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What is the difference between Max Units, Assignment units and Peak units?

The difference between Max Units, Assignment units and Peak units?

Units are not covered by a single field in MS Project. The following bullet points describe the meaning of the individual fields. Read them carefully because, for novice users, mixing up these fields is one of the main reasons MS Project gets its reputation for being unpredictable.

  • Max units (resource field, to be entered in resource sheet)
  • Units (assignment field that appears as assignment units in the usage views and is used in the iron formula)
  • Peak (assignment field and resource field, indicating the highest % possible to use this resource (on this task)

The differences can best be explained by using the following example (Task Usage view):

Task 1: John is assigned for 100%, for this we used the Assignment units field.

Peak units is calculated, it shows the percentage for the highest (peak) within this assignment. Peak usually follows the assignment units.

Task 2: William is assigned for 50%, for this we used the Assignment units field.

Peak units is calculated, it shows the percentage for the highest (peak) within this assignment. Peak usually follows the assignment units.

Task 3: Edwin is assigned, also for 50% using the Assignment units field.

We entered 8 hours on Wednesday, which resulted in peak of 100%.

Task 4: Sander is assigned for 100%. But he will work overtime on the last three days.

Peak was calculated to be 125%. Peak shows the highest day assignment.
You also see over allocation (red puppet in Indicator column) because Sander is working more than his usual 8 hours per day. You may ignore this. You allowed him to work overtime when you entered in the 10 hrs of work for these days.

Task 5: Ruben is assigned for 125%. This work needs to be completed in one day.

This is the percentage you see next to the name (in the Gantt chart), as a result of the calculation of 10 hrs work on a one-day fixed duration task. This means overtime.
This also gives an over allocation you can ignore.

Good to know

When the assignment units % is different than 100%, you can see the relevant percentage next to the resource name in the Gantt chart.

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How is the baseline used for cost tracking?

How is the baseline used for cost tracking? In the reports, you will find two types of cost information; absolute and relative to either:

  1. The situation how it was once projected: The Baseline
  2. The current phase in the project: The Status date

Just like any other information on tasks and assignments, cost information is also stored when saving the baseline. Correct baseline use is therefore one of the most important prerequisites for using valuable and valid cost reports.

A quick recap

The baseline is set through the Project tab > Set Baseline > Set Baseline > select the correct Baseline > OK. The baseline should be set only once all relevant parties agree on the schedule, including the cost projections. Typically, the first time the baseline is set, is once the Project Initiation Document (PID) has been approved. Also, we recommend you to ask for an acknowledgement from these parties that the right situation is now baselined. You want to take every chance to avoid miscommunication and debate at a later stage, for instance when you show your (cost) report that lays out actuals against this baseline.
How is the baseline used for cost tracking?1

Cost tracking  in your organization

Is the baseline used for cost tracking in your organization? If not, what is blocking you?
Start a discussion in the comments below.

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How is the status date used for cost tracking?

The Status date

The status date – what was it again? It is the date until which you have updated your schedule. Consider these situations:

How is the status date used for cost tracking?1

Take a look

In this situation, I have updated my schedule at the end of day 5 and I have stated to have my task for 50% complete. I am working according to plan.

How is the status date used for cost tracking?2

What changed?

Now, I have updated my schedule at the end of day 8 and I have stated to have my task for 50% complete. I am far behind schedule and need to catch up three days.

How is the status date used for cost tracking?3

And now?

In the last example, I have updated my schedule at the end of day 3 and I have stated to have my task for 50% complete. I am far ahead of schedule. Even more, if I keep working at this speed, I will probably not need the total ten days, but only six days.

What does that mean?

These three examples illustrate that it is important to keep updating your status date, as this will determine how your progress is perceived and interpreted through your cost reports. The status date is especially important for the s-curves in the earned value management reports, which we will fully discuss in our e-course Cost Management (Pro course).

Tips & Tricks

Do you have any tips for other MS Project users about the status date?

Leave it in the comments below.

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How to compare costs to your baseline?

I just wanted to tell you how you could create an easy view for cost tracking. This view is one of my favorites so this one we also have included in the template we give you in our e-course.

With this custom view, that we call Cost vs Baseline you can learn from your actual costs against baseline. The symbols will tell you how your costs are doing compared to the (current) baseline.

How to compare costs to your baseline?1

Meaning of the smileys

  • Green smiley = value has not changed
  • Amber smiley = value has increased, but not more than 10%
  • Red smiley = value has increased by more than 10%
  • Green minus symbol = value has decreased, but not more than 10%
  • Amber minus symbol = value has decreases by more than 10%

Hovering over the symbol will show you the result of the calculation: cost / baseline cost. Notice that this is also done for summary tasks.

A value higher than 1 means that the current cost of activities is more than previously estimated for the project: we have lost money!

A value between 0 and 1 means that the current cost of activities is less than previously estimated for the project: we have earned some extra buffer!

Although a value between 0 and 1 is of course good news for the project, we consider this to be an estimate that is not so good, as these funds could have been freed up for other tasks or projects earlier.

Process improvements

At some of our customers, these symbols are used for process improvements. Their goal is to have more green over the years, meaning they become better in estimating! Cool right?
Where do you want to improve in your schedules? Share it in the comments below.

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How to determine when costs are ‘actual’?

In the Resource Sheet you will find the column Accrue At. With this you can determine when the costs will appear as actuals in your cost reports. For work resources for instance, the obligation to pay the expenses accrues when hours are worked. In this case, you would select the default option, which is Prorated.

