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Certification Insider: Managing Multiple Projects

The Project Server 2007 certification exam is jammed with questions about managing multiple projects, which is no surprise. But desktop Project has features for managing more than one project without Project Server, and the 2007 Project exam, 70-632, tests you on them. This month I run you through Project’s multi-project features, when to use them, and how to make them behave the way you want.

Sometimes a link between a task in one project and a task in another is all you need. For example, you’re setting up the new accounting system for your company and the only thing you want from the marketing department’s publicity project is the new corporate logo. An external task dependency is a link from a task in a different project to a task in the current project.

When you can create an external task dependency in the Task Information dialog box, the only difference is that you first type the name of the external project, a backslash (), and then the task ID.

In desktop-Project land, a master project is a more robust way to manage several projects. You create a Project file to act as the master and insert each individual Project file into the master file. A master project works for the following situations:

  • A project has several subprojects, each handled by a different project manager, for example, the marketing events your company is hosting. The subproject managers can each work on their own Project files, while you look at the big marketing picture by opening the master project and examining all the tasks in all the subprojects.
  • Several projects share the same resources. If you add all the projects to a master project and use a resource pool, you can see all the resource assignments across all the projects to ensure that your resources aren’t overallocated.
  • You juggle several small projects, and want to look at or work on all your projects at the same time. You can insert projects into a master file to create consolidated views and reports.

Here are some key features of master projects:

  • Inserted subprojects appear in one Project window, so you can work on them and save them all at once as if they were a single file.
  • Inserted projects look like summary tasks that you can expand or collapse depending on the level of detail you want.
  • You can do anything with subproject tasks within the master project that you can do in individual files.
  • A master project is a regular Project file, so you can add tasks to it, such as a task for your supervision of the project managers working on the subprojects.
  • Changes made to a subproject appear immediately in a master file, if it’s open and you insert the subproject with the “Link to project” checkbox turned on. If you make a change to a subproject from the master project, those changes appear in the subproject file.

Master project files are regular Project files. Simply create a new blank project. Then, in Project 2007, choose Insert on the main menu and choose Project. In Project 2010, click the Project tab, and in the Insert group, click Subproject. In the Insert Project dialog box, select the project you want to insert, make sure the “Link to project” checkbox is turned on, and then click Insert. Turning on the “Link to project” checkbox tells Project to update the master project whenever the inserted project changes.

Task ID numbers in a master project aren’t very helpful. Project assigns sequential ID numbers to each subproject starting with the number 1. But, the tasks within inserted projects still use their original ID numbers. So, you’ll see several tasks with the same ID number. In a master project, it’s best to use the WBS code to identify tasks — and use a WBS code that has a project prefix.

Another way to identify tasks and resources from different subprojects is with the Subproject File field. Simply insert this field into your Gantt chart table, and you’ll see the file paths and filenames for inserted projects.

Certification Insider: Managing Multiple Projects

If you manage several small projects, chances are good the projects share the same resources. Project Server has cool tools for finding and sharing resources; but you can share resources with desktop Project, too. The key is creating another regular Project file dedicated to holding the information about your shared resources. Then you apply this so-called resource pool to the projects that share resources so you can see and manage assignments across all the projects connected to the pool.

The best way to set up a resource pool is to create a new Project file that does nothing but act as a resource pool. If you use a Project file with tasks in it as the resource pool, you may hit conflicts if you want to work on your project and someone else wants to work on resource information. When you save the Project file, name it something like MyResourcePool, so you know that it’s only for resources.

To use resources from a resource pool, you have to link your project file to the resource pool. Project files that use a resource pool are known as sharer files. To link a project to the resource pool, open the resource pool as read-only. (That way, you don’t lock others out of the file.)

1. Open the Project file you want to link.

2. In Project 2007, click Tools on the main menu, and then choose Resource Sharing | Share Resources. In Project 2010, on the Resource tab in the assignments group click Resource pool and then click Share Resources.

3. Select the “Use resources” option, and in the From drop-down list choose the resource pool.

4. In the “On conflict with calendar or resource information” section, the best choice is to let the resource pool take precedence. That way, your resource pool is always your trustworthy source for shared resource information, whether you share the resources among your projects or with other project managers.

