Sharing tools and ideas for Portfolio, Program, and Project Managers

Archive for the month “January, 2012”

Custom scheduling tools and databases – Part II

 This post will discuss several tools listed in the previous post, Custom scheduling tools and databases – Part I.  These posts are about using your scheduling software as a database to create different tools needed to plan, execute,  monitor, and control your projects. The advantage is that it keeps your project data in one place while associating the data with the appropriate tasks and resources.  Two key tools on the list are PMO_Entry and PMO_Tracking Gantt.  Screen shots for each View and explanations are below.  To see the screen on your computer open the file (refer to file request at end of this post) then choose View>PMO_Entry.

Fig. 1 Screen shot of PMO_Entry View

Fig. 1 Screen shot of PMO_Entry View

The purpose of the PMO_Entry View was to simplify and normalize data  input into creating the WBS. I had nine PMs at once inputting data into their schedules so I required a standardized template in which I could review inputs for consistency. No matter how careful one is, there will be errors when inputting vast amounts of data. This template allows for quick checks and reviews.  Most of the fields are self-explanatory.  Fields like task Type and Constraint Type are shown to ensure consistency and intent during entry.  MS Project defaults to Effort Driven tasks (Type) which in my case is seldom used. This is because my projects are typically in highly matrixed organizations with resources working on several projects at once.  Because of this it is easier to create a window of when the work will be completed using Duration and Work.  There are several custom fields created for this template.  I’ve noted them below with a CF (Custom Field) notation.  Reviewing the definitions for each column going across are:

  • Task Name – Regular WBS Task Name
  • Duration – Duration used by MS Project for calculating schedule
  • Duration Optimistic, Expected, Pessimistic (CF) – Range of potential Durations.  Good practice is to ask others who have completed similar tasks how long it typically takes to complete the task.  This will provide a minimum, maximum and average to use for input. You don’t necessarily need to do this for every task.  Highly recommended for key tasks and tasks with wide degree of variability.
  • Duration Most Likely (CF) – Calculated using  (Optimistic+(4x Expected)+Pessimistic)/6
    Note:  Copy Duration Most Likely column and paste into the Duration Column. 
  • Work – Fill in with best estimates of how much time it should take to complete required task deliverable.  Personally I’ve always estimated with the help of others then doubled the value.  This is not to pad the schedule.  I’ve found over time that this method gets closer to how much time it actually takes to accomplish the task in a highly matrixed organization.  Time is wasted when having to change often between multiple projects. 
  •  Accountable (CF) – I added this column because there were several resources for the majority of tasks and it was unclear who had final authority for task decisions and completeness. 
  • Resource Names – Individuals assigned and “responsible” to achieve the task.  
    Note: Accountable and Resource Names are two of the four elements required for a RACI Matrix (Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, Informed) or RAM (Responsibility Assignment Matrix).  You could add two more columns (custom fields) titles Consulted and Informed then create a view showing the Task Name and RACI columns. You would then use Autofilter to filter for names to conduct a review.  While this method is not a standard RACI matrix (usually there are tasks running vertically and  names running horizontally across the top) it allows you create one without having to do it all over again in a spreadsheet.  This is the database part of the thinking – to keep your data in one tool, MS Project, instead of multiple files, programs, or software.
  • Predecessors – Tasks required prior to starting or finishing the current task.
  • Type – Project uses one of three task types to calculate the duration of tasks and subsequently their finish dates or their start dates (if you schedule your project from the project finish date rather than the project start date).  It’s imperative you know how each task is set to understand how Units, Work, or Duration will change once updates are made to your schedule.  My experience is that this setting is the most frustrating for new (and many older) users as they don’t know task Type and when they make a change to duration or work other fields don’t behave the way they expect it to.  Go to the link for a detailed explanation of what and how changes are reflected once updates to the schedule are made.
  • Effort Driven – The Effort Driven field indicates whether the scheduling for the task is effort driven scheduling. When a task is effort driven, MS Project keeps the total task work at its current value, regardless of how many resources are assigned to the task. When new resources are assigned, remaining work is distributed to them. Typically for my projects these are all set to No.
  •  Constraint Type – There are eight choices. For most tasks this is set to “As Soon As Possible.”  This column is inserted to check consistency and errors. In a table format it is easy to conduct a scan or use the filter to ensure tasks are set as intended.

