Author: Gus Cicala

Gus Cicala is CEO & President of WiserWulff, a leading firm that help clients navigate complex challenges to achieve operational goals and improve performance in manufacturing, distribution, and technological and organizational transformation. They achieve this through effective and efficient portfolios, programs, and project management talent and strategies that deliver tangible results. Visit wiserwulff.com to learn more. You are invited to contact Gus Cicala at: (302) 477-9711.

The image shows a project plan in Microsoft Project. The project plan has a list of tasks, the duration of each task, the start date of each task, the end date of each task, and the resources assigned to each task. The project plan also has a Gantt chart, which shows the tasks and their durations on a timeline.

The Best Resource Workload Views in Microsoft Project 2010

One of the key ingredients to managing a successful project is to start off with a Microsoft Project plan that is complete and “optimized.” An “optimized” plan is a plan in which: Everything that is known is put into a plan that meets the overall project objectives, and The project delivers on the objectives of on-time, on-budget, with high quality, and a satisfied client. Determining whether your plan is optimized can be somewhat subjective, but the minimum requisites are as follows: All phases, tasks, and milestones required to meet the project objectives are loaded into the work plan. All resources are assigned to the tasks they will perform. Reliable work or duration estimates are assigned to each resource assignment. The resources can realistically perform the work assigned according to the current estimated task start and finish dates, and all tasks can be completed by the target finish date and budget for the project.   The goal of this article is to demonstrate ways to gauge how realistic your plan is. We’ll do this by showing how to use the tools in Microsoft Project to view resource workload. The process of ensuring that resources are realistically scheduled in your work plan is referred to as “load-leveling.” When you level the planned load for your resources, you may have to balance several factors. These include: The amount of work a resource can do in a time period (e.g. Hours per day), The sequence of tasks in the project as defined by dependencies, The skills required to perform particular tasks, The expected timeline for the project, The utilization rate for the resources.   Typically you will have to trade off some of these factors to arrive at the “best” schedule for your particular project. This means that you will have to check and adjust information across multiple views. Let’s look at the most useful views and cover how each contributes to gauging the viability of your project plan. Gantt Chart Most managers are familiar with the Gantt Chart view, as it is the default view for most projects. The Gantt Chart is useful for getting a high level view of the project schedule and for being able to drill into the detail of a particular task. It displays some limited resource information, as shown in Figure 1:   It is not suitable for resource assignment entry, but it does summarize whether there may be a problem (via the overallocated icon in the indicator column), what resources are assigned and, of course, the task schedule. If you go to the View:Split View tab and select the Details option, you get the split screen, where the bottom half shows extra detail of the tasks selected in the top half. Next to the Details check box you just ticked, there is a drop-down list. From here, you can choose the view that is displayed in the bottom half. By right-clicking in the bottom half of the screen, you can choose different variants of the Task Form, as seen in Figure 2.   As displayed, the Task Form is very useful for entering and changing task assignments. It allows you to enter multiple resource assignments for a task with detail about either Units or Work.   Resource Usage View The Resource Usage view is extremely useful once resources have been assigned to tasks. To get to it, you must first uncheck the Details box if it is still selected.  Then, go to View:Resource Views and click Resource Usage. This display lists the resources and, underneath each of them, the tasks to which they have been assigned. The left-hand side of the screen lists the Resources and the Task Names together with columns of total information for the resource or assignment. The right-hand side shows a time-phased view. If you right-click on this side, you can select what rows of data you would like to see in the time-phased section (see: Figure 3). As with all time-phased views, you can zoom-in or zoom-out to get a more or less detailed timescale: The table helps identify the resources that are overallocated and where the overallocation takes place in the project. The overallocated resources are highlighted in red and have an exclamatory icon in the indicator column. In the time-phased section, the red totals indicate which periods have a Total Workload for that resource across all assignments that exceeds the Maximum units for that resource. The test for overallocation applies at the daily level. When you zoom-out to a weekly or monthly level of time-phased detail, the total for the period would show as red if any day within that period showed an overallocation. As with other views, you can select the Details option (under the View:Split Views tab on the ribbon) to display information in a split screen. For the Resource