Let’s make it practical

Another situation is for instance if you have bought three PC’s that are used for a certain task. Once you start using these PC’s you incur the costs (possibly even sooner, at the moment of purchase). Regardless the duration of this task, if you incur the costs at the beginning you should select the option Start here.

The option End could be used, for instance for a task that has a fixed price or ‘no cure no pay’ assignment. The obligation to pay for this now starts to exist once you have verified the work was done correctly (there is a ‘cure’).

Do you remember?

Can you recall an example where you used this to determine when the costs need to appear as actual?

Leave it in the comments below.

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What are the ideal settings for the leveling options screen

Next to the regular scheduling options (constraints, dependencies) and the leveling algorithm, it is important to discuss the resource leveling options. What are the ideal setting for the leveling options screen?

Resource Leveling options

The resource leveling options can be found by clicking Resource tab > Leveling Options:

Automatic vs Manual – Choosing ‘automatic’ will calculate and level your schedule automatically each time something changes. When choosing ‘manual’ you need to click the level resources button.

Day by Day, Week by Week, etc. – Determines when the red puppet will appear. Day by day basis means that puppets will be red at more than 8 hours on a day. Week by week more than 40 hours in a week, etc.

Clear leveling values before leveling – Having this option on makes sure each leveling action uses a new start, instead of continuing on top of the already leveled tasks.

Leveling order – Choosing ‘ID’, it will only use the location in the schedule to determine which task goes first. Choosing ‘standard’ will use the algorithm logic as explained in the previous paragraph and weighs in the priority field for the leveling score. Choosing ‘priority, standard’ means that the priority will always preceed the factors of the standard algorithm.

Level only within available slack – Having this option on will not increase the duration of your schedule. This also means that it will only solve the overallocation up to the point that there is available slack.

Leveling can adjust individual assignments on a task – Having this option on allows that resources could start on a task when they are available. This means that tasks which are scheduled to start at the same time could start at a different moments depending on the resource availability. Additionally, if you have more than one resource assigned to a task, this allows one person to already start and another person to join when available.

Leveling can create splits in remaining work – Tasks are allowed to split for another task or meeting and resume at a later moment. Without this option ticked, a 10 day task would be planned when there is a 10 day gap in the availability of the resource. With this option ticked, it will split the work over shorter periods of availability. This means that this option ticked will create much shorter lead times for the schedule.

Level resources with the proposed booking type – MS Project has the ability to indicate whether an assignment is only proposed or definitively booked. Default is always definitively booked. This option will have no consequences for you, if you did not change the booking type of the resource.

Level manually scheduled tasks – Manually scheduled tasks are not moved by MS Project. With this option you can have MS Project level these tasks as well.

Personal settings

These settings are personal, so you can choose to deviate from the default settings where you prefer. In this image you see our preferred settings.

What are the ideal settings for the leveling options screen1

The settings can also be applied on a task level, by inserting the column with these names in your view.

What are your preferred and personal setting in the resource leveling screen? Share it in the comments below.

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How to see if leveling resources has impacted your schedule?

Do you ask yourself how you can see if leveling resource has impacted your schedule? You can be certain that it will have consequences for your schedule, for instance your plan date(s) could now be scheduled later.

What to do before leveling resources?

  • We advise to set a baseline before you start leveling resources (use ‘Baseline 10’ for instance) to learn the impact to your schedule and how to optimize it further.
  • When you set the baseline, you now can add the column Finish Variance to your view, like in the image below:

How to see if leveling resources has impacted your schedule?1

In the Gantt chart of this view you see the Finish Variance displayed next to each task. This represents the delay caused by factoring in the influence of your resources availability.

To learn more about resource overallocation, make sure you also read this blog post!

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How to automate your schedule and save time?

What is better to automate your schedule and save time? We will help you how to do that!
Eric Uyttewaal, one of the most renowned authors in the field, named his books ‘Forecast Scheduling’. For deeper insights on virtually every concept in this course, we strongly recommend you to buy and read this book.

He defines the schedule as a model of the project to forecast it. This is the purpose we will cover in our e-course Critical Path Management, to automate your schedule in such a way that it is:

  • Valid: It must produce accurate forecasts
  • Dynamic: It must update itself as much as possible. He estimates that for a 100 task / 3 month schedule about 50 hours of schedule maintenance is saved when you have a dynamic schedule. Only one change should be enough to calculate the rest of the model (just like you expect from Excel)
  • Robust: It must be able to deal with multiple scenario’s, like scheduling forwards and scheduling backwards
  • Model: It must be a simplification of reality with only capturing those things that are important in this project – it should not resort into a checklist for all small activities
  • Forecast: Checklists, task manuals, meeting schedules, database of historical estimates are reasons to have schedules, but the primary reason should be to forecast your major milestones.How to automate your schedule and save time?1

Since this is our goal for the course Critical Path Management, we will focus on the following

4 principles

  1. having a complete and correct network logic,
  2. minimize the use of date constraints,
  3. keep all completed work in the past and
  4. all work that still needs to be done in the future.

Four simple principles, that if maintained, will make you very happy with MS Project. But if not maintained, will guarantee a misbalance between the effort you put in your scheduling work and the benefits you reap from it.

1 hour or 8 hours a week?

How much time do you spend on a weekly basis maintaining your schedule in MS Project?

Share it in the comments below.

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