PMO_Entry is formated to print on 11″x17″ (tabloid) sheet for comments and review. 

Next on the list is the PMO_Tracking Gantt.  The purpose of the PMO_Tracking Gantt is just what is says, tracking and monitoring of your project. Refer to screen shot below. To see the screen on your computer open the file (refer to file request at end of this post) then choose View>PMO_Tracking Gantt.

Fig. 2 PMO_Tracking Gantt screen shot

Fig. 2 PMO_Tracking Gantt screen shot


Before using this template it is preferred you’ve already input all data, set predecessors and successors, verified your schedule using the SCRAPP Method, and have a robust project model.  I’ve seen many PMs use MS Project out of the box using the standard views and never set any baselines.  To use this the PMO_Tracking Gantt template it will be necessary to set the baseline.  

The following is an explanation of each field. Again I’ve noted Custom Fields below with a CF (Custom Field) notation. 
  • Task Name – Regular WBS Task Name
  • Accountable (CF) – I added this column because there were several resources for the majority of tasks and it was unclear who had final authority for task decisions and completeness. During task updates this is the person who should provide an update or their assignee.
  • Task Issues (CF) – This field is to capture issues affecting task completion.  Use this field to describe the cause of the issue.  These should be escalation issues meaning you have to go outside the project team for resolution.  This field is NOT for describing general task status.  Once the template is updated choose PMO_Issues Report (View>PMO_Issues Report) to generate a report on all tasks having an issue written in the Task Issues field.  The report can now be copied and pasted into a slide for reporting and communication.
  • Status – This is an MS Project generated indicator which can be sometimes misleading. The Status field indicates the current status of a task, specifying whether the task is Complete, On Schedule, Late, or a Future Task based on the MS Project algorithm.  The trouble with this is that you can begin a task ahead of schedule (good) then fall behind on this task (bad) meanwhile the task Status will read Future Task (due to the baseline) which is no longer true. This is why I’ve added the next custom field…
  • Slipping Tasks (CF) – This field calculates whether a task is slipping based on the baseline or actual start if started early then gives you an indicator based on the number of days the task is behind schedule;  Yellow 1-10 days late, Red 11-20 days late, Black >20 days late.  If completed the status changes to Green (100% complete). 
  • Actual Start – Date the task was started.
  • Actual Finish – Date the task was completed to everyone’s satisfaction.
  • Actual Duration – Number of days actually spent on task.
  • Rem(aining) Dur(ation) – Number of days left to complete task.
  • Finish – Scheduled finish date of task.
  • Baseline Finish – Scheduled baseline finish of task.

The PMO_Tracking Gantt view gives you realtime feedback and predictive power as you update the Actual Start, Actual Duration, and Rem(aining) Dur(ation).  The indicators predict what will happen if you allow the task to take as long as stated per your Remaining Duration input.  This should force you to respond to reduce the Remaining Duration until the Yellow, Red, or Black indicators disappear.  Once you’ve taken steps and reduced task time to remove indicators you now know your project is back on track!  There are no indicators for tasks that are up to date.  Think of the indicators as Management By Exception (MBE). 

There are two other key views to use after updating the PMO_Tracking Gantt;  PMO_Issues Report (View>PMO_Issues Report) and PMO_Complete Tasks (View>PMO_Complete Tasks). 

Use PMO_Issues Report (View>PMO_Issues Report) to generate a report on all tasks having an issue written in the Task Issues field in the PMO_Tracking Gantt .  You’ll find all issues identified are now in a single view with additional fields to input to track progress, status, owner, etc.  Keeping to the database theme we take information that is already being generated and captured in previous views and adding information to them in another view to maintain continuity, consistency, and conciseness.  You can generate a screen capture which can be copied and pasted into a slide for reporting and communication. This view may also be printed as a handout.

Fig. 3 PMO_Issues Tracking screen shot

Fig. 3 PMO_Issues Tracking screen shot

The following is an explanation of each field.  Custom Fields marked with a (CF) notation. 

