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How to use lag and lead time in MS Project?

Lag and lead time in MS Project is a topic that is confusing to many Microsoft Project users.

An easy example

In some cases the next task cannot start directly after the previous task has finished, for instance when you have completed a task like ‘painting’ which requires drying time. When you want to create a delay (lag) or a lead-time (negative lag) you double-click the black arrow in the Gantt chart between the respective tasks and enter the number of days of lag you want to have for this relationship.

You could also have a negative ‘lag’, which is called ‘lead'(time). An example of lead-time is to start to review a document when the document has been written for 20%. To enter lead-time, you will add a negative number of days in the link window as just described.

What about you?

What are your biggest struggles with lag and lead time?

Leave it in the comments below.

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How does MS Project leveling decide which task to put first?

Which task to put first?

When solving overallocation, MS Project chooses which task to put first and uses a certain logic (algorithm) to achieve this. For each task in the schedule, a score value is calculated based on all factors that have an impact on the leveling process:

  • Tasks are scheduled in the order of the calculated value. Tasks with a lower score are pushed out further in time
  • Resource leveling only splits and delays (!) tasks
  • Tasks will never be scheduled to start earlier than initially planned, even if possible. It is even so, that leveling twice without clearing leveling will result in introducing more delay.

The leveling ‘score’ for each task is calculated based on:

  • Task ID: this is the order in the schedule from top to bottom. Tasks with a lower ID get a better score (very little impact on the score though).
  • Duration: tasks with a longer duration get a higher score.
  • Constraints and Dependencies: they have a negative impact on the score, as MS Project will honour constraints and dependencies (if set in options > schedule > task will always honor their constraint dates).
  • Priorities: have a big impact on the score. A higher priority has a higher score. (Priorities are only a ‘hint’ for MS Project, and are NOT always honoured). Priorities can be set in Task information > General > Priority. Of course, this field can also be added as a column to the task views.

Note that you do not need to set priorities for every individual task; the network logic will set the correct order as well.

How does MS Project leveling decide which task to put first?1

How confident are you?

How confident are you in using the resource leveling functionality in MS Project?
Share it in the comments below.

 

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About linking tasks in MS Project

There is a lot to learn about linking tasks in MS Project. One of the most important principles is to create dependencies between the tasks in your schedule, for the same reason as you create formulas in Excel, to automate the calculations.

Different terms about linking tasks

Perhaps you will hear other terms at your company, like links or task relationships, but they all mean the same, which are the black arrows between tasks in the Gantt chart.

About linking tasks in MS Project1

Why linking tasks in MS Project?

Linking tasks is automating your schedule. You want MS Project do the calculations for you. Compare a task relationship with a formula in Excel. You use a formula in Excel when you don’t want to use a Casio calculator next to your Excel file to do the calculations.

It is very important that you consult with all possible stakeholders. Planning an entire day for 35 people might be a very good investment if you consider that one forgotten dependency can easily push your project back for months. Think of having some software installed as a precondition for other software, or on boarding or training requirements before a resource can start on your project, or business processes that need to be followed but you did not know yet.

Functional dependencies

The tasks you link should be functional dependencies. This means that in reality a task cannot start before another one finishes, as this would totally not make sense.

  • For example, placing the roof on a building when the supporting walls have not yet been finished is physically not possible. Reviewing a document before it is written is also not the correct order.

About linking tasks in MS Project2

Resource dependencies

Resource dependencies are to indicate that a task can only start when this resource finished the previous one.

  • For example, because multi-tasking only works to a certain level and you can only start painting room 2 once you have finished room 1, or vice versa.

About linking tasks in MS Project3

Using links for resource dependencies introduces unwanted inflexibility to your plan. Suppose that someone else just become available to paint room 2, you do not want to have a task dependency anymore, as this would keep the tasks in sequence, although the tasks could be done in parallel now. This issue is solved when we explain how to level workloads in our e-course Maturity Level 4 Resource Management. For now, it is fine to use links for resource dependencies, but we do recommend to place a note before each task where you did this (double-click on the task > tab notes). This note (like: “I used a link for a resource dependency here”) will remind you to delete this link once you have found a new resource for the task.

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How to link tasks in MS Project?

In MS Project there are several ways how to link tasks in MS Project. Actually, there are eight different ways, but we will show you only the three ways we prefer.

3 methods for linking tasks

These methods are also shown in the video below:

  1. Selecting the tasks you want to link and use the Link button.
  2. Enter the number of the Predecessor in the Predecessor column.
  3. Select the bar in the Gantt Chart and drag the link to its successor.