Usage view, the default for the lower pane is the Resource Form (which can have several formats), but you can select others from the Details drop-down, as seen below:   Resource Allocation View There’s a shortcut to a particular example of the Resource Usage split screen, the Resource Allocation view. In the Vew:Resource Views tab, go to Other Views:More Views. Select “Resource Allocation,” as seen in Figure 5. As you can see, this is similar to the split screen for the Resource Usage view, except that the lower pane shows the Leveling Gantt view. The Leveling Gantt view is particularly helpful for visualize where task slack is and, therefore, which tasks may be adjusted without impacting the project critical path. We will see how this view is useful when we get to resource leveling. Task Inspector The combination of information and checks that Project carries out to display task indicators and warnings is quite complex. It takes time and experience for a Microsoft Project user to work out for themselves why each indicator or warning is being shown. In the meantime, there is a shortcut: the Task Inspector option unveils the logic that is being applied and shows you the factors being tested. On the Task:Tasks tab in the ribbon, select Inspect, as shown below:   The first time you do this, there may be a couple of prompts for you to confirm the download of various ActiveX controls. You should now see a left-hand panel that summarizes key characteristics of the highlighted task: There is a section for repair options. In the case of overallocation, the options are to Reschedule Task or to view the resource in Team Planner. The Reschedule Task option is a specific case of resource leveling that we cover in the Resource Leveling section. Team Planner The Team Planner is a new view with Project 2010 and shows a Gantt Chart-like view of assignments per resource. There are two ways to get to the view. As was just mentioned, you can get to it from the Repair Options in the Task Indicator.  More generally, though, it’s found in the Resource:View tab on the ribbon. Figure 9 shows an example project in this view: Each resource has next to them the tasks to which they are assigned, displayed along their scheduled time periods. For example: Bill is assigned to “A third task” from the middle of the week of October 28th until Monday the 4th, at which point he starts work on “A fourth task.” As with the Resource Sheet and Resource Usage views, the names of resources that are overallocated are shown in red. The assignment bars for the periods when the resources are overallocated are also outlined in red. The Team Planner is designed so that assignment bars can be dragged on the screen. In this way, you can drag a bar from one resource to another—which changes the assigned resource—and/or you can move them from one time period to another—which will set a date constraint. The display of task assignments obeys the rules applied when the schedule is calculated. For instance, if we reschedule “Another task” by dragging it after “A second overlap,” “A fourth task” also gets rescheduled because it is dependent. Resource Leveling A prominent feature of Microsoft Project is the Resource Leveling function. The logic of this function depends on automatically rescheduling assignments for overallocated resources. Generally, it does this by delaying the lower priority tasks until a time when they do not cause a resource to be overallocated.   There is an entire sub-tab under Resource: Level on the ribbon to do with leveling, and there are entire chapters out there dedicated solely to applying leveling options. The Leveling Options give you an idea of the complexity of the decisions. For our purposes it is normally sufficient to accept the proposed defaults.         NOTE: It is important to realize that leveling will not adjust the resource units—that is, the number of hours a resource will work on any particular task in any particular day. If you have two tasks, each scheduled at 60% for a resource, leveling would not allow them to be scheduled simultaneously because their sum would be greater than 100%. Working on it manually, you might choose to make both assignments at 50%, but this is not an option with automatic leveling.   The Resource Allocation view is a convenient one when working with the leveling functions. Again, you get to this view, by going to the View:Resource Views tab in the ribbon and selecting Other Views: MoreViews, then selecting “Resource Allocation” from the list. Once in this view, select a resource (as Joe is in Figure 12). Now, click Level Resource under the Resource:Level section in the ribbon. Finally, click Level Now. Notice the effect of choosing to level just the resource Joe.  Figures 12 and 13 serve as “Before and After pictures.” In the example project, “An overlapping task” has been delayed (with a leveling delay of 5.21 edays); the dates of both “An overlapping task” and “A third task” have changed; and other project tasks dependent on “An overlapping task” have also changed. When using automatic leveling, you need to keep a careful eye on the overall project schedule. Particularly if the box for Level only within existing slack (in the Leveling Options dialog box) is unchecked, it is easy for leveling delays to extend the project schedule dramatically. That is why it is so important that you understand the tools you have for viewing and working with Resource Allocation information. _____________ Optimal resource management requires application of every piece of information that is known. A crucial extension of that is becoming familiar with each of the most prominent views in Microsoft Project so that you can be equipped to use each of their unique contributions. This gives you the ability to effectively gauge the viability of your project plan and to make simple adjustments to the plan that navigate around certain issues.   Copyright 2013, Gus Cicala. Right to reproduce in full is granted freely to Microsoft Project Users Group. All other rights reserved. Related Content Webinars (watch for free now!): Resource Management: Maintain a Balanced Team Resource Workload Leveling Articles: Resource Leveling Best Practices 3 Steps for Better Resource Management  

