In college, I majored in business administration and minored in entrepreneurial studies. This meant taking numerous marketing courses. I remember being taught many times over that we should use clear, descriptive, and unambiguous names if we ever started a business or launched a product or service. This way, potential customers would have no problem understanding what the company does or what function the products serve.
While I can see the merit in businesses following this line of thinking (e.g., Build-A-Bear, Coca Cola, Nuts.com), there are plenty of others that don’t follow this methodology and still have great brand recognition (e.g., Apple, Nike, Kraft). Then there’s products like Microsoft Project, the name of which I believe falls somewhere in the middle—it’s not a completely random name but it doesn’t clearly describe what function the software serves. To people who are not project managers (PMs), the name may give the impression that the application is a complete project management solution. And while it’s an incredibly useful tool in project planning (and executing, and monitoring and controlling), it’s neither a comprehensive project management solution nor the software in which project plans are built.
A Project Plan is comprised of ten individual management plans, often created in a word processor.
The plans are:
- Integration Management
- Scope Management
- Time Management
- Cost Management
- Quality Management
- Human Resource Management
- Communications Management
- Risk Management
- Procurement Management
- Stakeholder Management
Each plan addresses specific needs of the overall project. For example, in the Risk Management plan, a project manager will work to identify as many risks to the project as possible, develop plans to mitigate those risks, and even develop multiple contingencies in case the initial mitigation strategy fails.
Microsoft Project’s primary focus is to ease the process of developing and controlling the project schedule (and the associated time and costs) for PMs. It can (and, in my opinion, should) be used in the planning, executing, and monitoring and controlling phases of the project—just not as the sole project management tool. If I were responsible for re-branding the product, I would probably choose a name that was slightly more descriptive of its function—something like Microsoft Project Scheduler.
In summary, there is a clear difference between a project plan and the function of MS Project in project planning efforts.
A project plan is a collection of several management plans, typically constructed in a word processor or on paper, that address ten different areas of the project. A PM refers to and updates these plans, as necessary, throughout the entire project.
Microsoft Project assists PMs in developing the project schedule component of the project plan, and helps users understand the impact of changes to scope and resources during the monitoring and controlling phase.
My advice: Leverage both for the greatest chance of project success!