Danielle of McLeansboro, IL asks: I hire flat amount contractors to perform multiple tasks. What is the best way to keep track of the schedule and the contract costs? We know that the contract amount will increase during the life of the contract. Since the contracts are flat amounts, we’re not concerned with updating hours per task but would like to track the schedule progress. The resources aren’t named resources, and the contractor will vary the workers and manage the day-to-day resource schedule. The tasks are varied calendar-wise with some tasks being assigned as five days, six days, or seven days per week schedule.

Ellen answers: Solving this problem takes a few steps, but it’s doable. You have a lot going on in your requirements so let’s take it one step at a time.

First, flat amount contract values

Contractors have a flat amount contract covering the cost of multiple tasks. Dividing up cost per task isn’t possible for your situation, so you need a way to have costs apply to a section of work. You might consider setting up a hammock task for the task grouping to hold the cost and then creating the schedule task detail to manage the work. A hammock task is a task that spans the length of a summary task and usually carries work that would apply to all tasks contained in the summary section of work. Hammock tasks may also be used to hold costs.

Second, not concerned about number of hours of work but need to manage schedule

You also will need to manage the schedule of the tasks that the flat amount contract applies to. This could be handled in detail tasks underneath the hammock task. Assigning a resource to the task will help in the scheduling of the task.

Third, task schedules can be five, six, or seven days depending on the task needs

To help with the unique scheduling that you require, you’ll also need a few new calendars that will be used as task calendars to create unique timeframes.

The steps to accomplish the above requirements are described below:

1. To accomplish the resources’ varied schedules, create a five-day, six-day, and seven-day calendar. These will be used as task calendars to establish unique timeframes for tasks. Project | Change Working Time in Microsoft Project 2010 or- Tools | Change Working Time in earlier versions,

2. Create a resource to be used to assign the work to the tasks. In this example the contractor’s name is Smith. Create a “Smith – Work” work resource for the contractor and assign the five-day calendar to the resource on the Resource Sheet. The number of hours of work isn’t a concern since the company doing the work will manage the day-to-day schedule for the resources.

3. Create a “Smith – Cost” resource on the Resource Sheet, which will be used hold the contract and cost when assigned to the hammock task. An example of the entered resources is shown in Figure 1.

Ask the Experts: Hammock Tasks

4. In the schedule on the Gantt chart create a summary task section for the work included in the flat amount contract. Build out the details of the tasks, applying duration, relationships, constraints, deadlines, etc.

5. Above the detail tasks for the summary grouping underneath the summary task create another task that isn’t linked to the other tasks. This will be the hammock task for the summary group of work. Adjust the duration of the hammock task to the total length of the summary but not longer than that. If the hammock task is longer than the summary task, the hammock becomes the critical path for the section of work. The hammock task is indicated in the red box in the example in Figure 2.

Ask the Experts: Hammock Tasks

6. Assign the cost resource to the hammock task with the cost value of the contract. Then assign the work resources to the detail work tasks.

7. Add task calendars to override resource calendars and adjust the schedule for the six-day and seven-day unique timeframes where needed. To assign a task calendar to a task and override the resource calendars, do this: Double click on the task to open the Task Information box | Advanced tab | Task calendar; and place a check mark in the box to the left of Scheduling Ignores Resource Calendar selected. An example and instructions are shown in Figure 3.

The activities, “Replace carpeting,” “Spruce up the yard,” and “Repair Roof,” have task calendars assigned.

Ask the Experts: Hammock Tasks

The advantages of using this approach are several:

  • You don’t have to break up a flat amount contract over multiple tasks.
  • You can track the work on each task using percent complete. More work or duration may be added if necessary to the detail tasks.
  • Since cost is held on the hammock task, the cost won’t be affected.
  • When managing the project, if the tasks take longer than planned, you can increase the length of the hammock, but the cost value will remain the same. You can also update the hammock task with percent complete. The length or the task won’t affect the project schedule but could affect cost accrual for actual cost.
  • If the cost increases, the Cost Resource amount assigned to the hammock task can be increased.

Tip: The Gantt chart will display the contract values for the contractors next to the contractor’s name. If you would like to hide the contract values, consider entering the full Resource Name in the Resource Initials field on the Resource Sheet. Then replace Resource Initials for Resource Name in the Gantt chart view. You would still see the resource assigned to the task, but the cost values would be hidden.

To copy the Resource Name column to the Resource Initials column:

1. Display the Resource Sheet.
2. Click on the column header Resource Name.
3. Click Copy.
4. Click on the column header Resource Initials.
5. Click Paste.

To replace the Resource Names with Resource Initials on the Gantt chart:

1. Display the Gantt chart you would like to change.
2. Right click on the right side of the view and select Bar Styles.
3. Select the Task blue bar in the top pane.
4. Select Text in the bottom section of the box.
5. Click on the arrow next to “Resource Names” and select Resource Initials.
6. Click OK to close the box.