Lately, I have been so busy that I've been spending a little quality time in Microsoft Project to try and get a handle on all the stuff I need to do. For those who have never heard of this type of software, as the name suggests, project management software is a tool you can use to help you plan and control projects. Your project can be anything from writing a book to building a house.
Most project management software uses pictorial timelines called Gantt charts that model the anticipated plan of action. Named after their inventor, Henry Gantt, these charts graphically depict how planned tasks and events relate to each other over time. A Gantt chart usually has a calendar across the top with titles and graphics below it. Task bars show the work planned over a period of time, and milestone symbols mark events expected to occur at specific points.
Project management software varies greatly in complexity. You can find shareware software that may do the job if your project is small and doesn't involve a lot of people. Microsoft Project falls more toward the high-end of the spectrum. With Project, you can create massive project files that you can view and analyze in multiple ways.
Until a few weeks ago, I hadn't used Project for years. The last big thing I did was managing documentation projects for an Engineering department that had about 10 engineers. They were supposed to regularly review manuals and I had printouts of Gantt charts everywhere. It took ages to figure it all out, but it was worth it because like they say, getting techies to do stuff is akin to herding cats. Knowing who was supposed to be doing what and when was a good thing.
Fortunately, although Project is still somewhat daunting to use, it's quite a bit easier than it was 10 years ago. It has benefited from some of the "helpful" things that have been added into other Microsoft Office applications, such as a wizard-like interface to get you started.
However, with that said, you need to consider how much time you really want to devote to managing projects. Between learning the software and updating the schedule, project management can become a full-time activity in itself. You can't actually DO the project, if you are spending all your time managing it.