Author: Jeffrey Thompson

Jeffrey has over 20 years of experience in project and process management in areas such Six Sigma, IT, SAP and Engineering. Jeffrey is PMP certified, holds a certification in Microsoft Project and has experience with Project Server and SharePoint. Currently, Jeffrey holds the title of Project Scheduling Manager at Maple Leaf Foods.

Microsoft Project Setup 101

What This article shares a few ideas on setting up Microsoft Project to ensure that it performs in a predictable manner. Please note that you may have different approaches based on your specific circumstances. Why This approach ensures that Microsoft Project behaves consistently for your current and future projects. When You should set up Microsoft Project before starting your schedules. How Open MS Project and select the File tab. Note that you may want to consider saving your file on opening MS Project so that your changes are not lost. On the File tab, select the Options icon to commence working on your settings. The Project Options Window appears. In this window, you may modify the default settings for MS Project and control how software behaves. We will start on the General tab and work down through the other tabs. The key fields to update on the General tab are the Date format, User name and the Initials fields. Select the date format that will display both month and day to avoid possible confusion when you use numbers only. Maintain your personal information so that these details are available or use on the reports and other printouts. Update the Currency selection (if appropriate) and activate the Entry bar tick box on the Display tab. Select the currency that is appropriate for your country. For example, CAD for Canadian dollars. Select the Entry bar tick box to have the same ability to view more field information that was available in MS Project 2007 and earlier versions. This option is useful when you have a number of columns being displayed. Use the Schedule tab to control the behaviour of your schedule. There are certain settings that will be more suited to your specific situation. Decide on the calendar options that work best for your situation. These selections are among those that may be set for All New Projects as opposed to only the current project. The image that follows shows the settings that are specific to how some companies view effective hours of work. Ensure that the tick box is selected for Show scheduling messages so that the software will alert you regarding certain inconsistencies. For the scheduling options, consider using the Auto Scheduled tasks and schedule from Project Start Date. This approach is closer to the classic MS Project rather than the Excel approach to scheduling. The Default task type specifies the task type for any new tasks. The task type determines how Project recalculates the three related fields (Work, Duration, and Units) when one of them is edited. Fixed Duration specifies a fixed amount of time to complete. Fixed Units specify a set amount of resources to complete. Fixed Work sets the amount of work to complete. The default setting is Fixed Units. The following table summarises the behaviours when you select a default task type. Fixed Duration – Set the task to Fixed Duration if you want the task duration to remain constant, regardless of any change in assignment units or work for the task. For fixed-duration tasks: If you revise units, Project recalculates work. If you revise duration in a fixed-duration task, Project recalculates work. If you revise the amount of work, Project recalculates the units. Fixed Units – Set the task to Fixed Units if you want the number of assignment units to remain constant, regardless of any change in duration or work for the task. This is the default. For fixed-unit tasks: If you revise units in a fixed-unit task, Project recalculates duration. If you revise duration, Project recalculates work. If you revise the amount of work, Project recalculates the duration.  Fixed Work – Set the task to Fixed Work if you want the amount of work to remain constant, regardless of any change in duration or resource assignment units for the task. Because fixed-work tasks are effort-driven by definition, the Effort driven check box is automatically selected for fixed-work tasks. For fixed-work tasks: If you revise units, Project recalculates duration. If you revise duration, Project recalculates units. If you revise the amount of work in a fixed-work task, Project recalculates the duration. It is recommended to clear the New tasks are effort driven tick box. This tick box specifies that new tasks are scheduled such that the work on the task remains constant as you add or remove assignments. Assigning additional resources to a fixed-units effort-driven task, for example, shortens the task duration while removing resources lengthens it. The ‘i’ icon can provide you with more help information for each selection when you hover over it with your cursor. For example, you can find more information on the Autolink inserted or moved tasks tick box as per the following image. The remaining options support scheduling by providing alerts and calculation options. Consider the following selections: You can accept the defaults for the Proofing tab unless you need to update the AutoCorrect Options, choose another Dictionary language, etc. On the Save tab, you can set the default for Save files in this format, the Default File location and the Auto save every fields. One watch-out to be mindful of is to ensure that the Prompt before saving tick box is active. This will prevent any unintended saves. Set your default Choose Editing Languages on the Language tab as well as the Choose Display and Help Languages. The key field on the Advanced tab is the Prompt for project info for new projects tick box. It will allow you to modify the Project Information as you start a new project. The Customize Ribbon and Quick Access Toolbar tabs are used to modify the main MS Project menus. These options will be reviewed in other articles. Once you have completed all the configuration press the OK button in the bottom right hand corner of the screen and begin using MS Project to develop your schedule.  

