Author: Jeremy Cottino

Jeremy Cottino, PMP, ITIL certified, is a senior project manager with eight years of experience in project planning/scheduling and management of large IS/IT projects for multinational companies. He's also a technology enthusiast and Microsoft Project MVP. Visit Jeremy's blog or email him at

How To Remove (blank) Values in Your Excel Pivot Table

You might call it perfectionism, but I hate when my reports don’t look their best. One of the most irritating elements is the “(blank)” text you may have on your Excel pivot tables. I’ve tried some pivot table options to eliminate that word, “blank,” but nothing seems to work properly. So I’ve come up with another way to remove the blank from a pivot table. It requires playing with conditional formatting. I must admit, it’s a kind of magic. A version of this article first appeared on Jeremy Cottino’s blog. Image Source Learn how an MPUG Membership helps individuals and teams become better project managers and Microsoft Project users through Microsoft Project Training. Join MPUG to attend live training webinars, access 500+ hours of on-demand sessions, receive certificates of completion and earn the Project Management Institute (PMI)® Professional Development Units (PDUs) that you need. Watch an MPUG training webinar for free and improve your Microsoft Project skills in less than 1 hour. Related Content Webinars: Project and Excel Integration – the application dream team! Get rid of your last separate Excel sheets: Use your MS project schedule for project financialsData Analysis Using Project with ExcelMrExcel’s Favorite Excel Tips and Tricks Articles: Microsoft® Excel Keyboard Shortcuts A Free Project Pipeline Tracker for ExcelEffectively Using Excel for Analyzing MS Project DataImporting Data from Excel to MS Project

The Uses of Office 365 Planner for Project Management

Microsoft Office 365 Planner, announced in September 2015, is an application that “offers people a simple and highly visual way to organize teamwork. Planner makes it easy for your team to create new plans, organize and assign tasks, share files (using Office 365 Groups), chat about what you’re working on and get updates on progress.” You have access to Planner through any of the following Office 365 plans: Office 365 Enterprise E1, E3, E4, E5, Office 365 Education E3, E4, Office 365 Business Essentials Office 365 Business Premium The company has positioned Planner between applications such as Wunderlist (acquired in 2015) for task management and full-fledged project management offerings such as Project Server or Project Online. A quick tour of Planner will give you a better idea about how you might apply it on the job. Once you’ve logged into your Office 365 tenant, access Planner by clicking on the icon on the home page or by using the app launcher in the left menu. The home page, the “Planner hub,” offers a high-level dashboard of on-going plans, some of which can be set as “favorites.” Let’s create a “New plan.” When you create a plan, you can select the plan’s access type by using toggle button “Make this plan public.” “Private” means only members you add will be able to see the plan; and “Public” means everyone in your organization can see the plan. Click on “Create Plan.” Your plan is created and you are redirected to the “plan board.” By default, the plan board contains one bucket or vertical group of tasks called “To do.” Each bucket can be renamed, and new ones can be added. To create a new task, simply type the name of your task into the “Type a task name” textbox and press Enter to add new ones. You can drag and drop tasks from one bucket to another. The first surprise is that when you’re using Planner, you don’t have to hit the Save button, because it doesn’t exist in the program. Now, click on a task to display the “Task Detail” pop up and check the options. You can: Update the task name; Assign the task to someone; Move the task to any existing buckets; Change the Progress status (Not started, In progress or Completed); Define a “Start date” and a “Due date”; Add a checklist (very useful to track actions) and then promote an item from the checklist to a task; Type a description, which can be displayed on the Plan Board card (via the check box); Attach or link documents (you can browse the related Groups site or upload a new file); Put comments into a discussion feed; and Assign the task to one