Friday, October 19, 2012

Do’s and Don’ts: Use a Simple Program Simulation for Initial Assessment

A“Master” project is great for modeling a program but takes time to create and refine. (If you do not know about this capability see my blog entry “Do’s and Don’ts: Creating Subprojects” posted in June 2012.)

If you are pressed for time and just want a high level initial assessment of resources, work and cost across all the projects, consider a simple program simulation! Here is one technique to create one:

1. In the Gantt Chart: Enter the basic project descriptions and expected durations on one line each. Each line then represents a project. Use Manually Scheduled tasks so no constraints are placed on the model. Overlap and concurrence between projects is ok. Show the Project Summary Task so you can capture and roll up data from the projects.

The figure below shows the model’s projects as well as resources assigned. Click on the figure to enlarge.


2. In the Resource Sheet: Enter as resources the skill sets required for the projects. Include cost if possible. Enter the total number of each resource skill to be assigned to projects in the Max Units field. If part time, enter the percentage. In the example below I used 1 person, full time for each skill. The Max Units are therefore 1 or 100%.2

3. Assign the resources to their respective projects: Max Units represent the number of resources you have for assignment. Insert the Peak Units field next to the Max Units field.

4. Analyze the results: Bear in mind that these are not fully developed project plans, just an initial assessment. The Peak Units field will tell you the number of resources required to meet the project schedule represented in the Gantt Chart.

Below is the Resource Usage View formatted to show only Peak Units over the project duration. Notice that the time periods requiring more than the Max Units are formatted in red.


Do you have the number of resources required on staff? Look at the Cost Tables or Project Statistics. Can you afford these projects?

If the answers to these very basic questions are favorable, you might wish to invest in the creation of a  “Master” project to develop a more detailed and refined plan. If they are unfavorable or questionable – you didn’t waste a lot of time and money to find that out!

If you enjoyed this blog entry, please let me know. If it was informative or piqued your interest – then consider training! My training offerings can be found HERE.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Do’s and Don’ts: Use FIND!

Don’t endlessly scroll up and down your project trying to find a name, a description or any specific text in your large schedule. That will just lose precious time. Use Find instead.

To use Find, first click on the Task tab, then on the far right, in the Editing group, click on Find. The icon associated with Find is a binocular. Click on it! (Alternatively you could use the keyboard shortcut for Find: Ctrl + F) The image below points out the location in the Ribbon. Click on any image below to enlarge it in your browser.

Location of FIND

Once you have clicked on the Find icon, the Find dialog appears and offers you options. Type the text you are looking for in the Find What: portion of the dialog, then use the “Look in field:” dropdown to select which field you want Find to search in. The blank dialog is shown below.

FIND Dialog

My sample project has a task name containing the word “Deadline”. Once I follow the procedure outlined above, the result is highlighted. To find the next occurrence of the text, click on the “Find Next” button.

Result of FIND

When there are no more Find results, Project will offer a completion dialog that informs you the entire field has been searched.

FIND completed

Easy isn’t it? If you experiment with the Find command, you’ll soon find another time saver – Replace. Together these commands are a powerful substitute for scrolling and scanning.

Versatile’s next free webinar is on September 27th! It’s titled “7 Project Estimating Success Factors” and will be presented by Eric Verzuh, best selling author of the “Fast Forward MBA in Project Management”. Sign up for this webinar soon, because it will fill up fast. Sign up HERE.

If you enjoyed this blog entry, please let me know. If it was informative – then consider training! My training offerings can be found HERE.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Do’s and Don’ts: Use Actual Start and Finish Dates!

You know that setting a baseline is important for tracking and reporting. It is equally important to enter each task’s Actual Start and Finish dates, particularly if different than the Baseline dates.

In the figure below I have modified a table to show the Baseline, Actual and current Start and Finish dates. (Click on the figure to enlarge) The Baseline has been set but Actual dates have not been entered.

No Actuals

At this point entering any percentage of schedule or work completion will copy the current Start date to the Actual Start. The assumption is that if an Actual Start was not entered the task started on schedule. See the figure below.

Percent Complete Applied

Since tasks can be started earlier or later than planned the Actual Start must be entered to model reality. The next figure illustrates the task starting a few days later than planned.

Different Actual Start Date

Notice that the Baseline and Actual dates enable the comparison of the planned schedule to what really occurred.

Do enter Actual Start and Finish Dates along with a set Baseline. Model reality for accurate tracking and reporting!

