MS Project: Tracking 50+ Projects/Sites That Have The Same Workflow

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    • #417400
      Denver Martin


      Background: I work in the telecom industry for a company that is responsible for managing all aspects of cell phone tower construction. Project managers are routinely given 50+ sites at a given time to manage. All these sites go through the same steps or workflow basically. For example, there is a site acquisition phase that includes all the steps to get the site’s building permit approved. The next phase is construction, and the last phase is post implementation. In my time in the industry, I’ve never seen anyone use MS Project to schedule sites – everyone uses MS Excel in tandem with company databases for tracking and reporting on sites.

      Question: For the above project type, do you see any use case scenarios for MS Project? In other words, can you make MS Project work for 50+ near identical projects?

      Requirements: Need to quickly be able to provide status updates on where a given site/project is at in the workflow. One idea I had is to include all 50+ projects in 1 MS project file and use identifiers/custom filters to quickly view or report on status for either individual sites or groupings of sites that share a similar criteria.


    • #417401
      Avatar photoJigs Gaton

      Hi there Denver, I did a solar lamppost project here in Nepal a few years back, and I put each post as a subproject within a master project. Since each post project started the same (outside of location), I just created a template, and copied that XX times to create the subprojects. As the system rolled out, each subproject was updated by the construction contractor, and I had real-time data throughout the entire rollout. And since I am cheap, I used to get some rudimentary portfolio stats on the entire set of post projects (each had different outcomes after construction, due to pole-advertising sponsorships). The .mpp format worked fantastically!

    • #417409
      Avatar photoLarry Christofaro

      Hi Denver. I know Jigs has promoted Projectplan 365 and has been very happy with it. I haven’t used it so can’t provide any response on that. I might want to add something to consider if a single PM is responsible for the full 50 projects. MS Project is a great tool, but can be a bit cumbersome if one person is opening and updating every one, and a 50 project master project can be unwieldy. I suspect that might be why Excel could be a simpler tool, especially if the tasks are few and updates are simple. By simple I mean just updating individual task status and not trying to manage affect on overall schedule. Using a single project as you mentioned might work if PM assignments are consistent and overall portfolio status across PMs aren’t critical.

      As you can see it depends on a lot of factors: size of each site project, update simplicity, PM consistency, and more. Hopefully Jigs can help answer with Projectplan 365. Otherwise I’d start with a pilot and see how it works out. Good luck…

    • #417411
      URL Correction

      The above URL for Project Plan 365 should be

    • #417415
      Avatar photoJigs Gaton

      @larry, ha, here i’m more interested in how the .mpp format can be extended as a dataset, than promoting it as a product. In this case, to get connectivity -plus- portfolio calculations on the cheap…

      But to your point here:

      "MS Project is a great tool, but can be a bit cumbersome if one person is opening and updating every one, and a 50 project master project can be unwieldy."

      I would always use Master/Subs in these cases. Why? One person can update all projects/towers by just opening up the Master plan. It’s just like having a single Excel file in this case, as you just scroll through the rollups. If you have 50 PMs + 1 Lead PM on the case, and each PM is responsible for one project/tower, the dataset is segmented for each, while the Lead can access it all in one go. How else would you do this? (After all, each project/tower will eventually diverge into a discrete data set, and the differences between the project/towers become extremely important during any analysis of overall performance.)

      So, If you have say 5 PMS, each with 10 projects/towers (or any other algebraic variation), each PM (in about 10 minutes) can easily create their own Master file to see stats across only their own designated projects/towers.

      I’ve worked with two teams that have done precisely this here in Nepal, as they put up solar lampposts and solar-wind sensing towers. The teams even used a cloud service to store all of their .mpp files, so they could be networked to the field and updated using iPhones/tablets (that’s where came in, which provided an iOS client).

      Problems with Master/Subproject plans? Sure! In one portfolio I was hired to troubleshoot, updates where being posted to a shared Dropbox account, but when the Internet connection is slow, you get DB conflicts and the entire plan can quickly become a mess if you are not good at sorting file conflicts. Same when using a shared resource pool in the cloud, and the files are in Dropbox or Google Docs – I think that MSP is processing multiple file changes in real-time, and some cloud services just can’t deal. I have tested PP365 in this scenario, as they have something called Drive 365 that acts like Dropbox, and that seemed to sort out the cloud-file conflict problem.

      Of course, all of this could be avoided if one has a budget for MSP / Sharepoint Server or whatever else MS is cooking up as far as 365 subscription services go, but that would be just about no one here in Nepal:) Cheers, Jigs

    • #417416
      Avatar photoLarry Christofaro

      Hi Jigs, I hope you didn’t think I was challenging your response. Everyone has their preferences. The question noted 50 projects per PM and that is what I responded. I stand with my preferences and suggestions regarding a 50 project master (per PM), but a pilot/POC is still an option as also noted. I also know you do a lot with MS Project and Denver would be smart to listen to you and everyone’s experiences.

    • #417417
      Avatar photoJigs Gaton

      Ha, now way Larry! I’m just turning into an old troll I suppose. I almost yelled at the kids to get off the lawn today, no kidding. They were finger painting (as always) on my always dirty car. But awww, so cute… Anyway, I totally enjoy reading you here.

      But on that 50 project scenario, how are PMs in the real world doing that today? (Using Denver’s scenario, and let’s assume he’s doing this for a small-to-mid size construction company?) I’ve been out of the real game for a few years, and I’m sure things have changed dramatically, no?

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