Microsoft Project Tutorial – Part 7- Getting to know the tables
When I first started using Microsoft Project, I could not understand how the thing worked. I didn’t grasp the database. And since I come from the database world, I started exploring the database.
Microsoft Project is based on a JET database and if you export the thing to Microsoft Access (you can use File—>Save As and select that) you can see which tables and columns are present in the database. But you cannot see the connections and you cannot see how the different columns are calculated.
Right now, that is not important, but if you’re into details you can start exploring the database.
For normal users, you can work from inside Microsoft Project.
If you look at a view (this concept was discussed in Part 6) like Gantt chart view, the view is based on a table in the database. In most cases some of the columns are also visible, like in the Gantt Chart:
If you look at this table you can see that the table has a number of columns and a number of rows. If you double click the column name you can see which column is displayed and how it’s displayed. Observe that the Title is the name which is displayed while the field name is the name in the database. If you for example double click the title Task Name you can see that the column is really called Name and that Task Name is just the label. So, if you go searching for the field, you need to find the column Name.
If you right click a column you can in the contextual menu select Insert Column and Hide Column. Insert is really not a good name: you unhide a column since the table in this case have hundreds of columns. No, I’m not kidding. Scroll the Field name dropdown and see for yourself.
By inserting or really unhiding columns you can see more of the information in the view you are looking at. Some of the columns can be used to enter data manually while others are calculated manually. Many of the columns depend on each other and this is one of the biggest challenges of becoming a Microsoft Project expert: knowing which field to use when and how different fields affect each other. You have seen one example of this in part 1, when we discussed Duration, Work and Unit.
Another way of viewing and changing information in columns is if you double click a row in a table. A dialog box is opened and you can change values. All the fields have responding fields in the table and if you go back to Column Definition you can find all those fields there.
To make it easy to switch between which columns are to be displayed, you can switch between tables in most of the views. These are not database tables but rather a saved list of columns. If you right click the empty area over the ID (where the title of the ID field would have been displayed if it hadn’t been kept empty) you can see a contextual menu where you can select tables. But remember that what you really do is that you fast hides and unhides different columns. You are always viewing the same database table. Another way of changing view table is selecting View—>Table. Here you also have the option of More Tables:
Here you can see a number of extra tables and you can also edit and create copies. If you want to play some with this you can select one row and click Copy:
Here you can change the name, which columns are displayed and how. You can also by selecting Show in Menu make the table more accessible by user not having to go to More Tables dialog box to find the table. Here you can also specify which date format is to be used in this specific table. You can also unmark Lock First column. This is most commonly used if you choose not to display the ID column. If this option is selected, the first column is always printed and non editable (like the ID column). Confirm with OK when you’re ready.
If we go back to the View definition Dialog box, remember that you when you define a view, that you also specify which table is to be displayed.
Before you have some fun playing with the tables, remember that if you insert or hide columns manually, you change the table definition (for database people: not the database table but the view table) so if you insert a column and then check out the table definition, the added column can be found in the definition.