Biggy Zahn

Biggy Zahn

What is a cost breakdown structure?

cost breakdown structure (CBS) is not that different from a PBS (product breakdown structure) or WBS (work breakdown structure). What is different is that the breakdown structure now includes a cost component. This will obviously be the cost for the component (e.g. the product, part of the task, the resource discipline), but also extra custom fields with valuable extra information as for example:

  1. Booking number
  2. Reference for the accounting system (e.g. SAP reference)
  3. Invoice number
  4. Cost area

Have a look at the example below:

What is a cost breakdown structure?1

For your own financial project governance having such information can be relevant, but for your accounting & control department it might be essential.

Based on the used accounting principle it could mean that you have to set up your CBS (and thus PBS/WBS) accordingly. An accounting principle could be activity based costing, which means that activities are tracked financially, or product based costing, which means that the product decomposition is important. Without having to descend into the accounting world, realize that you might be asked to deliver your projects cost information grouped on a certain CBS label, for example on products (already done by good use of summary tasks) or on activity types.

As a scheduler in MS project, this means a couple of things:

  1. You need to think about how to use and name your summary tasks
  2. You need to know how to create custom fields
  3. You need to know how to enter the extra information quickly and efficiently
  4. You need to know how to report and provide your financial project information in Excel

1. Summary tasks

We presume you know how to set up summary tasks, using a correct and smart way of indenting the tasks. That’s why we will only give the following 2 examples:

What is a cost breakdown structure?2

2. Create custom fields

To create a custom field:

  • Go to the Format tab > Custom Fields
  • Choose the right field type (e.g. text or number)
  • Decide if you need a Lookup Table
  • Click OK
  • Insert the column in your view

Note that you can use any Gantt view to start from, and that you could add columns and delete fields as your organization requires. Deleting a custom field is also done through Format tab > Custom Fields.

3. Create a view to enter cost information

When you have inserted the right columns and deleted the columns you do not need, you have the perfect view that suits your needs. The next time you open your schedule the view will open the way you just made it.

There are a couple of other things you might want to do:

  • Save the view as a new view: Task tab > open the View menu > Save View
  • Print the view: File tab > Print > use the Print settings to adjust the print preview to your liking
  • Copy the view to another project file: File tab > Info > Organizer

What is a cost breakdown structure?3

  • Since the view is build up from fields and a table, you will also need to copy these to the other file. Go to the Fields tab > select the fields in the original file you want to copy and click Copy to copy it to the destination file or to ‘Global MPT’. Global MPT is the template for your instance of MS Project, which means that the fields will now become available in every project you will ever open or create in MS Project.
  • Repeat this for the table in the Tables tab
  • Repeat this for the view in the View tab

4. Export to Excel

MS Project has a great feature to export data to Excel, it is called Visual Reports.

  • Go to the Report tab > Visual Reports
  • Select the right data set by choosing one of the templates
  • Click Edit template to change the fields that are in the export
  • Click View

Microsoft Excel will be opened with two pre-filled tabs: a graph section and the table section, based on the exported Pivot table.

The Graph tab

What is a cost breakdown structure?4

What is a cost breakdown structure?5

The Table tab

Since you are now working in Excel you can change the table and the graph any way you want. You could display it such so that for your controller it will be a simple copy-paste action to get what he or she requires.

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What are the 4 different resource types in MS Project?

Microsoft Project knows 4 different resource types:

  1. Work resources (people)
  2. Material resources (e.g. cables, bricks)
  3. Cost type resources (e.g. airfares, scrap)
  4. Budget resources (e.g. training budget, externals budget)

A fifth resource type

We think that Microsoft should also have included a fifth resource type, by acknowledging that material resources could be either consumable (like cables or bricks) or have a capacity that can be booked (like a test machine or training room). If you have such a material resource with capacity, we recommend you to use the work resource type instead.