  • Task Name – Regular WBS Task Name
  • Task Issues (CF) – As captured from PMO_Tracking Gantt.
  • Possible Solution (CF) – Description of potential solutions.
  • Issue Owner (CF) – Person accountable for issue resolution.
  • Issue Date To Complete (CF) – Estimated date issue is to be resolved.
  • Issue Status (CF) – Current status on issue resolution.
  • Issue Escalation (CF) – A lookup list describing where in the escalation hierarchy the issue is currently at.  The lookup list is used to maintain consistency in issue tracking and limit choices to certain levels/people. In a perfect world the project management plan will describe the who and how of  the escalation process.

PMO_Issues Tracking is formated to print on 8.5″x11″ (letter) sheet for comments and review.

The other view that’s good to review during team meetings or right after updating the schedule is PMO_Complete Tasks.  Refer to screen shot below.  This is a report only, no inputs required, which captures all completed tasks and groups them by the week in which completed.  This is a quick way of celebrating completed tasks but also ensures those tasks that are shown as complete are indeed complete and are not there by error. All fields except the last are described above. The field Finished vs. Plan calculates the difference in days between the Actual Finish and Baseline Finish dates.

PMO_Complete Tasks is formated to print on 8.5″x11″ (letter) sheet.

Fig. 4 PMO_Complete Tasks screen shot.

Fig. 4 PMO_Complete Tasks screen shot.

This post captures four of the views discussed in Part I of this series. We’ll continue on with several more descriptions and use of the views in the next part of this series. 

If you would like the MS Project file with all views already included send me an email with your request to and I will forward a copy to you.  Any feedback you care to provide is greatly appreciated.  Thanks for following…



Custom scheduling tools and databases – Part I

In making your own custom scheduling tools it’s best to think of your scheduling software NOT as scheduling software but as a DATABASE!  When you get down to it that is all scheduling software really is: information inputs, information outputs.  Inputs are information like, e.g. Task Name, Resource Name, Duration, etc.  Output info  may be very different, e.g. finish dates or calculations, and are usually in the form of text, numbers, and or graphics, e.g. Gantt Chart or Network Diagram.  Make your database or tool work for you.  I try as much as possible to use my scheduling software as a database and input as much information into it as possible prior to going outside of it to use another type of software or creating another file.   Before I make any custom tools I figure out what information I need for OUTPUT which drives the required information INPUT.  Knowing this you can make your own tools for planning, tracking, and communication.

Regarding tools, I’ve been using Microsoft Project for years.  There are plenty of arguments on which tools are better or worse. That’s not the point here.  The point is that it is a tool and as a planning and scheduling tool it works well for the types of projects I’ve managed.  Typical projects for me have been 200-500 tasks.  I’ve used it successfully for a program with over 10,000+ tasks .  MS Project 2003 has about 300 fields while MS Project 2007 has 421 fields! Many of these fields are customizable for creating your own information inputs or outputs.  With this post and the next three posts I will show, share, and explain previous tools I’ve created for project planning, executing, monitoring and controlling by customizing MS Project using Views, Fields, Tables, and Filters.

All templates described below were created using MS Project 2003 single standalone version.  All have a screen view and a formatted printout.   Here’s the entire List:



