Biggy Zahn

Biggy Zahn

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Our top 5 tips for baselining

Our top 5 tips for baselining

Using the baseline could be a formal method to compare your progress to the original schedule. For this reason there are a couple of things you should consider. Here our top 5 tips for baselining:

 

  • Tip 1: When you have an approved scope/time change, rebaseline the current baseline (BL) (this will be the latest baseline) and save baseline 2 (BL 2), in case you want to compare multiple baselines later.
  • Tip 2: Do not delete or move tasks, but reduce remaining work to ‘0’ and/or create a new task on the new location.
  • Tip 3: Be careful with drag & drop and indent/outdent as summary lines will deviate from the baseline.
  • Tip 4: When you add tasks to the baseline, also rebaseline the tasks that are affected by the added task, such as successors or summary tasks.
  • Tip 5: The ‘To all summary tasks’ option (roll up baseline) will also change baseline summary tasks. This might give a wrong image of the starting situation and is like rebaselining all the summary tasks.

Share your secret

Do you have another tip we can add to this list? Share it in the comments below so we can help each other.

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How to determine durations correctly in MS Project?

How to determine durations correctly in MS Project?

Do you determine durations correctly in MS Project? Why are we not finishing all our projects on time? Do we actually calculate correctly from beginning on when setting up the tasks, durations and their estimates?

Save yourself and your whole project team time and money by giving your tasks the right duration. So how do you do that? Let’s start at the beginning:

From the moment you have all your tasks structured in your schedule, it is time to give these task the right duration. At this point, consider the number of working days (exclude weekends) between start and finish of the task. This means that if you work two hours per day on a task for five consecutive days starting Wednesday, the duration will be 5 days.

Adding durations to tasks in MS Project can be done in two ways:

  1. By typing the number of days into the Duration column
  2. Have Duration be calculated by MS Project by assigning resources and their availability to the task and estimating the hours of ‘work’.
  3. This is explained in our e-course ‘Resource Management‘, as many factors will then determine your duration.
    You will see that sometimes the duration has a question mark. This appears when the duration column has not been edited. The idea is that as long as this value is not put in by the user, it is an estimated value.

Duration of tasks

Durations of tasks and thus projects are determined by the amount of effort they take and the availability of resources that spreads this effort over the duration of the task. This means that whether you put in the duration in your schedule directly or have duration be calculated by MS Project, duration is ALWAYS effected by the total estimated amount of effort and how the resource is assigned to the task. After agreement on resources and on budget, and this budget is correctly reflected in the availability of resources in your schedule, the process of effort (‘work’ in MS Project) estimating becomes the most important factor to get reliable lead times.

One of the prerequisites for producing the best estimate is to have spent sufficient time analyzing and understanding the requirements and the proposed solution.

Managing project durations is often a challenge due to (the great number of) uncertainties. Planning without regard for these uncertainties would induce risk of not meeting the agreed plan date. Plan dates depend on information we know – the agreed triple constraint (scope, time and resources) as well as things we do not know – actual scope, actual effort, actual resource availability and risks (based on agreed changes). To include contingency time for 100% of all likely and unlikely events is not wanted. Therefore the level of risk you accept to take largely determines the estimates of the effort. At the next chapter we discuss how you should factor in the risk in your estimate.

Level of detail

The level of detail you choose determines the accuracy, and thus the quality of the estimates. The notion that detail is needed to make more accurate estimations is NOT correct. When planning tasks of an hour, the likelihood that you will exceed by 100% is much greater than planning tasks of for instance 40 hours. For planning with as accurate as possible estimations 16 – 40 hours per task is ideal.

On the other hand, the validity of the estimate largely depends on how much time in advance the estimate was made, regarding the simple fact that uncertainty increases when you look further into the future.

As a guideline: plan tasks of about 16-40 hours (can be spread over a longer duration) for the next 3 to 6 months. Every task after this period could have less detail as many things could still be unknown.

Estimating effort (work)

There are many factors that determine the estimates:

  • Experience
  • Avoiding risk of failure
  • Wishful thinking
  • Pressure from stakeholders to shorten the plan
  • Pressure to come up with a plan fast (not enough time to perform estimation)
  • Experience of colleagues
  • The complexity of the tasks
  • Are the deliverables clear?
  • Available knowledge
  • Available FTE and resources
  • Etc.

The best practice for coming to estimates is:

  • Select a group of 6-8 of the most knowledgeable people with regard to the topic for the session, for instance engineers, stakeholders, certain team members and if known the resource that will be doing this assignment. These experts do not need to be from the own project team. Since many times the actual resource is not yet known, the experts need to consider a generic resource (a role) – how many hours would the average person in this role (with this competence) need. Later the estimate can be reevaluated by the actual person doing the task.
  • Prepare the session as good as possible by knowing the deliverables and their requirements, having the necessary documents available, and have specifications and must-have results aligned with the sponsor.
  • In the session: Align the tasks (every person has the same understanding of what needs to be done) and have every person give their best estimate for the tasks.
  • Plot the 6-8 estimates in a graph like below. Less estimates means less combined expertise and will decrease the accuracy of the estimate.

