If you're a project manager (more of us are than we think, even if it's not your 'official' job title) then you'll have your own ways of managing projects. Whether you're a spreadsheet and flowchart aficionado, or you stuff everything into a folder or outbox and strike tasks off one by one, everyone has their own ways of project managing. What if there was a software program designed solely for this purpose?

Microsoft Project hasn't had the exposure of other Office applications like Word, Excel, Outlook, or indeed, any that have been packaged with the Office suites. There are rumours that Project may make it onto the next version of Office Professional, so if you think it might be useful for you, now's the time to take advantage and learn the software.

What does it do?

Basically, Project helps you manage your resources (time, staff, materials, and so on). Each resource (let's say - your staff) have their own attributes (like the shifts they work) that you can input, so obviously you won't be allocating 10 hours' work to someone who works part time, and normally doesn't do overtime! Project can also create budgets according to the resources you have available (can one person do the job, or two - which will be more cost efficient?). There are different "levels" Project will work at: task level being just one branch on the tree under the whole Project level, for example.

There are a couple of useful resources that come with Project: one being the server, and another being streamlined with web access. You can share your Project files without the end reader paying for the software, if they don't need it. There are lots of free readers available, including one by Microsoft.

If you changed part of a project around, you can automatically email anyone affected by the change, and allow them to access or comment on various parts of the project over the web. Administrative levels, naturally, can be set as well, thus preventing someone from giving someone else a task assigned to them, without going through the normal, polite delegation channels. There are also built-in reports that you can print, and Export to other applications (for example, a PowerPoint to show in a meeting of all people involved with the project).

It's important that you have at least some knowledge of Project Management before you start to use Project. If your project and its resources are already set out on paper, it's just a matter of data input, and then you can use the program to manage your project as it nears completion. You'd also have to recognise that the software isn't psychic and won't run your project for you. It can't think up the tasks, nor does it know how long each task will take, how difficult it is, or who is best qualified to do it: these are all your jobs, as a project manager! Project Management is not a skill automatically earned by owning the software, remember it's a highly-prized professional skill - one that you can always get some training on first.