or more categories you have self-defined. When you “Close,” your changes will be auto-saved and your plan board will be updated with the new information, displaying document previews, lists, status and assignments. You may have noticed on the screen above that the task “Install mvpsummit2016 mobile application” is late; the bright red highlighted date represents the original due date. For tasks to be executed, of course, someone is required to carry them out. Each task can be assigned to one (AND ONLY ONE) member of the plan. On the previous task detail page, you may have noticed that the task can be assigned to somebody. A simple way to do this is to drag and drop a member from the top right corner onto the task card. When tasks have been assigned, you can click on team members to highlight their assignments. Now let’s dive into some of the great features of Planner. First, let’s play with the plan board “Group By” views. By default, tasks are displayed inside their bucket. You can also choose to group tasks by “Assigned to” (1 bucket per member)… …or by Progress status (Not started, In progress or Completed): The Charts view gives a graphical representation of your tasks by Status (color coded) and Assignment. The list of tasks still open is in the right pane. Knowing that the save is automatic, if you check a task on the right list and mark it as Completed, the charts are automatically refreshed. Because Planner has been linked to Office 365 Groups, interesting collaboration features are available from the ellipsis on the top menu, including these: Conversations, for discussing topics with other team members and adding comments to tasks; Notebook, for working with a shared OneNote notebook for each plan; A shared calendar, for sharing various events date (whether they’re project-related or not); A repository of members or contacts who work on the plan, along with their contact information; and A document library for sharing documents using Groups features (document metadata, versioning, check-in/check-out, workflow, etc.). You can learn more about Office 365 groups in this introductory video from Microsoft. In addition to the Office 365 Groups “Conversations” feature, Planner logs all discussions around tasks and generates a comment when someone creates a task or marks it as complete. Discussions and de facto tasks comments can be followed up through or updated in Outlook also. You may also have noticed the link to “My tasks” on the left menu. When you click on this link to access the My tasks page, tasks assigned to you are displayed grouped by Progress status. You can change this view to a plan view (which I find less interesting). Finally, to keep you updated with the latest information, Planner comes with a “Notifications” feature you can access from the top right icon. This gives you updates on task assignments, new discussions, likes and emails. And, of course, you can also receive an email for each notification. If you’re a developer, Planner is also part of the Office 365 Graph API, which you can learn more about on this MSDN page. What’s next with Planner? Officially, the Office team has offered the following tidbits: The possibility for users external to your company to access your plans; Being able to assign a task to several members; and Mobile applications for Windows and native Android and iOS. I’d add a couple of additional items for my personal wish list. For the future, I’d love to track PMO projects in Planner within my Project Online instance and be able to report from my Planner’s plans from within Power BI. When I saw Planner last year for the first time, I didn’t really think it held much interest for me in managing projects. After all, I’m a Project person. As a seasoned PM, I need to be able to track resources, baseline and costs — which isn’t possible with Planner. Moving ahead (not to say getting older), I’ve identified areas where this product makes sense. Not all your team members are well trained or certified in project management, and they may just need to follow up on their tasks and share progress status. This tool is perfect for that. Likewise, the integration with Office 365 and Groups is just amazing and brings a huge value. A version of this article first appeared on the Jeremy Cottino blog here. Have other uses for Office 365 Planner? Share them with the MPUG community in the comments below. Image Source

