Webinar Recap: Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts: Set Up For Success

Please find a transcription of the audio portion of Sam Huffman’s Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts: Set Up For Success webinar being provided by MPUG for the convenience of our members. You may wish to use this transcript for the purposes of self-paced learning, searching for specific information, and/or performing a quick review of webinar content. There may be exclusions such as those steps included in product demonstrations. Watch the complete webinar on-demand at your convenience.


Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts: Set Up For Success
Posted: 4/4/2018
Presenter: Sam Huffman
Moderator: Kyle


03:02 – Slide 1 (Introduction): I think this is a great venue for both skilled and relatively new project managers using this tool. Some of the information you guys are going to get today is from my book. The one that you’re seeing on the screen there. MS Project Do’s and Don’ts. It’s my first book and I’ll be building on the book in other formats, in other books and different levels of expertise. I’m always going to be using this as the baseline. You may want to splurge a little if you haven’t already and if you have, thank you. I’m going to be using Project Pro 2016 for these demos.


5:34 – Slide 2 (Today You Will Learn…): Not too long ago, maybe as early as a week ago, I heard a very, very seasoned PM talking to another person and saying “It’s always the basics that get me. Every time  it’s the basics, it’s something that I forgot to do”. Every week, I get questions regarding how to set up a project file. Usually, it’s because it was the basics. Someone forgot to start up a project file before they started entering information into it. Before they started entering data. Project got them. Came around and gave them a left hook right to their face. I’m going to show you 6 common mistakes that are made in setting up a project file.


7:45 – Slide 3 (Mistake: Ignore the calendar): How many times do you like at a calendar each day to determine if you’re on schedule? I bet you do it a lot, I do. Project uses a calendar in much the same way. It needs to know which days of the week are workdays, what the working times are and so on. When are the vacations? In Project, there’s a calendar that’s applied to the project and there are other calendars at work as well. When you ignore the calendar, you set yourself up for some serious mistakes in scheduling. If you ignore the calendar, workdays are going to be Monday through Friday, 8am to 5pm, 52 weeks per year. No holidays. Here’s something you need to know. No exceptions. It is as generic as a calendar can be. Project will let you adjust that default calendar and let you create your own and apply your own to a project. Personally, I prefer to make my own and then I apply it to the project, to the screen. Then I’m not overwriting the default calendar that I can take, adjust, make my own in other files. In this demo, I’m going to show you where to find it and how to create a new calendar or edit an existing one. If you’ve done this before, you know how important it is.


9:36 – Slide 3 continued: Before I actually show you where the calendar is, i’d like to talk about this demonstration file that I’m using. If you notice its structure, it’s essentially a small company’s Project. Their portfolio. Their projects are designed in such a way and entered into Project in such a way that it is projects by department. Now think of this as a very small company with extremely small projects and each department has their own resources. I’m doing that for the purpose of simplicity in this particular case so that I can demonstrate calendar shenanigans. The calendar is not a view and a lot of people get that misunderstood. What I’m pointing out is this: if you were to look at your list of views in Project by look down the views here on the task tab, you’d see there’s a built in calendar. That is indeed representing the current calendar but folks, this is just a graphic representation. It has nothing to do with scheduling. This is just a view of a schedule. What I’m talking about is a calendar that sets the rules for what is a working time when these projects and tasks will occur. When the resources can work and so on. Project calendar is found in the project tab and in “Change Working Time”. They didn’t use the term calendar in here on purpose because of the significance of this dialogue. It’s all about work time. Now, this idea of creating a new one a little bit later, we’ll see that we can go in here, use this create new calendar button. We’ll talk more about that in a minute here. Notice at the top of this dialogue, change working time dialogue. It’s got a “for calendar” and then a dropdown listing all calendars. The project calendar is identified with the term “project calendar” in parentheses. It’s letting you know which calendar is used to calculations and scheduling at the project level, at the very base level. But there are other calendars. Nightshift and 24 hour calendars are also right out of the can, right out of the box calendars that the project team developed for you. Standard is that generic project calendar and the other calendars you see here are resources and other types of calendars that i’ve got to do demonstrations for you. Looking at this, this is the standard calendar. You’ll notice that, no matter where I click in my calendar, in this white area, it’s a working day. I’ll go to the next month. All working days except for Saturday and Sunday. Next month, next month, next month. They’re all open. 52 weeks a year. From 8 to 12 and then 1 to 5 is working time. If there were days off or holidays, they’d be down below here where it says exceptions. An exception is the day off. I created a calendar specifically for this demonstration called “my calendar”. Notice that when I look at my calendar, that I’ve got those exceptions. The specific dates of those exceptions so that I can see them in my calendar. Here’s one, right away, in May. May 28th is memorial day in the U.S.. It’s a nonworking day. If I go to June and July, here’s independence day in the United States and so on. So for all the major holidays I will have those indicated here and MS Project. How did I create an exception? I clicked on a date and then I typed in my explanation of that date and hit enter on my keyboard. The date that was selected and made it nonworking. Select the date and you can see July 4th is a nonworking day. Eventually, you’ll get all your exceptions in and you’ll have a very nice calendar used for calculations that represent you and your organization. 52 weeks a year is not a good example of an open calendar. It’s good for the corporate but it’s not good for the individuals. We’ll talk more about that a little bit later.


