PM Tech Corner: Creating Master Projects & Subprojects

One of the key skills that we hear about in Project to Portfolio management is having a handle on multiple projects and viewing the integration between projects. Yet this can be a pain point for project managers who don’t have access to an enterprise System like Project Server or Project Online, but want to create views, reports, snapshots or to link project files together (essentially tying tasks from one project to another file).

I find that the best way to create integrated activities as well as a snapshot report of work over time is to leverage the Master Project in MS Project.

In this month’s Tech Corner article, I’m going to give you a few best practices around creating a Master project. And in case you were wondering, this will definitely scale if you need; my company and I have managed programs and portfolios of $500,000,000 and upwards using this technique.

Benefits of a Master Project

So, why use a Master Project?

  • Master projects give you the ability to create a permanent collection of projects that can be viewed at any time.
  • When viewing your project list, a Master project will enable you to view the subprojects all at one time in a list.
  • It allows you to create consolidated project reporting.
  • It is the only way to link different project files together; you can link different tasks between projects through the Master Project.
  • You can establish snapshots (non-linked schedules) so you can historically review progress over time vs. trying to have multiple columns of dates and times within a single file.

Getting Started

Before you begin creating your master project you will need to determine if you want each subproject’s SharePoint site to be available in the master project SharePoint site.  If yes, then do not publish the subproject until the master project is published.  Once the subprojects have been saved, checked in and closed - but not published - you are ready to create your master project. 

Step #1: Using Project Pro, create a new blank project and select the sub project tab.

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Step #2: Navigate to your first subproject and click on it one time only.  Then click the circle next to the appropriate mode and select insert.

To add additional subprojects select a new blank row within the master project and repeat steps above.

Step #3:  Once you have selected all the subprojects you want to include in the master project click the file tab to save your master project and any changes to the subprojects as needed.

Step #4: The dialogue box will pop-up and you can name and save your master project.

Step #5: The dialogue box will pop-up; Select “No to all” if you inserted your subprojects as read only.

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Now you are ready to publish or save your master project & create the SharePoint Site

Step #6: Select the File tab from Projects Ribbon

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Step #7: Click “Publish” if you are connected to Project Online or Project Server.  If you are working on a local file, select Save As and save the Master Project file into a local directory.  (Note that your subproject files also need to be accessible from the file that you are using as a Master, meaning that you should save them in a directory where you also have access to them.

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If you are connected to an Enterprise version of Project, you will Publish the changes.  NOTE that you may choose to not save any changes to local files that were inserted.

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Step #8: The dialogue box below will pop-up; Select “No to all” if you inserted your subprojects as read only, or Yes to all if you want to update your local files if you made changes.

One of the nice parts about saving and publishing files into an Enterprise version of Project is that you can have Project Server or Project Online, automatically create an entire SharePoint site for you connected to your project. 

That way if you decide to link files, documents, deliverables, issues, risks, you can have them connected and available for viewing or assigning them to the actual tasks in Project.

Step #9: The dialogue box below will pop-up; select “Publish” if you are connected to the Enterprise version of Project, or it will present a Save As dialog box for all local files, as seen in picture #2.

Picture #1:

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Picture #2:

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Once publish is complete you can close the master Project file (if you do not intend to keep it) . Now you are ready to publish the subprojects (you will need the URL information from Step 8).

Creating Snapshots of Projects

One way that you can create historical snapshots of single and multiple projects is to use the Master Project, but instead of having linked files, choose not to link them.

This is an excellent way to not only take snapshots, but in Project 2007 or higher, you have the ability to compare project files against each other to see where there are differences.

Here is an example:

Step #1:  Click on the Project Tab and Select Subproject.

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Step #2:  Once you have selected this it will bring up the insert Project dialogue box, ensure that you turn off the check box for “link to project”

With the Link to Project turned off, any and all projects will simply be inserted as regular tasks with a Summary task for the top level row of the project.

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Notice the standard Project file icon is not there.

Each of these files are embedded as if you had copied and pasted them, and are not linked to the original file.

If you ever want to compare one version of a Project file to another, simply use the Compare Projects button found on the ribbon.

  • If you are in MS Project 2010, it will be found on the Projects Tab
  • If you are in MS Project 2013, you will find it on the Reports Tab

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(This screenshot – along with all the other ones in this article – is  of 2013).

And there you have it.  The ability to connect and view multiple files, do resource assignments, link tasks and also to create snapshots all with the same function of a “Master Project”. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or anyone at our office at www.Advisicon.com.

Happy Project Management!

About the Author

runcie tim Tim Runcie is the president of Advisicon (a Gold PPM Company), a 20+ year project, program and portfolio expert and member of the Microsoft Advisory council.  Tim is also the author of over 36 books on technology and project management and a 12+ year nominated and awarded MVP at Microsoft. Tim and Advisicon offer webinars, classes and customized training for all your project management needs. book cover image 
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