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Clarizen & MS Project Approach in Building Project Plan

Clarizen & MS Project Approach in Building Project Plan

What is similar?

Both tools use the same building blocks for representing a project plan:

  • Projects
  • Milestones
  • Tasks


In the document below we will call these building blocks – Work Items.

Both tools use these building blocks to build hierarchical decomposition “of the work to be executed by the project team to accomplish the project objectives and create the required deliverables”. This hierarchy is called – Work Plan. Projects, Milestones and Tasks are characterized by their Duration, Work that should be invested to accomplish the work item, Start and Due dates, Progress and other parameters. Most work items’ characteristics are common for Clarizen and MS project and have the same meaning.


What is different?

Main difference between Clarizen and MS project lies in three main areas:

  • General approach to building the project work plan
  • How Clarizen treats the Milestone
  • Support of the Collaborative nature of project planning

While MS project introduces bottom-up approach to building the work plan, Clarizen supports and recommends combining top-down with bottom-up approaches.

Top-down high level planning will be done mainly by the project manager, while bottom-up planning will be delegated to the functional / operation managers responsible for the execution of specific work within the project.

Final project plan will be a result of collaboration and negotiation between these stakeholders.

Top-Down Project Planning

Clarizen recommends that you start top-down planning when building project’s work plan schema using the following techniques:

  • Build high level view of the project’s main phases (stages) and their deliverables. In other words, start building the project roadmap of the corresponding milestones;
  • Simplify managing complex projects by using project modularization, in other words dividing project into simplified subprojects that can be handled concurrently by different units or people;
  • Build required dependencies between corresponding subprojects and their milestones.

The Roadmap is a timeline with start and due dates of the project and intermediate Milestones that represent main phases of the project. 

In Clarizen, a milestone has Start and Due dates that can differ and typically consists of one or more tasks that need to be executed in order to achieve the milestone’s goals (in terms of content and dates). In other words, a Milestone is a sum-total of its sub tasks and thus progress of the tasks is immediately reflected in the milestone’s progress. Roadmap consisting of milestones gives you an instant overview of the progress of every project phase represented by a milestone. 

In MS project Milestone is actually a “placeholder” in the work plan that marks the end of a specific activity.


Roadmap View – is a unique Clarizen visualization tool to illustrate high level view of a project, and milestones in progress. Project milestones are presented on the roadmap in the shape of diamonds. Color and fill level of the diamond shape illustrates schedule status and milestone’s sub-tasks’ progress.

Clarizen supports unlimited number of hierarchical levels of subprojects as well as unlimited number of subprojects in one level. 

Each project / subproject can have its own Roadmap.


In Clarizen you are able to maintain dependencies between work items across all levels of the subprojects in both horizontal and vertical directions. (Read more about managing multiple projects in  Managing Multi-Project Environment article on the community site. Read also about the mechanism of the  Shortcuts that can be very much helpful in creating dependencies between different work items and specifically projects running in parallel.).

After you finish building a Project’s work plan schema, you are ready for further detailing of the work plan. This detailing can be performed by the project manager or, even better, by delegating it to the functional managers of the corresponding areas for bottom-up detailing of the actual work.

Bottom-Up Detailed Planning

Bottom-Up planning is commonly fulfilled by the functional / operation managers responsible for actual execution of specific project areas. A Project Manager can assist and add the major tasks that will be further detailed by the functional manager.

Taking this approach, the Project Manager remains responsible for the project context managing and delivery schedule, while Functional Manager takes responsibility and commitment for the specific task planning and execution on time, defined in the project’s and milestones’ Due dates.


Take into account that you can add any level of sub-tasks to the milestones as well as directly to the project and subprojects.

In case the detailed planning reveals that the required work cannot be fulfilled in the timeframe defined at the top-down stage of planning, Clarizen displays the conflict indicator. All relevant managers will be notified of the conflict and they can collaborate and negotiate around the Dates and Content of the specific work.

Important Note:

There are different approaches to Bottom-Up planning. Since things have a tendency to change, in many cases you won’t want to create detailed plans for the work activities that happen far in advance from the project start date. In this case, give a high level estimation for such work to ensure that you can meet the required timeframe and then “plan as you go”.


If you are interested in the planning methodologies that introduce iteration planning and execution approaches, we recommend you investigate Agile or Extreme Development methodologies.


Clarizen Team Answered

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