 

Which of the three methods is your favourite when it comes to linking tasks?
Share it in the comments below:

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How MS Project uses cost management terms?

In MS Project are several cost management terms used:

  • Forecast: The projected cost for all past, current and future tasks. In other words: the predicted cost for the project.
  • Actual: The costs that have already been made, or for which the obligation to pay is already made
  • Remaining: All costs that are still to be incurred, as these are related to tasks that still need to be done
  • Budgeted costs: The amount of money you are allowed to spend due to agreements made with your client, boss or stakeholders. There could be an agreed tolerance level for deviating 10% from this budget. This tolerance should then be well-documented of course.
  • Baseline costs: At the point of accepting the project a baseline is set, which is a copy of the schedule that adheres to the time, budget and scope constraints for the project. Baseline costs therefore reflect the ‘forecasted’ costs at that time.

This also means that the actual and forecasted costs can be compared to the budget as well as to the baseline costs. In our e-course Cost Management we will discuss both comparisons.


Which terms about cost management did you miss in this list?

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How to set up a project budget in MS Project in 3 steps?

Follow these 3 steps to set up a project budget in MS Project:

  1. First, you create the Budget Resources in your file
  2. Second, you assign these budget resource to your project
  3. Third, you enter the amount of your budget per budget type

It is not a difficult process, but the need for doing things in the right order and using different views for these steps, can make it a bit confusing though.

1) Create budget resource

Budget Resource is one of the four resource types and as such can be created in the 5. Budget view, (this view is part of our e-course Resource Management) which is a slightly customized version of the Resource Sheet. Make sure you do this in the right order, as otherwise it will not work:

  • Type the new Resource in the Sheet and mark these as resource type Cost. We recommend to use the naming convention ‘Budget <budget category>’, e.g. ‘Budget Internal Hours’, ‘Budget Hardware’ or ‘Budget Travel’. Also, use the Budget Category field to indicate the budget category, as this view will group on this field so you see a nice summary of your costs against the budget, per budget type.
  • Double-click this resource and in the Resource Information window, check the box before Budget.

2) Assign budget resource

To assign any of these budgets to your project, you have to assign them in the Gantt Chart to the Project Summary Task, just like you assign any other resource to any regular task. If you do not see the Project Summary Task, you should go the Layout tab and then check the box before Project Summary Task on the right.

3) Enter the amount of your budget

To enter the amounts for the different budget types, you go to the Resource Usage view, add the column Budgeted Cost, and type the amount on the line that has your Project’s name. You will see that the budget is being spread equally in time-phased increments over the length of your project. You could deviate from this equal spread, for instance by applying the Months timescale and adjusting the monthly amounts as you wish. Obviously, make sure that the total is still correct.

Your project budget is entered

At this point the budget has been correctly entered!

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Why you should know about the resource allocation view when leveling?

The Resource Allocation view (view tab > more views > resource allocation view) is perhaps the best view to use when you have MS Project do the leveling for you. This combination view combines the resource usage view and the Leveling Gantt view. To understand and appreciate its value, have a look at the images below. The first shows an over allocation and in the second you will see the delay of each task as a consequence of the leveling action.

Before leveling:

Why you should know about the resource allocation view when leveling?1

After leveling:

Why you should know about the resource allocation view when leveling?2

The olive-green bar represents the pre-leveled task and the olive-green line is the leveling delay. The field leveling delay keeps track of the number of days the task was delayed as a consequence of the leveling action. These are called ‘edays’, short for elapsed days.

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Managing against deadlines

You can set a deadline for a task or a milestone, by going to the task information window and click the tab advanced > deadline > select the date for your deadline. You will now see a green arrow in the Gantt Chart.

Managing against deadlines1

What to do if deadlines have passed?

If any of the deadlines you entered for your primary deliverables have passed, it means you need to manage back your schedule.

For this, you can do several things:

  1. Plan for overtime – allow that certain tasks have more than 8 hours per day.
  2. If possible, assign parts of the critical work tasks to other people. In the above image, can John or Gary do things to help Amy, like documenting, preparation etc.?
  3. Place even more focus on agreeing input and output criteria, so that when John takes over from Amy, the risk of rework is limited.
  4. Fast Tracking: Have tasks run in parallel where possible. Is 100% of Amy’s deliverable needed for John to take over? Or could John already start when Amy delivers a first part? (Use lead-time on the dependency).
  5. Crashing: Add resources to effort-driven critical tasks to shorten the task duration. Make sure this makes sense, and getting someone else up-to-speed will not just increase the duration.

You can share your personal experience about managing against deadlines in the comment below!

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