Understanding Resource Engagements in Microsoft Project 2016

“Resource engagements,” a new feature in Microsoft Project Online, is the way project managers and resource managers come to agreement on resource allocations. The resource engagement feature substitutes the resource plan feature you might know from the previous version of Project Online or Project Server. What was formerly called project resource plans will now be known as resource engagements. In this article, I’ll walk you through the use of resource engagements. It’s important to note that only published resource plans will be migrated; so before you start working with this feature, publish the resource plans you intend to use. In order to use resource engagement, the feature needs to be activated. If you’re an admin, when you connect to your Project Online tenant, you see this message:   Click to go to the Additional Server Settings page and check Activate.     The information message tells you the migration of your previous resource plans is scheduled and will run “during off peak hours” (asynchronous mode). In this test tenant, the migration of 17 resource plans took one day to accomplish. The migration starts.   When the resource engagement feature is activated, you’ll notice that the Resource Plan button has disappeared.   The next steps should be done by resource managers. They have to set resources requiring approval to be assigned to projects on the resource center (Project Online | Resource center | Edit resource page). The Project Manager’s View On the project manager side, here’s what you’ll see. Open a project (in this case, “Install telecom and network”) containing a resource plan in Project Professional 2016. If the migration from a resource plan to a resource engagement has succeeded, a message appears saying that you have resource engagements. Click on View Engagements. Notice that the resource originally set on the resource plan, has an engagement that is committed for the planned period (even if no task is assigned to the resource yet).   A new tab, Engagements, is now available on Project Professional 2016. (It’s the same for Project Pro for Office 365.) Now it’s time for the project manager to do the planning and assign resources to tasks. Let’s continue with the previous project, which contains one engagement for user “Ludivine Tahnee” and two simple tasks. You build your team from the enterprise resource pool. On the Resource tab, click on Add resources | Build Team from Enterprise. Let’s select two more resources, both requiring approval (a setting on the resource center). We assign Ludivine to the first task. As she is already committed via a resource engagement, there’s no specific action to perform. Now let’s assign another resource, Elea Bailey, to the second task. Notice the warning message on the indicators column: An engagement is required for this resource. To resolve this problem, right click on the icon and select Fix in Engagement Inspector. The engagement inspector opens on the left side. Click on the View engagement conflict in task usage. On the task usage screen, you’ll see that the assignment of Elea on task two isn’t covered by a committed resource engagement: “This task assignment is outside of the boundaries of an engagement.” To create a new engagement, you can right click on the icon and select Create New Engagement or click on the button, Create and save new engagement for this assignment’s resource on the inspector pane. Set the engagement information, enter a comment for the resource manager who will review the request and click OK. The request is created as draft and needs to be submitted. Click on Submit my engagement for review. After the request is sent, assignment status is updated to proposed. If you check on the resource plan, you can see the proposed status. The note (icon on the indicators column) contains the comment you set on the engagement request. Note that there is no need to publish or “check in” the project for the request to be sent. The Resource Manager’s View The request is sent from the project manager to the resource manager, who will accept or reject the request using Project Online. Note that there is no resource “owner”; all resource managers are able to review any resource engagement, no matter who the resource is. As a resource manager, go on Project Online | Resource center. Select resources you want to see requests for and click on Resource Requests.   The list of requests and their status is displayed. The previous request for Elea Bailey for the Install telecom and network project is pending approval with a “Proposed” status. You can see request comments by ticking the checkbox for the proposed resource and clicking Edit Engagement. You can update resource names (the list contains only resources you have selected on the Resource Center before clicking on Resource Requests), start and finish dates and allocation information.   The Capacity planning heat map is also one of the new features of Microsoft Project 2016. It allows you to see the “discrepancies between resource capacity and committed engagements.” In our example we see that Elea is not available to work on our project, but Ulrike, who has the same role, has some availability in this period.     So you can swap the two, either by editing the engagement or rejecting this one and creating a new one. (From Project Online, resource managers can create new engagements by clicking on Add Engagement.) The screen to create a new engagement is the same as for editing an existing one. Accept or Reject actions are available on the ribbon after selecting a proposed engagement. If you decide to reject an engagement, you can add a comment for the project manager who made the request. Meanwhile, Back on the Project Manager’s Side If you return to the resource screen on Project Professional 2016, you’ll see the rejected engagement and the new one for Ulrike, which is already committed. What about Your Portfolio Analysis? There are no big changes related to an assessment of resource capacity for the sake of portfolio analysis. The only modification of note regarding your engagement is that you can choose to take into account proposed engagements (option 2 in the figure below). Resource Engagement in Four Steps To recap the process of working with resource engagements, here are the four steps you’ll follow: The resource manager sets resources requiring approval to be assigned to projects on the resource center (Edit resource page). A project manager can request a resource The time phased request is done in Project Professional 2016 or Project Pro for Office 365. It can contain a percentage of resource work required or a set of hours for the period. The resource manager reviews the request and accepts or rejects it. Note that engagements aren’t fully editable. Depending on the change required, the request should be resent by the PM.The resource can start working and the “contract” is signed. Takeaways I offer these four takeaways regarding resource engagements: Project managers manage resource engagement in Project Pro, while resource managers use only Project Online. As was the case with resource plans, engagements don’t impact project schedule. Generic or named resources can be requested using resource engagement. Resource managers can also create resource engagements without a previous request from a project manager. To learn more, you can check the frequently-asked questions page about resource engagements on the Office support website. The original version of this article appeared on Jeremy Cottino’s blog. Featured Image Source: The New York Public Library Digital Collections  