Working in a server environment

If you are working in a MS Project Server environment, you might need to work with server resources. Server resources are created centrally by the MS Project Server administrator for the purpose of having one central enterprise resource pool. Personal holidays will be administered here and resource capacity and resource availability can be seen and managed across projects.

Learn it all!

Our e-course Maturity Level 4 Resource Management is about the work resources, Level 5 Cost Management is about the other resource types as we think that only when it comes to cost management, these other resource types will start to bring true value. Get our pro course here!

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What is the difference between generic and specific resources?

Generic and specific resources

If you do not know the name of the person you will get in your project team yet, you can add a resource to the resource sheet with a generic title.

What is the difference between generic and specific resources?1

For instance, if you put out a vacancy for a test consultant, you create a resource called ‘Test consultant’. If you have vacancies for three test consultants, you could create three generic resources each for 100% availability or just create one generic resource with 300% availability.

Generic resources should have the field generic set to ‘Yes’ and can be recognized by the ‘two-little-heads’ symbol in the indicator column (only available in the ‘professional’ version of MS Project).

What is the difference between generic and specific resources?2

Generic resources are assigned to tasks exactly the same as specific resources are assigned to tasks.

When you use a resource, the respective tasks will calculate correctly and the moment you know who is going to perform the task (specific resource) you can replace the generic resource by the specific resource easily.

When you use a generic resource for tasks later in the schedule, create a ‘dummy’ resource calendar as well, so you take an average into account for holidays and other forms of non-availability.

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These are the views that answer all your questions on resource allocation!

In MS Project, there are many views that support insight in the assignments and whether or not resources are planned more than they are available.

The views with the best insight

We will explain the views and answer the most important questions:

  • Gantt chart – for spotting if there is an overallocation
  • Resource graph – for spotting if there is a serious overallocation
  • Resource graph – for spotting on which date(s) the overallocation occurs
  • Team planner – spotting which resource has availability to take on a new assignment (only available in Professional version of MS Project)
  • Resource graph – see how much availability several resources in your team have as a team
  • Resources vs BL10 – see how assigning resources has changed your schedule

The last one is a view we have created for our e-course and is part of the template you will get with the e-course. Of course, you can create such a view as well by adding the relevant Baseline columns to your view.

Which view is your favorite?

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How to reassign a task to another resource?

The best way to replace a resource is through the assign resources window:

  • Click Resource tab > Assign Resources
  • Select the old resource
  • Click Replace
  • Select the new resource
  • Click OK > Close

Of course you can also deselect the old resource and select the new resource in the Resource Names column, but MS Project will see this as two separate actions: MS Project will first delete the old assignment (with the set %), then create a new assignment based on the max units for that resource and any part-time % for the task you had set will be gone.

Replace resources for the entire schedule

This is per assignment. If you want to replace a resource for the entire schedule, select all tasks for which you want to replace the resource. If you get the question ‘The task is 100% complete. Do you want to move the actual work to the new resource?’, it means that you selected a completed task. Click cancel and deselect the completed tasks. All tasks with 0% completion and the remaining parts of partially completed tasks are reassigned.

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Different types of assignments: Dedicated vs. non-dedicated

Dedicated assignment

By default, planning with fixed duration and entering work or vice versa, fixed work and entering duration will not affect the assignment units. These will remain 100%, which you can call a fulltime or dedicated assignment.

Non-dedicated assignment

A non-dedicated (part-time) assignment is when the resource is not working dedicated on a task, for instance if the resource is doing two or more assignments in parallel, due to waiting times on both assignments.

Non-dedicated/part-time assignments introduce multi-tasking, which is very inefficient. Please refrain from these part-time assignments anywhere you can.


There are three types of assignments, displayed in the image below:

Different types of assignments: Dedicated vs. non-dedicated1

  1. Dedicated (100%): the first task shows the default assignment pattern. This pattern is called ‘flat’, as this has equal hours per day throughout the assignment.
  2. Non-dedicated (e.g. 50%): the second task shows that the hours are spread according to the 50% assignment units. This is still a ‘flat’ pattern.
  3. Non-dedicated, contoured: the third task shows a ‘contoured’ pattern, the workload for the assignment varies per day. Other assignment patterns can be selected by:
    • Double-click the assignment (e.g. the third task) so that the assignment information window appears.
    • In the field Work contour select the work contour you want.