If you saw last month’s free webinar “MS Project Tips and Tricks #2”, then you won’t want to miss the next one! It is titled "Project 2010 Exam Crash Course". It’s on August 23rd and it will fill quickly, so don’t wait. Sign up HERE!

If you enjoyed this blog entry, please let me know. If it was informative – then consider training! My training offerings at Versatile can be found HERE.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Splitting Task Assignments

You have a serious issue in your schedule. After leveling and resolving resource conflicts several resources have been assigned higher priority work on another project. They have started several tasks, but can’t finish them. The tasks are CRITICAL and can’t be delayed or split because the project finish date is not negotiable. How do you “fix” this?

MS Project allows the user to split task assignments when in the jam just described. A split assignment is when the resources starting a task are not the resources finishing the task. In the problem described, the current resource assignment would stop and a different resource would complete the task. Here’s how to configure it:

Assign the first resource to the task and enter only the amount of work to be completed before leaving the task and project. Assign the second resource and allow the remaining work, but delay their assignment the number of days required from the start of the task.

In the figure below I show a task that is 5 days in duration. The first two days of the task are performed by Resource 1; the final three days are performed by Resource 2. I split the “Task Usage” view with the “Task Form” and applied the “Schedule” detail to the form. Resource 1 is assigned 16 hours of work and Resource 2 is assigned 24 hours of work. The “Schedule” detail contains the “Delay” field which is used to delay the entry of Resource 2 the required amount of time and to provide seamless assignment of a resource to the task. (Click on the figure to enlarge.)

Split Assignments

That’s all there is to it! This technique is used in many scenarios and can reflect schedule realities nicely. How will you use it?

If you saw last month’s free webinar “MS Project Tips and Tricks #2”, then you won’t want to miss the next one! It is titled "Project 2010 Exam Crash Course". It’s on August 23rd and it will fill quickly, so don’t wait. Sign up HERE!

A final note:If you are wondering about the terminology in this blog, or are new to project management or MS Project, I advise you get training from Versatile. Check out Versatile’s course schedule HERE or call Jon Wagner at 206-417-2295.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Do’s and Don’ts: Creating Subprojects

Creating subprojects in Microsoft Project is a simple mechanical process called consolidation.  What isn’t simple is deciding whether or not to check the “Link to Project” checkbox setting in the final step of consolidation. The figure below shows the location of the checkbox. Click on the figure to enlarge.


This blog entry helps identify some initial considerations before creating subprojects.

Is bi-directional file updating required?

The default in MS Project is to check the “Link to Project” setting. This tells Project that you want changes made in the subproject files to update in the consolidated file. It also tells Project that changes in the consolidated file will update the subproject files. This bi-directional file communication and updating is handy for the individual contributor managing multiple project files.

If the checkbox is cleared by the user, the subproject files are “copied” to the consolidated project file, but bi-directional updates no longer occur.

  • Do the files utilize the same resources?

If the same resources are utilized in all of the subproject files, consolidating the files will result in duplicate resources. Unless a resource pool is utilized and consolidated with the subproject files, the consolidated project will look at resource assignments in each subproject file uniquely instead of across all projects in the model. This dramatically affects resource leveling resulting in potential errors in resource schedules.

  • Are there other considerations?

There are other concepts to think about before consolidating, such as cross project task relationships, interdependent milestones and deliverables, and reporting requirements.

The list of questions can get complicated, and the decisions made will obviously affect the results obtained.

Do create subprojects if you are in a multiproject environment and you feel it is warranted. But be thoughtful and thorough when consolidating.

If you enjoyed this blog entry, please let me know. If it was informative – then consider training! My training offerings can be found HERE.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Communicating Work Breakdown Structure

A complaint I often hear from users is that MS Project appears to many to not have the ability to convey an easily understood Work Breakdown Structure (WBS).

I disagree! Project just needs a little help from Visio. And it does have features to identify the WBS.

It is true that out of the box Project has no WBS diagram tool or view. However,it does have a field for user entered unique WBS numbers. It also has the capability to outline project tasks and show an outline number. These features help Project identify the different levels of a project’s WBS through summary tasks and sub-tasks. The figure below shows these features. (Click on the figure to enlarge.)


A problem that users of MS Project might have is that their audience has trouble interpreting the project outline. What ensues is lengthy discussion on the structure or design. The larger the project, the greater the discussion.