Analyzing Work Plan Variances

Introduction Keeping your project under control requires a periodic look for tasks that are not progressing as originally planned. As a first step, you must track progress by entering Actual Work, Remaining Work, Actual Start and Actual Finish. Once you have captured this information you’re ready to analyze plan variances—that is: tasks where progress is out of sync with the baseline (original estimates). Before we look at these variances let’s briefly review some definitions. Project automatically calculates the difference between current progress and original estimates and places the result into five different variance fields as follows: Work Variance = (Work – Baseline Work) Cost Variance = (Cost – Baseline Cost) Start Variance = (Start – Baseline Start) Finish Variance = (Finish – Baseline Finish) Duration Variance = (Duration – Baseline Duration) I find it easier to remember these fields as follows: think of Work as “Current Estimated Work” and Baseline Work as “Original Estimated Work.” The Work Variance is then the difference between your Current Estimated Work and your Original Estimated Work. The same holds true for the other four variance fields listed above. Note that anytime the “Current Estimated” values are higher than the “Original Estimated” (Baseline) values, the resulting variance will be a positive number. This means that any variance that is greater than zero is exceeding your original estimates and is considered “unfavorable.” The easiest way to hone in on unfavorable variances is to build a set of tables and filters that are combined into views so that it is easy to quickly locate them. Let’s look at how we can customize these views to catch trouble early. Isolating Unfavorable Work Estimates for Tasks The first analysis we’ll perform is for work estimates that are higher than the original Baseline Work. We’ll use a “Single View” — which combines a filter and a table — so that we can view a table that contains all the relevant work-related fields alongside a filter to look for unfavorable Work Variances. Figure 1 shows the contents of the Work Table. From the View:Data tab on the ribbon, choose Tables, then scroll down to More Tables. From the More Tables dialog box, tick the task at the top, click on the tablenamed “Work,” and then select Edit. As you can see, the Work Table shows not only the Work Variance field, but also, other work fields that will help you see how the Work Variance was calculated. Figure 1:  Click Cancel for now. Figure 2 shows the contents of the Work Overbudget filter. From the View:Data tab on the ribbon, use the drop down list against the Filter icon, then More Filters. From the More Filters dialog box, click on the filter named “Work Overbudget,” and then the Edit button. As you can see, the Work Overbudget filter looks for tasks that have Actual Work in excess of Baseline Work and Baseline Work not equal to ‘0h’ (meaning there was work scheduled to the task and the task was baselined). Figure 2 Now, let’s build a View that combines the Work table with the Work Overbudget filter. From the View:Task Views tab on the ribbon, choose Task Usage:More Views. In the More Views dialog box, click on the New button. In the Define New View dialog box, click on Single View, then OK. Figure 3 shows the View Definition dialog box with the proper options applied. In the Name field, type “Work Variance.” In the Table drop-down, choose “Work.” In the Group drop-down, choose “No Group.” In the Filter drop-down, choose “Work Overbudget.” To add this new view to your View menu, select the Show in Menu option box. Click OK. Figure 3: You are now ready to apply the new Work Variance view to look for tasks for which Actual Work is higher than you originally predicted. From the More Views dialog, select “Work Variance” and click Apply. Figure 4 shows a typical sample of this view. Figure 4:  Modifying the Work Overbudget Filter to Be Proactive You may wish to look for unfavorable Work Variances for tasks that are not complete. These are the tasks that you might still be able to finish within their estimated work amount by reducing the scope. In the previous example, we looked at all tasks with unfavorable work variances, comparing Actual Work with Baseline Work. Now let’s modify the Work Overbudget filter to look for tasks that are in trouble, but not yet complete. From the View:Data tab on the ribbon, use the drop-down list against the Filter icon, then More Filters. From the More Filters dialog box, select the filter named “Work Overbudget,” and click Edit. On the first line, use the drop-down against “Actual Work” and select “Work” from the displayed list of fields. On the third line, type “And” in the And/Or column. Under the Field Name, choose “Remaining Work” from the drop-down. In the Test field, type (or choose