How to determine durations correctly in MS Project?1

  • Discuss the estimations all participators made and learn from each other which assumptions were done making the estimates. Start with the persons giving the highest and lowest values (1 and 5 in above example). Make sure each participant knows why choices are made.
  • Reach consensus on:
  1. Best case (1,3,6)
  2. Most likely case (6,4,8)
  3. Worst case (2,7,5)
  • Repeat these steps for all tasks that are part of this estimation session.
  • The estimate is calculated like this:

Best case                      :           16 hours          x          1          =            16

Most likely case         :           65 hours          x          4          =          260

  Worst case                   :           120 hours        x          1          =          120 +

Total                                                                                               =          396 hours

Divide the total by 6.
396 hours / 6 = 66 hours

66 hours would be a realistic and reliable estimation for this task to use in the column ‘work’ when you create your schedule.

Note: Document the estimations and assumptions which are discussed with the responsible resources to create a reliable estimation database.

Challenges with estimations

What are your main challenges when estimating durations in your schedule?

Leave it in the comments below.

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Analyzing variances of task and resource costs in MS Project

Analyzing variances of task and resource costs in MS Project

With the report Cost Overruns (tab reports > custom > cost overruns) you can easily see the changes (compared to the baseline) and which tasks or resources became more expensive or cheaper.

The task cost variance chart

The report contains two charts and two tables. The Task Cost Variance chart is a line chart that shows the cost variance for every top-level tasks of your project. Directly below the chart you see a table with the % complete and current cost data for the same top-level tasks as in the chart. The chart is a great visualization of the table below; it’s clearly visible that the task ‘preparation’ costs less than baselined (-$998).

The resource cost variance chart

The Resource Cost Variance chart is a bar chart that shows the Cost Variance for every work and cost resource in your project. (Cost Variance = Cost – Baseline Cost). You easily spot here that (work) resource Edwin is a little over $300.- cheaper than baselined. In the table directly below you can see the Cost, Baseline Cost and Cost Variance for every work resource.

 

Analyzing variances of task and resource costs in MS Project

What’s your opinion

What do you think of the cost management functionality in MS Project 2013/2016?
Share your opinion in the comments below.

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How to use the cashflow report in MS Project?

How to use the cashflow report in MS Project?

With the report ‘Cashflow‘ you can see the progress of the project costs compared to the baseline. Also, three Earned Value Management metrics are introduced here:

  • ACWP stands for actual costs work performed. This is the same as actual Cost.
  • BCWS means budgeted cost work scheduled (according to the baseline). In other words: these are the actual costs we would have at this point in time, when we would exactly progressed according to the baseline schedule.
  • BCWP stands for the budgeted cost work performed, in other words: what did we expect to pay for the actual work that has been progressed at this point in time.

Again, the table shows only the top-level tasks. If you want to drill down, click the table, and in the right menu select the outline level you want:

Earned value for your project

Do you consider using this report in MS Project? What would be the biggest benefit for you?

Leave it in the comments below.

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What are the PBS and WBS in MS Project?

What are the PBS and WBS in MS Project?

PBS (Product Breakdown Structure)

In a meeting or a series of meetings, where you have all important experts and your (core) team members present, you start identifying all items that should be part of your project to deliver your main or end deliverable. This also includes ‘management deliverables’ such as documents you use for project control. Think of documents like a Project Initiation Document, communication plan, risk register, etcetera. This breakdown of  a product is called the PBS (Product Breakdown Structure).

What are the PBS and WBS in MS Project?1

If, for instance you consider the example of a motorcycle, the main deliverable ‘engine’ is further subdivided into: Transmission, Head, Battery. Head is further subdivided into Pistons and Rings. Note that you could keep doing this up to the bolts and screws level, and thereby easily overdo this breaking down.

WBS (Work Breakdown Structure)

For planning and estimating purposes it is wise to stop at a certain point, and start mentioning the work (tasks) that is needed to produce these elements of the PBS. This is where your WBS (Work Breakdown Structure) starts. Since you are creating a model, just as a maquette as model for a building, it should not be too detailed. For various reasons it is widely recommended to stop listing the work, when the activities have a duration of 5 days. For instance, if your project is remodeling the backyard, ‘build shed’ is the right level of detail, and ‘pick up screwdriver’ is not. Although you might not want to forget this crucial activity of picking up the screwdriver, your schedule should not resort into a checklist or manual (you will learn more about estimating in our course Task Management).

