Friday, December 30, 2016

Get Your Project Overview in One Click

Provided you have kept your MS Project 2010 – 2016 data file current, “Project Statistics” is the fastest project summary report that you have at your fingertips.
How to get to the “Project Statistics” dialog is one of the questions most asked of me by frustrated users.
Below is a screen shot of the “Project Statistics”of a project in a formative state. You can see the value of the information that is displayed in fields. (Click on any figure to enlarge.)
Most users want a button to click on to get to “Project Statistics”. Unfortunately, it’s not on the Ribbon, but is a sub-component of “Project Information”. This means changing to the “Project” tab, clicking on “Project Information” in the “Properties” group and finally clicking on “Statistics…” at the bottom of the “Project Information” dialog. Although easy to do, it’s a pain to have to leave your position in the MS Project interface to chase down the statistics.
You can save time and frustration by placing a “Project Statistics”  button in your “Quick Access Toolbar”. Here is how to do it:
The “Quick Access Toolbar” is on the upper left portion of the interface. On the right side of this toolbar is a dropdown. Click on it.
The drop down list offers you choices. Click on “More Commands…”
This will bring you to  “Customize the Quick Access Toolbar” in “Project Options”.
From here there are only a few more steps:
1. In the “Choose commands from:” list, click on “All Commands”.
2. Find and click on “Project Statistics” in the list of commands.
3. Move the command into the “Quick Access Toolbar” by clicking on the “ADD>>” button.
4. Move the new command to where you want it in the list. Top to bottom in the list is left to right in the toolbar.
5. Once it’s where you want it, click on the “OK” button.
Now you won’t have to lose your place in the Project interface just to find out the state of your project. That information is now only a click away.
Once you’ve tried this, try adding the “Scroll to Task” button or any other button you find yourself using frequently. It’s well worth the time to configure Project to meet your needs!

Wednesday, October 5, 2016

Do's and Don'ts: Use Hammock Tasks

Every so often I am asked to reproduce a project management technique in MS Project that is not a named feature in the software. Such is the case in this blog entry regarding “hammock” tasks.

A hammock task is a task that has a variable duration. The duration is controlled entirely by other tasks in another or the same project. The start and finish of the hammock is linked to the other tasks start or finish. The duration of the hammock is recalculated when the linking tasks change their dates.

Opinions about hammock tasks range from “don’t do it!” to “always drive your level of effort tasks with the technique”. It’s easy to set up a hammock task but there are caveats that you need to know before using the technique in a production environment. I’ll cover some of those in this blog entry as well.

A hammock task looks pretty inconspicuous:

The task names point out their function. The start of the hammock is the paste linked start date from “Hammock Start Link” which I formatted in bold red. The finish of the hammock is the paste linked finish date from “Hammock Finish Link” formatted in bold green. Note the indicators in the lower right of the hammock tasks date cells. These indicators are visual markers telling us the dates are linked. 

I will double the duration of task #2.  This forces a recalculation and the duration of the Hammock Task is changed to 6 days. The calculation may take a few seconds, even on a very fast machine, so be patient.

Also note that this entire blog entry was made with Project Pro in Manual Schedule mode, with a resource assigned at half time. This worked well with a simple resource using the same calendar as the project and with no overallocations. It is very likely that I would have to manually resolve any task or resource scheduling issues in a more complicated project. This would be true regardless of the scheduling mode selected. 

Now for some caveats:
  •  Hammock tasks can be confusing to anyone reading your schedule. So include a note restating the purpose of the task. For example, is it to collect a level of effort for management resources? Synchronizing the project with other tasks or projects in a program schedule?
  • Paste links can be lost easily, so visit the task and its position in your schedule often.
  • Since a hammock task receives its dates as a paste link, the task probably should not have a predecessor or successor. If it is necessary to link with other tasks, revisit your need for a hammock task. Maybe a normal task will meet your needs? 
  • Hammock tasks are schedule driven and not resource driven. Be cautious when leveling resources. You might consider making the task a higher priority than other tasks so Project will skip the task when leveling the rest of the project.
There are always sequencing workarounds and alternatives, but the hammock task continues to be one of the primary tools used in scheduling. You can find more on this subject online and in MSDN. Use the term “hammock task” and you’ll get a great deal of information on the pros and cons of using a hammock task.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Do’s and Don’ts: Use Resource Labels

A problem and question sent to me frequently is: “I don’t have the need for full resource management in Project. I have simple projects and manage few people. I don’t need to worry about over allocation and leveling resources. I don’t track resource cost or work by the individual.What I do need is a label on tasks that tells me who is working on them so I can see task assignments at a glance. How can I accomplish that?”

When projects are few, small and simple this is a reasonable request and need.

It takes only a little configuration to go from this:
Figure 1: Typical Gantt Chart

To this:
Figure 2: Gantt Chart with Resource Labels

Notice that Resources are identified in the Task Sheet and in the Gantt Chart. These are Resource Labels. There are no resources defined in the project displayed above. A Resource Label is the result of selecting text from a customized text field and associated Lookup table. This is done for each task in a simple list such as those tasks in Figure 1. They are then Grouped, resulting in Figure 2 and answering the user need for simplicity.

I’ll walk you through the steps to create Resource Labels:
1. Create the custom field and Lookup table:
a. Click on the “Project” tab
b. Click on the “Custom Fields” button
c. Configure your custom field and Lookup table as shown in the figure below (use your own resource list):

Figure 3: Custom Fields and Lookup table dialogs

Make sure you “Close” the Lookup table definition and “OK” the “Custom Fields” dialog.

2. Insert the new custom field into the Sheet (to the left of the Gantt Chart) and pick a Resource label for each task which is available from the new field.

3. Create the Resource Label Group and apply it for visibility:
a. Click on the “View” tab
b. In the “Group” dropdown, click on “New Group By…” and configure a custom Group as defined in the figure below:

Figure 4: New Group Definition dialog

4. Select your new Custom Group from the Group dropdown. It will be listed at the top of the list under “Custom”.

Figure 5: Custom Group dropdown list

You can go back to the original look and feel by selecting the “Group” dropdown and choose “[No Group]” from the built in Groups.

You’re done!

One last thing: Resource Labels are a first step into resource management. It will not take the place of scheduling and managing resources at the level many of us need in order to report labor cost and effort. It is a great technique if your needs are simple and you aren’t bombarded with projects.

Thanks for reading this blog entry and good luck on your projects!