IT R&D department project planning typically runs in two phases: planning and tracking. Planning involves workbreakdown and milestone planning. During this phase, you make a layout of all tasks and how they depend on each other. For each task, the duration is estimated. Two types of milestones are identified: input milestones, having no predecessors, represent starting conditions of your project’s activities, and output milestones, having only predecessors, represent the finalization of your project. If your project is a sub-project of a larger project, the output milestone is typically what you’re reporting about, and the input milestones what you’re complaining about.
During planning phase, you get input from management about expected timings for your output milestone. In MS Project, you should make all tasks to be scheduled ‘as late as possible’, and you can drag the output milestone to the proposed date. All predecessing tasks will move along, so you’ll see in a glance if the input milestones and all intermediate tasks fall into a realistich schedule.
Once you’ve confirmed the planning and the output milestone is agreed upon, the tracking phase can start. In MS Project, you should now (1) modify all your input milestones to ‘must start on’ their actual date and (2) modify all other tasks, including the output milestone, to be scheduled ‘as soon as possible’. If you use baselines, it’s time to make a first baseline as well.
From now on, you can drag the input milestones, modify the duration of tasks, fill in the completed value of a task, etc. according to the actual progress of the project. If tasks start moving, the output milestone will move as well, and you can report on this, or take corrective measure.