This breakdown of the main deliverable forms the backbone of your project plan and as such it is essential to give this process the proper attention. For this reason, it was our well-considered choice to explain linking and automating the schedule in our online training about Critical Path Management (Intermediate course).

“I cannot read the Gantt Charts”

“My manager cannot read Gantt Charts” is a remark we hear quite often. We think that this manager is just not able to read this particular Gantt Chart. Since scheduling is about modeling, one of its primary purposes is being a communication means. Think of this before you start randomly typing in the products and tasks.

The correct order in your schedule

When you start planning, pay good attention to the order in which you enter the PBS elements into the plan. Ideally this is a chronological order with the first to be delivered PBS elements located higher in the schedule and the last to be delivered PBS elements lower in the schedule. This way your schedule will look like a waterfall and enhances readability drastically.

What are the PBS and WBS in MS Project?2

Correct naming

This is a good example:

The work breakdown structure (WBS) consists of all the activities that are needed to be able to deliver a PBS element. Whereas the PBS element is logically a summary task, the activities leading up to the delivery of this PBS element are the tasks beneath (indent/outdent) this summary task, and have a <verb + noun> naming convention (e.g. level building site).

With this structure all activities’ effort/cost/etc. will be summarized on the summary task, which makes progress tracking and learning from estimates per PBS-element extremely convenient.

 

The video clip below shows how to create summary tasks with underlying tasks:

Everything well structured

The purpose of this step is to create a complete overview of all needed activities to complete the deliverables within your scope. This will result in a schedule like the example below:

What are the PBS and WBS in MS Project?3

 

PBS & WBS best practices

There are several PBS and WBS best practices that we want to share with you in this course. We have translated them into a ‘hands-on’ list of do’s and don’ts.

Do’s: 

  • Summary tasks are ideal for ‘phases’.
  • Make sure that 100% of the PBS elements defined in the project scope is represented in your PBS.
  • Make sure that 100% of the work defined in the project scope is represented in your WBS.
  • Each PBS element, regardless of level, should answer to the following question: ‘what needs to be delivered before we can call the project a success?’
  • Be specific in naming the elements (example: unit test vs perform unit test for module XYZ).
  • Each PBS/work element should be unique and the meaning can be interpreted without viewing the context by each team member.

Don’ts:

  • ‘Miscellaneous’ is not a PBS element.
  • The PBS/WBS should not contain elements that are out of scope, such as external activities or the work of an external supplier outside the scope.
  • As summary tasks are not real activities which need to be performed, it is very important to ensure that summary tasks NEVER:
    • Have resources assigned
    • Have links
    • Are used to track progress (do this in the tasks)

Do you have more?

Which DO’s and DON’Ts would you add to the list above?
Share them in the comments below.

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How to read the reports Resource cost overview and cost overview of tasks?

The standard reports ‘Resource Cost Overview‘ and ‘Task Cost Overview’ provide useful graphs and a clear overview of the costs of the work in progress.

To open the reports click:

  • Tab ‘Report’
  • Select from the dropdown menu ‘Costs’
  • Resource Cost Overview & Task Cost Overview

3 areas with information about the cost of resources in your project

The Cost Status chart is a combination chart that displays the Actual Cost and Remaining Cost per (work) resource in stacked columns, as well as a line for Baseline Cost. You can see in the example that the resource Edwin is expected to cost the most, but that he costs less than the baseline cost. The reason for this could be a lower rate, less hours or a combination of both.

The Cost Distribution pie-chart shows how cost are spread out amongst different resource types (work, material, cost).

The Cost Details table shows for each (work) resource in your project team the Actual Work, Actual Cost and Standard Rate (Actual Cost = Actual Work x Standard Rate).

How to read the reports Resource cost overview and cost overview of tasks?1

 

The Task Cost Overview also shows 3 areas

This time with information about the cost of tasks in your project:

The Cost Status chart is a combination chart that shows the Actual Cost and Remaining Cost in stacked columns for each top-level task as well as a line for Baseline Cost.

The Cost Distribution chart shows how costs are spread out amongst tasks based on the Status field: complete, on schedule, late and future task.

  • Complete: The task is 100 percent complete
  • Future task: Start date is greater than the Status Date
  • On Schedule: The timephased cumulative percent complete is spread to at least the day before the Status Date
  • Late task: The timephased cumulative percent complete does not reach midnight on the day before the Status Date

In the example you can see that the biggest chunk of costs is for future tasks.

The Cost Details table shows for each top-level task of your project the Fixed Cost, Actual Cost, Remaining Cost, Cost, Baseline Cost and Cost Variance (Cost = Actual Cost + Remaining Cost; Cost Variance = Cost – Baseline Cost). Also in this table you can cleary see that the final assembly costs $200.- more than baselined.

How to read the reports Resource cost overview and cost overview of tasks?2

Standard cost reports in MS Project

We are very enthusiastic about these standard reports in MS Project; what about you?