Important to know is that when you create a work contour, MS Project will maintain that work contour when you:

  1. Change the work or duration
  2. Reschedule the task to start on another date
  3. Enter progress on the task

By entering hours on a day-to-day basis (in the resource usage view or task usage view) you can create your own assignment pattern. This is not recommended as you will simply be too busy maintaining an amount of data on a very detailed level. However, as you are tracking progress you are basically doing the same. The dots between the bars in your Gantt chart indicate such a pattern. Dots simply mean that there is no work done/planned in this period.

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Why you should care about including resources in your schedule?

Including resources in your schedule

I see it all the time, as soon as the people I coach have a good schedule, with a clear critical path, and forecasting their main deliveries, they realize this is not enough. As soon as they start to update the schedule they will see all these parallel tasks and it becomes visible that one person can never perform all these activities in this particular timeframe.

Having a duration-driven start is a great start, but it could be though that it is not realistic enough yet, as resources induce many additional dependencies. You could think of shortage of resources with a certain skill set, holidays, or responsibilities in other projects.


First of all, a resource is any means that need to be used for tasks and thus projects to complete. Think of people with certain skills, test machines, facilities, money, etc. Apart from resources there is a responsible person who does not necessarily need to spend time on a task to complete. Resources should only be assigned to tasks when doing this has a significant impact to the quality or duration of the schedule.

Also note that as a communication means, a schedule could have different audiences:

  • Bottom-up – only use resources for those tasks that affect the critical path
  • Top-down – use resources for all your tasks as you use your schedule to communicate their workload and what is expected of them

The goal of planning with resources is to be able to determine what is needed of the variable parameter(s) to achieve the project goal. These parameters are:

  • Scope and timing with constrained resources
  • Timing and resources with constrained scope
  • Scope and resources with constrained timing

Why you should care about including resources in your schedule?1

On a schedule level, we distinguish between four elementary steps towards the goal of realistically calculated plan dates given the resource constraint:

  1. Effort-driven scheduling: By understanding how resource assignments and (un)availability affects the task duration, we can have more reliable task durations in our schedule.
  2. Resource leveling: Any resource overallocation (on the critical path) will show a too optimistic plan date (because we do not have unlimited availability of resources). We need to solve this to have more reliable plan dates for our major deliverables.
  3. Task ownership by resources: Since reliable plan dates are only possible with reliable estimations, it is important to facilitate this as much as possible. Realistic estimations done and owned by the resources themselves is an important part in this.
  4. Resource critical path: The critical path of all dependent tasks and resources.
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What happens if I tick the effort driven checkbox?

When you assign or remove people from a task, MS Project lengthens or shortens the duration of the task based on the number of resources assigned to it but it does not change the total amount of work for the task. This is called effort-driven scheduling.

Effort-driven and non effort-driven

For understanding the difference between effort-driven and non effort-driven, think of the following question: “Divide or double up?”. This relates to the total work on the task;

  • Suppose an 8-hour paint task you are doing alone, and now a second person is added. Should the total work be divided between these resources, so 4 hours of work each? Or should they both work 8 hours now? If the work should be divided (total amount of work stays the same), this is effortdriven.
  • Suppose you are on an 8-hour business flight. If you bring a colleague along, should the work be divided, so they fly 4 hours each? Or should they both fly 8 hours, so the total amount of work is now 16 hours? Increasing the amount of work when adding an extra resource is called non effort-driven.

Effort-driven scheduling only takes effect when resources are added to or removed from a task. Effort-driven calculation rules are not applied when you change work, duration, and unit values for resources already assigned to a task.

Fixed work is always effort driven, for fixed duration or units you can choose (checkmark) whether or not new tasks are effort driven.

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