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MS Project Do’s and Don’ts: Q & A

Participants in my recent webinar, Microsoft Project Do’s, Don’ts, and Cool Customizations, brought up a few interesting questions that time did not allow for me to address. The purpose of the following article is to answer several of these questions and to give more clarity to the concepts discussed.

 

Q: How do you set priority? And, what is the default?

A: There are 1000 possible levels of Priority for any task in a Project file. Priority 1 is the lowest. Priority 1000 is the highest priority which translates to “Do Not Level.”

Below is a screenshot taken from “# 3. Level resources without analysis.” “Task 8” was set with a priority of 700 by double clicking on the name of the task and setting the Priority in the “General” tab of the Task Information dialog box.

The default Priority is 500. There is no way to change the default, as far as I know.

 

Q: Why does setting a default task calendar not automatically show up as assigned when adding new tasks (especially if you create and set before adding any tasks)?

A: I believe this question referred to Don’t #8, “Incorrect Calendar Association.” Task calendars are applied to individual tasks or a group of tasks. When applied, an icon will appear in the Indicator field as is shown below. Task calendars are applied after task creation. The default setting for tasks is to automatically use the Project Calendar for schedule calculations. Once resources are applied, the resource calendars drive task schedule calculations. In my book, Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts, I discuss the creation, usage, and application of calendars in Project. You can purchase it by going to https://mpug.com/do.

 

Q: Regarding Don’t #2, doesn’t adding resources to a summary task also inflate the rolled-up hours and costs?

A: Yes, it does. Below, I’ve shown the example used in the webinar with the Work and Cost columns inserted. In the absence of the summary task’s resource assignment, the Work = 32 hours and Cost = $3200.00. Inflation from summary task resource assignments can be dramatic!

 

Q: Regarding Don’t #7, How is the total slack effected when using the elapsed duration?

A: A simple definition of Total Slack is the amount of time a task can slip without increasing the finish date of the project. In the diagram below, I created two sets of exactly the same information. Duration and sequencing are also the same except for “Task 5.” Task 5 has an elapsed duration. I included the day/date/time format so that you can see the situation more clearly. All of the tasks start at 8AM and run until 5PM (a typical 8-hour workday), but Task 5’s day is 24 consecutive hours resulting in it’s completion on Saturday. This skews the Total Slack calculation for Task 5, as well as the dates.

Complications arise when a task with elapsed duration is included in task sequencing, resourcing, and with Lead or Lag characteristics. It becomes difficult to analyze and understand. There are many detailed explanations of this online. Just search for it!

 

Q: Under the topic of customization, is there a way to show a rolled up %C for grouped summary tasks?

A: This was the 11th item on my webinar agenda and one I entitled, “Use Cool Customizations.” In short, the answer is yes! The next three diagrams show why you should do these customizations and how they are done.

The Gantt Chart below has the information rolled up to the summary tasks, but you have to interpret the status in terms of %Complete, Actual Start and Finish Dates, and Actual Work and Actual Cost. Although it looks intimidating, it’s much easier to understand when Grouped.

Notice how I created a group called “KanBan” that uses a custom field to determine if any task is complete, in progress, or is not yet started. This type of grouping really simplifies status. We see a summarized view of the details without the outline structure. Individual summary tasks are hidden in order to present the grouped data.

When the outline structure is included in the group definition, Summary tasks are included and the details roll up to the summary tasks and the group labels.

Apply changes with the check box. The “Maintain Hierarchy” check box is the setting to include summary tasks in the group. I have highlighted its location in the Group Definition below.

If you want more detailed instructions on building a KanBan board, please check out my blog or consider purchasing MPUG’s Do’s and Don’ts Boot Camp.

 

Q: Can you switch to an eday (as in a workaround) if a task is in progress and in trouble?

A: This is in reference to #7, “Don’t Use Elapsed Durations for Team Schedules.” In my opinion, assigning people on tasks for long 24-hour shifts on consecutive days is not an attractive technique. You can do it, but you may create more damage to your project schedule than it’s worth. I’m sure there are many other ways to deal with the problem, but one interesting technique comes to mind. It’s called splitting assignments, and it’s used when tasks and teams are in schedule and performance trouble. A general discussion of this is contained within the “Splitting Task Assignments” post on my blog. Splitting assignments and work will be easier to understand and work with than elapsed durations!

 

Q: Is there a way to customize or highlight the progress of a summary task without using the line of progress?

A: Progress Lines is a feature that has only a few options. In terms of tasks, the feature is either applied or not. In summary, Milestone or Normal options are not optional. If you are referring to the Progress Bar within summary tasks, that is a formatting option found in the Format > Bar Styles menu.

From the Format Tab, choose the Format button and then click on Bar Styles.

This will bring up the Bar Styles dialog box that contains the formats utilized in the Gantt view. If you are new to this area of Project, I strongly advise you look at the topic in Help before diving into the bar formats. It is well written and very comprehensive. Or check out these MPUG articles on bar formatting.

Thanks to everyone that submitted questions! If you missed the webinar live, don’t worry! Click through to see the transcript or view the on-demand recording. It’s also eligible for 1.25 PMI® PDUs in the Technical category of the Talent Triangle. If the topics in this article were helpful and you want to find out more, comment below or go to https://www.mpug.com/do/.

 

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