Leave it in the comments below.

 

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How to add new tasks to the baseline?

How to add new tasks to the baseline?

From time to time it may be necessary to add tasks to the project schedule after the baseline has been set. When these changes affect the agreed project schedule beyond the project’s tolerances, a new baseline should be set. When no new baseline needs to be set, you can decide to add these new tasks to the baseline.

In case you want to add new tasks to the baseline:

  • Select the newly added task(s)
  • Select tab Project and then select Set Baseline
  • To add the new task(s) to the baseline, select Set Baseline
  • Select the Selected tasks option
  • Click OK

How to add new tasks to the baseline?1
In the screenshot below you see a baselined project schedule where the duration is equal to the baseline duration:
How to add new tasks to the baseline?2

 

In the screenshot below you will see the result of adding an extra task to the baseline as described above. See that the Baseline Duration of summary task ‘deliverable 2’ is not affected. Additional options when setting the baseline for ‘Selected tasks’ (Roll up baselines):

How to add new tasks to the baseline?3

From subtask into selected summary task(s)

If you select the new task (‘extra task added’) as well as the corresponding summary task (deliverable 2), choose ‘Selected tasks’ and select the ‘From subtasks into selected summary task(s)’ check box, MS Project rolls up the baseline information from ‘extra task added’ into the baseline information of the selected summary task. (See the Baseline Duration of the ‘deliverable 2’ in the example below compared to the situation above.)

How to add new tasks to the baseline?4

To all summary tasks

If you select the new task (‘extra task added’), choose ‘Selected tasks’ and select the ‘To all summary tasks’ check box, MS Project rolls up the baseline information from the new task to all the summary tasks. Be careful with this option as it changes the baseline to the highest level. See Baseline Duration on line 1 (‘project ABC’) in the example below compared to the situation above. If on the highest level the Project Plan Triangle stays intact (you took hours for contingency for example) it is OK to roll up. In other cases, do not use this option.

How to add new tasks to the baseline?5

Adding tasks to the baseline in MS Project

What are your questions about adding tasks to the baseline? Share them in the comments below, we’d love to help you.

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Why is MS Project limited in displaying the resource critical path?

Why is MS Project limited in displaying the resource critical path?

Possibly you have already realized that after adding resources, the Critical Path will not show as neatly as you might have hoped. Formatting the Critical Path to appear in red will often lead to a broken, fragmented Critical Path.

Why is MS Project limited in displaying the resource critical path?1

In MS Project, Task 1 and Task 2 are not considered Critical, or driving predecessors.

Why? And what now?

The reason for this is that Microsoft Project treats tasks as critical when their Total Slack (buffer) is zero or less. When you use features like calendars and hard dates in Microsoft Project, many tasks will have some Total Slack, which breaks the Critical Path. Only by using an add-in, such as the one we recommend (PathsPro), you will be able to find the complete Critical Path.

Why is MS Project limited in displaying the resource critical path?2

The PathsPro add-on

With the PathsPro add-on, these will be flagged as being critical.

Answers to all of the following questions with the add-on:

  • All tasks in my schedule are critical! If you have challenging deadlines, all tasks in your schedule may turn red. Where should I start optimizing?
  • What is my most-Critical Path?
  • I don’t understand my Critical Path! Why is this task on the Critical Path?
  • Why is there a gap between critical tasks? It will show where weekends or holidays explain gaps between critical tasks.
  • Why is this critical task so long? It will show where resource vacations stretch the durations of critical task bars.
  • My Critical Path has huge gaps! Why does the Critical Path in my schedule only explain parts of the project duration? It will show if a task is driven by a resource dependency.
  • Why do I not see a complete Critical Path that explains the entire project duration? Commonly used features (like hard dates, task/resource/project calendars and elapsed durations/lags) can cause these gaps.
  • I leveled the workloads and now my Critical Path is broken! Do you have unlimited resources? Anybody? If you work with people who are not always available when you need them, you are in a resource-constrained project. When resources get overloaded and you level their workloads, the Critical Path will have huge gaps and explain only parts of the project duration. The add-in will display the Complete Critical Path in your schedule, also known as the Resource-Critical Path that explains your entire project duration.
  • I cannot find the Critical Path across my subprojects! You have created links between projects and now you want to find the Critical Path to a major milestone in your large program schedule.

Why is MS Project limited in displaying the resource critical path?3

 

In MS Project without add-on it is difficult to explain gaps on the Critical Path:

Why is MS Project limited in displaying the resource critical path?4

 

With the PathsPro add-on, each gap is explained. This will seriously increase the level of understanding for a (delayed) schedule.

Conclusion

Reading the above you might come to the same conclusion as we did: if you are serious about managing a project, you cannot live without the insights that can only be delivered when using this add-on.
Share your thoughts about the add-on in the comments below!

 

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