from the drop-down) “is greater than.” In the Value(s) field, type “0h.” Figure 5 shows the new Work Variance filter. Figure 5:    Click Save. Now, when you run your new Work Variance view, you will see unfavorable work variances for tasks that still have not completed, as in Figure 6. Figure 6: Isolating Unfavorable Start and Finish Variances It might be tempting to look only for tasks with work plan estimates that are in excess of your original baseline work estimates—that is, unfavorable Work Variances. It is, however, equally important to analyze how your dates are progressing. If Baseline Work is 1,000 hours, Actual Work is 500 hours, and Remaining Work is 500 hours, then Work is equal to 1,000 hours and Work Variance is zero. Sounds pretty good, right? But what if you are 8 months into a 10 month project? Assuming an even resource load, you should have consumed 800 hours by now, but your Actual Work is only 500 hours.   This example highlights the importance of analyzing Start and Finish Variances in addition to Work Variances. If we were to look at the Start and Finish Variances in this 1,000 hour project, we would most likely find that tasks are not starting or completing on time. Let’s see how to quickly isolate all tasks with unfavorable Start and Finish Variances. First, we’ll find a table that contains the relevant Start and Finish date/variance field. Figure 7 shows the contents of the Variance Table. From the View:Data tab on the ribbon, choose Tables:More Tables. From the More Tables dialog box, click on the table named “Variance,” then click the Edit button. As you can see, the Variance Table shows not only the Start and Finish Variance fields, but also other Start and Finish fields that will help you see how the Start and Finish Variances were calculated. Figure 7: Since Project does not come with a filter to show unfavorable Start and Finish Variances, we’ll have to build one. From the View:Data tab on the ribbon, use the drop down list next to the Filter icon, then More Filters. From the More Filters dialog box, click on the New button in the right side-bar. Name the filter “Date Variances.” On the first line under the Field Name column, select “Start Variance” from the drop-down. Under the Test column, select from the drop-down “is greater than.” In the Value column, type “0.” Now, go to the second line. In the And/Or column, select “Or.” Under Field Name, select “Finish Variance” from the drop-down. Under the Test column, select from the drop-down “is greater than.” In the Value column, type “0d.” Select the check box Show Related Summary Rows. Figure 8 shows what the new Work Variance filter should look like. Click Save, and Apply the “Work Variance” filter you just created from the More Filters dialog box. Figure 8:   Now, let’s build a View that combines the Variance table with the Date Variances filter. From the View:Task Views tab on the ribbon, choose Task Usage:More Views. In the More Views dialog box, click the New button. In the Define New View dialog box, tick Single View. Click OK. Fill out the fields as follows: in the Name field, type “Late Dates”; in the Table drop-down, choose “Variances”; next to Group, choose “No Group”; in the Filter drop-down, choose “Date Variances.” To add this new view to your View menu, select the Show in Menu option box. Figure 9 shows the new Late Dates view. Figure 9:  Once you click OK, you are ready to Apply the new Late Dates view from the More Views dialog, which will allow for you to see the tasks with Start to Finish date estimates later than originally predicted. Figure 10 shows a sample of this view. Figure 10:   Closing Thoughts on Variance Analyses Working with Large Plans For a large work plan, you may find that looking at variances at the task level provides too much detail. In this case, use the Show Outline Level option to automatically limit the displayed project to a selected number of top levels. From the View:Data ribbon, select the Outline function. From here click on whichever number of levels you want to see displayed. Resource Work Variances The Work Variance view you created to look at unfavorable task variances can also be built to look at unfavorable Work Variances by resource. In this case, start by applying the Resource Sheet. Follow the same steps you followed in the previous example (see Isolating Unfavorable Work Estimates for Tasks) to build a new Single View, this time naming it Resource Work Variances. Use the Work table and Work Overbudget filter again, but this time, next to Screen, choose the “Resource Sheet.” The resulting options should look as follows: Figure 11:   Caution when Interpreting Variances Whenever you view Work Variances, you are looking at a “raw” number. These raw numbers can be deceiving. For example, a 6-hour variance might be viewed as more serious than a 4-hour variance. But what if the 6 hour variance is for a task with Baseline Work of 100 hours and the 4-hour variance is for a task with Baseline Work of 20 hours? The 6-hour variance is 6% of the total Work while the 4-hour variance is 20% of the total Work. You may wish to consider the “Percent Variance” before determining which tasks require the most attention. ______________ Now that you know how to analyze a work plan for unfavorable variances, you are ready to stay in control by revising your plan to recover your schedule and complete on-time and on-budget. Successful project management relies on the project manager’s ability to spot trouble early through good tracking and analysis practices.