PMO_Complete Tasks (Outputs) Prints list of all completed tasks grouped by week. Good for:
1) Verifying task completion,
2) Celebration of task completion,
3) Ensuring completion date is in the past. Note: If the PM checks 100% complete box instead of inputting the actual completion date the date may show complete in the future. E.g. If the schedule shows a baseline finish of May 1 and the task was actually finished on April 20 checking the 100% complete box will establish the finish date as May 1steven though the real date is April 20. You end up with a schedule that is not reflective of what’s really happening and you miss opportunities for improving execution.
PMO_Costs (Inputs) Shows task costs.  Calculates most likely expense costs from inputted pessimistic, expected, and optimistic costs and rolls up total costs.  Also includes Capital Costs.
PMO_Critical Path (Outputs) For schedule control.  Creates filtered view of the current critical path and shows progress on the critical path. If the critical path slips the project will be late.  Good for management reviews and updates. Placing Deadlines for key tasks will place an alert in the Indicators column if the task slips.  
PMO_Entry (Inputs) Data input and review.  
PMO_Gantt Chart (Outputs) All tasks with Gantt bar schedule.  
PMO_Issues Report (Outputs) Prints only incomplete tasks in which there is something printed in the Task Issues column in the PMO_Tracking Gantt.  Good for Issues tracking, management reviews and updates.  
PMO_Network Diagram (Outputs) To printout and review the network diagram and corresponding project logic, predecessors and successors.  It only takes one wrong dependency to screw up an entire project complete date. Can be used by the project team to track where the project is at.  Used in conjunction with the SCRAPP METHOD.  
PMO_Progress Rollup-Inputs (Inputs) Fill in Last % Complete column for only those tasks you want to highlight for management reviews and updates.  These are usually summary tasks and or milestones.  Start out by inputting “0%”.  Print out using the PMO_Progress Rollup-Report. Good for management reviews and updates.  
PMO_Progress Rollup-Report (Outputs) From PMO_Progress Rollup-Input generates a view that shows only those tasks that have a value in the Last % Complete column.  Adds progress line and shows current percent complete.  Placing Deadlines for key tasks will place an alert in the Indicators column if the task slips. Good for management reviews and updates.  
PMO_Resource-Incomplete Tasks (Outputs) Input a resource name and a time frame with a start date and end date. The print out filters and shows all INCOMPLETE tasks for that resource within the time frame chosen. This includes tasks not started.  
PMO_Resource-To Do Tasks (Outputs) Input a resource name and a time frame with a start date and end date. The print out filters and shows all tasks for that resource that START in the time frame chosen. 
PMO_Slipping Tasks (Outputs) The print out filters and shows all tasks that are Late in the Status column OR have a value >1 in the Slipping Tasks column.  Excellent for problem solving and getting the project back on track.  
PMO_Task Risks (Inputs) Allows inputs to Risk Cause, Risk, and Risk Effect with their associated tasks.  
PMO_Task Risks Report (Outputs) Filters and condenses project to only tasks with any inputs into any one of Risk Cause, Risk, and Risk Effect.  Requires completion of Risk Ranking, Trigger, Mitigation, and Owner.  Combine and add with the Risk Management Plan.  
PMO_Tracking Gantt (Inputs) This is the workhorse for schedule tracking. Filtered and shows all incomplete tasks.  Input the Actual Start, Actual Duration, Remaining Duration, Actual Finish, and Task Issues to get an up to date view of project status.  After updating the schedule the following reports are useful for managing and communication.
Print PMO_Issues Report to get a printout of all task issues.  Print PMO_Slipping Tasks for a report showing all slipping tasks. Print PMO_Critical Path to see if the critical path has changed.  
PMO_WBS Dictionary (Inputs) Use to define the task activities during project initiation, project charter, and preliminary scope definition.  

In the next post (Part II) I’ll discuss two of the primary tools, PMO_Entry and PMO_Tracking Gantt.

Do you make your own tools, customize, or use straight out of the box?  I’m interested in hearing how others have approached this issue.