Microsoft Project Critical Path 101

Project managers are frequently requested to share the critical path for their projects. In this article we will review the key elements that need to be in place to display the critical path using Microsoft Project 2010 or 2013. What Developing the Critical Path within Microsoft Project (version 2010/2013) where the software automatically forecasts the end project’s end date Why This approach assists the project leader to focus on the critical tasks that will directly impact the end date of the project. When During the planning phase and throughout the project execution. How To maintain the critical path within Microsoft Project, the key steps involved include: Setting up the Options and non-working times for the project Maintain the start date of the project schedule Define resources (if they are used in the project schedule) and their non-working Times Entering the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) Maintaining the tasks and their dependencies Assigning resources and their work effort estimates (if resources are used) Allow Microsoft Project calculate dates and durations without using constraints (use deadline dates if required) Where Do I Start? 1. Start developing your timeline by maintaining the Start Date of you project. Navigate to the Project tab and select the Project Information icon. 2. Maintain the start date in the window that appears. Note that all task entered will default to this start date Utilizing the Calendar Function 3. Navigate to the Project tab and select the Change Work Time icon 4. Maintain the calendars in your project schedule. Microsoft Project has 4 types of calendars Base calendars – Standard,  24-Hours and Night Shift Project calendars – Default work schedule for all tasks in a project (e.g. status holidays) Resource calendars – Individual resource calendars based on the settings in the Standard calendar, but can be modified to indicate vacations. Task calendars – customize the working times from the project calendar in a task calendar if you have tasks to be completed at different times The order of priority is project calendar, resource calendar, and task calendar. MS Project calendars can give you tremendous flexibility in how you define your project.  Just make sure you balance precision with simplicity and avoid making managing your Microsoft Project schedule a project in and of itself. Ensure that you record statutory holidays and the time off for your resources to prevent potential scheduling conflicts Identify the Key Milestones (Alignment with the Status Report) 5. Milestones highlight significant events in the project, such as  Key Decisions, Progress, Key Events Usually these dates are represented by a task with zero (0) duration. It is a good idea to align the milestones in the project schedule with those in your weekly status report Building Your Project Plan (a step above Excel) 6. Definition of Critical Path: The Critical Path consists of a series of tasks that must be completed on schedule for a project to finish on schedule. It is the series of tasks (or even a single task) that dictates the calculated finish date. Each task on the critical path is a critical task. That is, when the last task in the critical path is completed, the project is completed. Note that the finish date is the date that a project is scheduled to be completed. This date is based on the start date, duration, calendars, predecessor dates, task dependencies, and constraints of the project. If you plan to use Microsoft Project to calculate the critical path for you, then you need to establish relationships by linking all  tasks in your schedule When you enter specific dates (like in Excel), you reduce Microsoft Project’s capability of calculating the critical path and create constraints (limitations) in your project scheule Consider using deadline dates instead of constraints Avoid Constraints 7.  A Constraint is a restriction either set on the start or finish date of a task. You can specify that a task must start on or finish no later than a particular date. Constraints can be flexible [not tied to a specific date] or inflexible [tied to a specific date].) Flexible  As Late As Possible (ALAP) and  As Soon As Possible (ASAP) Semi-Flexible Finish No Earlier Than (FNET) and Finish No Later Than (FNLT) Start No Earlier Than (SNET) and Start No Later Than (SNLT) Inflexible Must Finish On (MFO) and Must Start On (MSO) Consider the Use of Deadline Dates 8. A Deadline is a target date indicating when you want a task to be completed. If the deadline date passes and the task is not completed, Microsoft Project displays an indicator. The advantage of deadlines is that they keep track of its finish date without locking the schedule. It also appears as a green downward arrow on the Gantt chart. Build Relationships 9. In Microsoft Project you can create Relationships between two or more tasks by linking them to create any one of the 4 kinds of task dependencies: Finish-to-start (FS) Start-to-start (SS) Finish-to-finish (FF) Start-to-finish (SF) You may also add Lag Time or delay between tasks that have a dependency. For example, if you need a two-day delay between the finish of one task and the start of another, you can establish a finish-to-start dependency and then add 2 days in the Lag column. (E.g. 5FS+2 days) 10. Microsoft Project will have challenges determining the critical path when you enter constraints in your project schedule. Use the tasks relationships, duration and lag (Note: negative lag =  lead) to create your task dates. Consider using deadline dates instead of constraints. Instead of setting specific dates for a task (like in Excel), consider assigning an As Soon As Possible (ASAP) constraint and enter a deadline date. Tracking to Initial Plan 11. Tracking to Initial Plan