Budgeting in MS Project

Until now, whenever I have wanted to build a budget, I have always used Excel, as I’m pretty sure everyone who doesn’t use paper does as well.  Lately, I have been revising my budget for the fiscal year, which consists of many many projects and opportunities.

It’s a lot easier for me to try to estimate project costs using MS Project.  I can think about a single project, the tasks that are involved, who would have to do them, and the dependencies between them.  Furthermore, MS Project makes it relatively easy to add up the number of individuals of a certain type you’ll need.  So that’s how I started out, fully expecting that I would take the projects and their costs and paste them into my spreadsheet.

However, when I paste it into Excel, I lose all the dependencies between projects: it’s hard to show that three projects share a common pre-requisite.  Not only that, but if I think further about a particular project, refining the numbers, I would then have to go back to Excel and update it there (hmm, I wonder if a .mpp can be a data source for a .xls?).

So, I decided to stay in Project.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that I could change all my resource hourly costs to negative numbers, and Project behaved the way I expected.  Then I started thinking about benefits.  I’m entering the benefits as positive numbers under the same project.  Projects that wind up positive should get the green light.   I still have a slight difficulty with those prerequisites because they never get a positive number; I suppose I could apportion some of the dependents’ revenue numbers to the prerequisite to get them to happen.

The one benefit of a spreadsheet-based approach is that I can use formulas to figure out other costs.  For example, every developer comes with training costs, workstations and doughnuts, and I would really like to show those costs separately rather than burying them in the loaded cost for a developer.  So far I’ve not figured out a way to make MS Project do this for me.  If I figure out how to make it a data source for Excel, though, I’m off to the races!

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