Define the critical path.
  • Assign resources to tasks.
  • Add estimates on the cost and time of each task, which will help you determine how much money you need to budget for each area of your project and how long it should take to complete it so that everything is finished in time for your deadline!


We hope this article has helped you get started with Microsoft project. It’s an incredibly useful tool, and one that will make your life much easier as a project manager. 

You can even use Microsoft Project directly in your browser, which makes it especially convenient if you don’t have access to Microsoft Office on a regular basis.

If you want more advanced tips, check out our other posts on how to use MS Project like a pro!

If you want more information about how we can help with your project management needs, contact us today!

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