Thanks for visiting…

SCRAPP™ Method or How To Integrate Your Schedule

  1.  Print out your project schedule as a NETWORK DIAGRAM.  Depending on the size of your project, this may take one “A” size sheet (8 1/2″ x 11″) or several “E” size sheets (34″ x 44″) .  Don’t be afraid of the amount of paper used.  I’ve literally covered all the walls in a large conference room using this method.  It’s money well spent.   Make sure the settings on your project software shows discrete lines between tasks. This usually means setting the software so it draws a straight line from task to task.  This is so you can trace each predecessor and successor tasks.  If it is set to only draw horizontal and vertical lines the lines will tend to run together and you’ll lose traceability.
  2. Write on each of SIX large sheets of paper (e.g. those 2 ft x 3 ft easel size Post-it® Notes) one of the following headers:  STRATEGY, CONSTRAINT, RISK, ASSUMPTION, PROBLEM (known problems), and PARKING LOT (issues to be resolved but need more info or are outside of project scope but affect the project).
  3. Begin your analysis by choosing and reviewing a starting task, a task with no predecessors. Using a yellow highlighter and a red pen, if the information is correct, highlight it in yellow to show that information has been reviewed and is correct.  Use the red pen for any corrections.  What you review for each task will be dependant upon the information you’ve chosen to show in your printout for each task , e.g. task name, resources, start date, etc.  Your project software should allow you to change this information.  As a minimum I would recommend Task Name, Resource Name, Duration and effort.  Start and finish dates are not important at this point as they will be driven by the final schedule and dependencies. If there are date constraints list them on the CONSTRAINTS sheet.
  4. Next, review the first task’s successor tasks.  If the relationship is true and the line connecting the predecessor to the successor task is correct, and going in the right direction, highlight the entire connecting line, not just a portion of it, in yellow to show it has been reviewed and is correct.  Mark any corrections or changes using the red pen. Thus if the dependency was incorrect crossout the incorrect line and draw the new/corrected dependency using the red pen.  Review the balance of the task information and mark as reviewed and correct (yellow) or corrected (red).
  5. As each task and dependency is reviewed, questions/issues/problems may arise.  If so, write them in plain English on one of the six SCRAPP sheets.   For example, if you could accomplish a deliverable three different ways, right down the one selected on the STRATEGY sheet.
  6. If during this review there are risks discovered and associated with a particular task or strategy write it on the RISK sheet.
  7. Tasks may have constraints, i.e. finish on or by a certain date or limited amount of funding, capture these on the CONSTRAINTS sheet.  Projects have many assumptions; capture these on the ASSUMPTIONS sheet.  Again, write these in plain language without all the techno speak. This is so others outside the project, mainly executive management, can read and understand it.
  8. Your project may face a known roadblock or problem.  List these on the PROBLEM sheet.  Any items that cannot be addressed immediately or require further research place on the PARKING LOT.
  9. As you work your way through the schedule every aspect of it should be discussed, e.g. “Should we proceed serially or create a parallel path?” (hint: capture it on the STRATEGY sheet).  Do not stop until ALL TASKS, TASK INFORMATION, AND DEPENDENCIES ARE HIGHLIGHTED YELLOW OR CORRECTED IN RED.  Any item not highlighted or corrected has not been reviewed.  You’ll know where you left off and where to pickup if this takes more than a day.
  10. Revise the schedule per the redlined corrections using a different filename for your schedule.  As you go through and make each correction in the software, use a green highlighter/marker and mark the red corrections on your printout to show you’ve inputed the changes.  This is because there are typically many changes and it is easier to keep track of where you’re at.
  11. Once all changes are input, printout the schedule a second time starting from step 1 above.  It typically takes 2-4 rounds before the schedule is finalized.
  12. Type up all SCRAPP paper and review with your team.
  13. Finalize and document your schedule.  Print out one page of  schedule milestones.  There shouldn’t be more than 12-15 key milestones on this page.  Combine this one page of milestones along with the SCRAPP paper. You should now have 2-4 pages, one page of milestones and the balance SCRAPP paper, that can be used as an executive summary. They should always travel together.  A schedule will never make sense unless the SCRAPP is known.
Fig. 1 Network Diagram before SCRAPP Method

Fig. 1 Network Diagram before SCRAPP Method

Fig. 2 Network Diagram after SCRAPP Method applied.

Fig. 2 Network Diagram after SCRAPP Method applied.

There are several advantages to this method:

  • It is a team building exercise with key inputs and decisions determined by the team.
  • Team members will have a higher degree of confidence that the project is achievable.
  • As circumstances change within your project you will be in a position to make better decisions because you will have previously discussed many strategies, options and details.
  • All elements of SCRAPP can and should be integrated into the Project Management Plan.
  • Lastly, when management asks for a schedule you can provide them with the SCRAPP paper and a single page of key milestones instead of 20 pages of a Gantt schedule that has little or no rigor or meaning behind it.

This method is best used for project types that are vastly different every time.  That is why this method has worked extremely well in the medical industry.  Well versed project types like construction, while able to take advantage of this method, may not extract the advantages of other project types.

How do you do schedule integration or do you?  I’m interested in hearing how others have approached this issue.

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