ALL3PM

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

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 wayne@all3pm.com and I will forward a copy to you.  Any feedback you care to provide is greatly appreciated.  Thanks for following…

 

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