Whether you're a new or experienced Project 2007 user you'll no doubt be accustomed to using the Gantt Chart view which shows tasks organised in linked relationships on a calendar type display. However did you know that the Network Diagram View offers an equally informative view of the project plan but from a different perspective. This article describes the key features of the Network Diagram View compared to the Gantt Chart View.

If you launch Project 2007 and create a new project plan or open an existing plan you'll probably focus on the Gantt Chart view. This shows the tasks linked in relationships across the screen on a timeline left to right. And generally the tasks shown on the Gantt Chart carried out in order starting from the top and working downwards.

If you change the Project view to Network Diagram you'll see a very different layout of the same tasks. The project plan is displayed very much like a flow chart with rectangles representing tasks. Links still show between tasks but in a cause and effect arrangement rather than on a timeline. The order tasks are carried out in the Network Diagram view is generally left to right as you would expect to see in a flow chart, rather than from top to bottom.

To understand the Network Diagram View more fully you might like to close the current Project plan, saving if necessary and then start a brand new blank Project plan, in Network Diagram view.

To create a new task in this view, in the right hand part of the display drag an arbitrary sized rectangle and then release the mouse. A new standard sized task box appears. In this view this is called a task node. The node is just a task in disguise and you can enter task data into the different parts of the node box. The upper part in each node is for the task name and the lower right part is for the task duration.

If you enter some details here and then switch the view to Gantt Chart view you'll see the task also appears here as a regular looking task with the specified name and duration. Tasks created in either view appear in both views. If you return to Network Diagram view you can add more tasks. To do this right click into some clear space and again draw a rectangle. As each task is created it automatically moves under the other tasks.

You can link tasks in the Network view by dragging and dropping. To do this hover anywhere over the first task, press and hold down the mouse left button then drag over to the second task and release the button. The link is then created between the tasks and the second task automatically moves to the right of the first task.

If you continue to create and link tasks in this view the Project plan develops as a flow chart type display which shows the relationships between tasks across the screen rather than the timescale for the tasks across the screen. You always switch back to Gantt Chart view at any time to see the plan on the traditional Gantt Chart display.

If you stay in the Gantt Chart view, try adding several more tasks, create links and then create one or more summary tasks.

In the Gantt chart view summary tasks show in bold with the tasks immediately below indented as sub tasks. If you switch back to Network Diagram view you'll see that each summary tasks shows as a rhombus - a slanted rectangle. The summary task rhombus is shown to the left of its sub tasks, so each set of summary tasks and sub tasks are shown in a separate line.

If you look carefully at a summary task node you'll see a small + icon to the top left of the box. Try clicking it and you'll see that you can collapse in all the sub tasks related to that summary task. Click the same icon again and all the sub tasks are expanded out again. The collapsing and expanding under summary tasks works just the same as in the Gantt Chart view.

Once you've created linked tasks in the Network Diagram View you'll see that critical path formatting is automatically applied, with all tasks on the critical path showing as red and non critical as blue.

You can zoom out or in in the Network Diagram view and this is particularly useful in previewing page breaks positions. The view can also be customised to allow you to manually drag summary tasks and tasks to any position on the page so you can fit parts of the flow diagram to particular pages for printing purposes.

So hopefully this article has given you a brief insight into using the Network Diagram View in Microsoft Project 2007. Every project plan shows data in all the views, so in future if you want to emphasise task inter-relationships in a flow diagram type layout then you could switch to the Network Diagram View. You might like to learn more Microsoft Project in the future. A really effective way is to attend a training course. There are many to choose from and there are different courses for the different versions of Project. This can be a great way to really boost your Project skills.