How to Estimate Your Project Effort

The practice of estimating in project management is one of the most challenging. Whether you’re trying to figure out project effort, duration or cost, given the inherent uncertainty of projects and their uniqueness, we often end up “guesstimating.” This article provides techniques to use in order to be as accurate as possible in doing your estimates. While I focus on effort estimation, the same techniques apply to duration or cost estimation. Let’s start with a reminder about how project time management is articulated, according to the PMI® PMBOK® Guide & Standards, Fifth Edition: Analogous Estimating This is, I think, the most common form of estimation. You base your estimate on your experiences from previous projects, otherwise known as historical data, based on lessons learned. This method is fairly accurate, when the type of work is similar (same project type, same resources, etc.). The calculation can be adjusted using parameters such as duration, budget, resources and complexity. Also, this is the method to use when you have a limited amount of information regarding the project, such as a lack of a detailed task list. The disadvantage to this approach is that the organization needs similar projects for comparison. Parametric Estimating This form of estimation uses a formula also based on historical data. To make it clearer, here’s an example: You know from past experience as a handyman that you require 10 hours to tile 20 square meters. Today you need to estimate how long it will take to tile 40 square meters. Your guess is 20 hours. The more sophisticated your model, the more accurate your estimates will be. For example, you can define that for every 40 square meters of tiling, you’ll also need one more hour to tile or clean or estimate that the risk of having bad tile quality increases with the larger space. As your formula becomes more advanced, your results will become more accurate. The disadvantage is the same as analogous estimating: no historical data, no parametric estimation. Three-point Estimating The idea is to improve upon single-point estimating by using three-point estimating, where three estimates are defined in order to take into consideration risk and uncertainty. The first estimate is a best case estimation, called Optimistic value (OP). The worst case scenario is called Pessimistic (PE). The last estimate falls between the other two and is called Most Likely (ML). Each of those may be defined using one of the previous techniques (analogous or parametric). You can define the effort as an average: (OP+PE+ML)/3 A variation of this technique is the Program Evaluation and Review Technique or PERT analysis, which uses weighted averages for the estimates: Expected Time = (OP+4ML+PE)/6 The disadvantage of this technique is that it’s time consuming because you have to define three estimates for each task. Expert Judgment Estimating In this approach you ask a knowledgeable expert to define efforts for you, based on historical information they have. Its accuracy depends on the expert and his or her background. The main pain points are two: 1) to find such an expert when you need one; and 2) to accept what the expert is telling you even when there’s no apparent rationale other than “This is what I as an expert think it should be.” Published Data Estimating Some organizations regularly publish their data about effort from past projects, accessible by anyone who’s a member or an employee to compare against their expected activities. While this approach can be highly accurate, it also depends on many parameters (domain, company size, culture, etc.), making it difficult to find information suited for you. Bottom up Estimating This is the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) approach. You decompose your work into small packages that are more understandable and therefore simpler to estimate with greater accuracy. You aggregate those estimates at a project level to understand the whole effort. If a work package or decomposed activity can’t be estimated, you have to break it down again. The inconvenience here is that the method is time consuming. Project Management Software Simulation Software simulation is used to model the level of uncertainty. The best known example is the Monte Carlo simulation. Instead of using numbers as input to a formula (whose result will also be numbers), the Monte Carlo method takes a distribution of numbers (such as the normal distribution) as input and gives a distribution of results as output. Given the complexity of the implementation and the application to several project tasks, this method can be time consuming. (Practically speaking, I’ve personally never applied it to any of my projects.) Group Decision-making Not specifically a technique in itself so much as a collection of techniques. The idea is to work with a group of people to assess effort, duration or cost. The advantage is the sharing of experience and knowledge and also the involvement of people from the project team, which increases their commitment to the result. Delphi Method The Delphi method is a group decision making technique that relies on interactions within a panel of experts. Participants give their estimation to a facilitator in charge of providing an anonymous summary of expert judgments together with the related explanation. The anonymity frees participants from cognitive biases such as the halo effect or the bandwagon effect. Planning Poker Also called Scrum Poker, this gamification technique derives from the Delphi method, where a group of people try to reach a consensus on effort (originally used in agile techniques for story point estimation). People have a deck of numbered cards, each number corresponding to story points or days. They’re invited to put face down the card corresponding to their estimation. All cards are revealed simultaneously. The bigger and lower estimates are removed. This action is repeated until a consensus is reached (of course, anyone can modify the estimate he or she gives at each round based on the going point of view). Usage of an egg timer can help to “mark off” discussions. Other Techniques Worth Considering A quick browse of Wikipedia reveals any number of other techniques to consider, none of which I’ve tried, but all of which sound interesting for particular situations. Here are two that I found particularly interesting: The constructive cost model (COCOMO) is an algorithmic software cost estimation model that uses a regression formula with parameters derived from historical project data and current and future project characteristics. The Putnam model is an empirical software effort estimation model, in which software project data is collected and fit to a curve. The estimate is created by examining project size and calculating the associated effort using the equation. If you ask me what I use, I’ll reply, “It depends.” I always start with some basic estimation, either analogous- or expert judgment-based. Then depending on the risks or complexity inherent to the project, I apply parametric estimating or go through the work of three-point estimating. I’ve found that breaking down tasks in smaller more understandable activities is also a very good approach. Finally, group decision making techniques help me fine-tune the estimates. In other words, the appropriate estimation technique for your project depends on your experience, preference and many other projects and situation parameters. I recommend that you build your own technique based on what you extract from any of these methods. Project Management Professional, PMP, PMI and PMBOK are all registered trademarks (®) of the Project Management Institute.