5. Click OK to complete the connection to the pool.

When you open a sharer file, Project asks whether or not you want to open the resource pool. You usually want to open the resource pool, so you can see all the resources from the resource pool and shared resource assignments from all sharer files. To open the resource pool, select the “Open resource pool to see assignments across all sharer files” option.

Opening the resource pool also means that your resource assignments affect the resource’s availability in the resource pool. When you save a sharer file with the resource pool open, Project asks if you want to update the resource pool. To save the resource changes to the resource pool, click OK.

To get the most recent changes from the resource pool, you can refresh the pool info. In Project 2007 click Tools on the main menu, then choose Resources Sharing and click Update Resource Pool. In Project 2010, on the Resource tab in the Assignments group click Resource Pool and then click Refresh Resource Pool. Project immediately shows the most current information from the resource pool. You can update the resource pool immediately using the Update Resource Pool command (on the Resource Sharing submenu in Project 2007 and in the Resource Pool drop-down menu in Project 2010).

When you open a resource pool after it’s connected to at least one sharer file, you have three choices for how to open the pool. These options seem to be a favorite topic for Project certification tests, so pay attention.

  • Read-only is usually the one you want. The “Open resource pool read-only allowing others to work on projects connected to the pool” option opens the resource pool as read-only so every project that uses the resource pool can access the pool at the same time. Although the resource pool is opened as read-only, saving a sharer files updates the resource pool with resource assignment information.
  • Read-write is for changing resource values. If you have to make changes to resources in the resource pool, select the option, “Open resource pool read-write so that you can makes changes to resource information (like pay rates, etc.), although this will lock others out of updating the pool with new information.” That way, you can modify resource fields like costs and resource calendars. No one else can access the resource pool, so work quickly, save the resource pool file, and close it.
  • Create a master project with all the sharer files and the resource pool. The option “Open resource pool read-write and all other sharer files into a new master project file” combines the resource pool and all sharer files into a brand-new master project. This is an easy way to build a master project to work on or to produce reports. The resource pool is read-write, so other project managers can’t open their sharer files connected to the resource pool.

Think You Know How to Manage Multiple Projects? Test Yourself!

You manage several projects that use the same resources. You have to make sure the resources aren’t overallocated and also track progress for all the projects. Your manager has assigned to assistants to help manage your projects. How can you track overall progress while your assistants work on their individual Project files (using Project 2007)?

A: Create a master project and use the Project command on the Insert menu to insert all Project files into the master project.

B: Create a master project and use the Project command on the Insert menu to insert all Project files into the master project. In the Insert Project dialog box, click the down arrow on the Insert button and then choose Insert Read-Only.

C: Create a master project and use the Project command on the Insert menu to insert all Project files into the master project. When you open the master project, choose the option to open the files read-only.

D: Create a master project and use the Project command on the Insert menu to insert all Project files into the master project. When an assistant begins work on a project, select the summary task for the inserted project and click the Task Information icon on the Standard toolbar. On the Advanced tab, turn on the “Read only” check box. Click OK and save the master project and inserted projects.

No peeking! Scroll below the book ordering information to read the answer to this quiz.

Order the MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-632): Managing Projects with Microsoft Office Project 2007.

To learn more about Microsoft certification, read, Microsoft Project Management Certification: How to Get Started.”





The Answer to Test Yourself!

A is incorrect. Inserting a Project file into a master project inserts it as read-write. If you open the master project, no one can open the inserted subproject.

C is incorrect. There is no option to open inserted projects as read-only.

B and D are correct. You can insert a project as read-only or change it to read-only after you have inserted it into a master project. By inserting a project as read-only, Project opens the file as read-only, so you can view the project while someone else has the file open. In addition, you can only edit the inserted project by opening its Project file directly.

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Written by Bonnie Biafore

Bonnie Biafore is the author of O’Reilly’s Microsoft Project: The Missing Manual (2007, 2010, and 2013 editions) and Microsoft Press’ Successful Project Management: Applying Best Practices and Real-World Techniques with Microsoft Project. She’s recorded Project Essential Training (for 2010 and 2013), Project Management Fundamentals, Managing Small Projects, and other courses for lynda.com. As a consultant, she manages projects for clients and wins accolades for her ability to herd cats. She has also written a humorous novel about hitmen and stupid criminals. You can learn more at Bonnie’s website or email her at bonnie.biafore@gmail.com.

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