I have 2 solutions:

1. Use sticky notes to create the WBS and photograph the result as documentation;

2. Use the Visio WBS Modeler! The Visio and Project teams created a sweet add-in to Visio 2007 and 2010 that will use Project file data to draw a traditional WBS diagram. See the figure below to view the previous example outline structure in the traditional format.


You must have Visio 2007 or 2010 to get the benefit of the tool. The Visio 2007 WBS Modeler and directions can be downloaded from HERE. The 2010 version can be downloaded from HERE. Don’t forget to download and read the instructions!

Know what the best part is? If you have the software, the add-in is free. So go get the WBS Modeler and try it out.

If you are wondering about the terminology in this blog, or are new to project management or MS Project, I advise you to get training from Versatile. Check out Versatile’s course schedule HERE or call Jon Wagner at 206-417-2295.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Do’s and Don'ts: Sequencing Summary Tasks

Will Microsoft Project 2010 allow you to sequence (link)summary tasks? Yes! Whether you should is the question.

When including summary tasks in a project’s dependency chain, be careful! You might miss out on opportunities to shorten the project schedule.

In the figure below I have created two summary levels of activities and turned on the Project Summary task. This format will ensure that project duration changes are observable. Please note that the project duration is 6 days and is Auto Scheduled for the purposes of explanation.


The next two figures illustrate how efficiencies may be lost when summary tasks have dependencies. In the next figure, the two summary tasks are linked. This tells Project that all of the sub-tasks in the second summary task must follow those of the first summary’s sub-tasks. Note that the project duration is now extended to 12 days.


If the tasks under one summary do not have links to tasks under another, all is well. (This is often the case in SCRUM and other Agile scheduling techniques.)

If the sub-tasks do have dependencies under other summary tasks, the summary links can create a schedule issue. Look carefully at the figure below and note that I made sub-task 2 a predecessor of sub-task 4. The schedule was not shortened due to the summary task links! The duration of the project is still 12 days, and none of the start or finish dates have changed.


When the links are removed between the summary tasks, Project can optimize the schedule. In the figure below, note the overlap in schedule between summary levels and also note the change in the project duration to 10 days.


Don’t let yourself get caught in summary task scheduling issues. Until you are very familiar with MS Project’s scheduling engine, leave summary tasks out of sequencing.

Do you like this blog entry?  Do you have a Project 2007 or 2010 topic you would like to see in the blog? Do you need training in MS Project? If you answered “YES!” to any of these questions, please contact me. I would love to hear from you!

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Download an Important and Free Reference Guide from Microsoft…

On February 28 Microsoft refreshed the “Microsoft Project Server 2010 Project Manager's Guide for Project Web App”. They published it for download and viewing on TechNet. Go get it! You can read or download it HERE.

There are 4 compelling reasons why you should download and read it:

1. It’s 78 pages of good, current information regarding the use of Project Web App;

2. It’s focused on the Project Manager;

3. It’s easy to read;

4. It’s FREE!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Where is My Tracking Toolbar?

I am constantly asked this question. The Tracking Toolbar was a vital component in Project 2007, and allowed for taking status quickly. Although Project 2010 does not have a tracking toolbar the tracking tools are available and are in plain sight. In the Task tab and in the Schedule group, you’ll find some of the buttons from the old tracking toolbar waiting for your use. Have a look at the figure below and you’ll see the quick status and update buttons.
(Click on the image to enlarge)
But what if you would prefer to have your own dedicated tracking group or tab? In the figure below I created a Tracking tab and Tracking group with task and project tracking commands. It only takes a few moments to create this tab and group, and in the process you’ll learn how to make even more tabs and tools.
(Click on the image to enlarge)
In Project 2010 start by selecting the File tab and then choose Options. Once Options is shown choose Customize Ribbon. This will offer you the dialog below.
(Click on the image to enlarge)
Commands are on the left. The structure of the Ribbon is on the right. Controls between them allow you to move commands in and out of the Ribbon . Buttons under the Ribbon structure allow you to create, delete and rename tabs and groups.
Create a new Tab ( I renamed mine to “Tracking”) and a new Group (also renamed “Tracking”) and then found and added the commands I wanted into the Tracking group in the Tracking Tab. You can move your added commands to a different position in the list with the up and down control buttons on the far right of the list.
When you have the buttons that you want, just OK the Customize Ribbon dialog and your newly designed Tab and Group await your command.
Let me know if you find this a useful blog entry, will you? I love to hear from my readers! And good luck in your projects!