My calendar is the intended project calendar since there’s no exclusions in that standard calendar. Coming up, I’ll show you how to make that calendar project calendar. Just because I’ve edited it does not mean it is the project calendar. I have to actually apply it. The question that comes up immediately is “do I use my current exceptions that I’ve got in my new calendar or not?”. The reason why? You create a new calendar, it’s going to assume that you want to take the existing exception into your new calendar. You may or you may not. In fact, if you’re creating a base calendar for resources, it might be a [inaudible] rather than working Monday through Fridays. Entirely up to you. You can make a new base calendar or you can start with a copy of the standard calendar and move forward from there. I almost always make a copy of the base and then move on. Getting other exceptions. Once you have it and you’ve created it then it will be in this list so that you can actually use it.


I’m going to bring back up my working time dialogue again. This looks like and is a rather simple dialogue, extremely powerful because this is, again, where you set the tone for calculations in Project. Now that i’ve edited or created a new base calendar that uses my project calendar, I’ll have to actually apply it and display it.


17:46 – Slide 4 (Mistake: Display the incorrect calendar): This is an error that’s made by many people unwittingly. They don’t understand that there is a disconnect between the calculations of dates and scheduling and what appears in the timeline like the chart. The timeline is designed in such a way that it will show different calendars. If you didn’t know that, you might have calculations that are being done on your project but not show the nonworking time in your calendar. It’s really important to evaluate that prior to starting to enter the data. In this demo, we’re going to look at where to find the timescale, we’re going to apply the calendar to the timescale and as an aside, I’m going to show you trick or two you can use with the timeline. This is the timeline that I’m talking about, the one on top of the Gantt. To get to the settings timeline, you point right into the timeline and double click. You’ll get this timescale dialogue and the settings. The default setting is to show you two layers. Two tiers. Middle and bottom tiers of the timescale. It can give you three, like for example you may want to have years over months over weeks. But the default here is to give you middle tier of weeks, bottom tier of days. In nonworking time, this is where we can apply calendar to the timescale. With the incorrect calendar, we’ll get incorrect days off. That’s what this gray is representing. The calendar I want to display is my calendar. My calendar from my project and when I okay this, notice as I go over here across this, that on dates that I have exceptions, Saturday, Sunday, here’s Monday. This is the very first vacation day or holiday in my schedule. Standard is not going to show that. Very important to know what your calendar is that is applied to your timescale. Get the right one. If it’s good, scheduling is good. Get the wrong one and you’ll be displaying and making assumptions on the incorrect data. In terms of what we can do this, notice that by design Gantt bars go across the days off. You can make it appear that the nonworking time actually has no work or no bar to represent it. Here’s what I’m getting at: in my nonworking time, I can tell Project to draw that nonworking time in front of the task-bars. When I do, now the appearance is that I have broken the tasks. Again, represented labor loves this because they can see “oh, there’s no work going up here” and that’s a good thing. They’ve accounted for my holiday. The reality is, it’s a format. It’s got nothing to do with actual people. We’re just telling Project draw those bars, those gray bars in front of the taskbar. Default is to draw behind the taskbar. There is no work scheduled within this nonworking time, it’s just that the bar is drawn from the start of work to the finish of work and the task. Make sure that your calendar is set for the timescale before you go on with your assumptions and make assumptions about your project. In fact, I’m going to make sure mine is set, that my calendar is ready to rock ’n’ roll here. First we said, don’t ignore the calendar. Second, we’re saying “hey, don’t ignore the calendar that’s used on your timescale”. They need to be the same calendar and sometimes I’ll see calendars edited and applied for calculation purposes but that application is not visible in the Gantt chart itself.


23:42 – Slide 5 (Mistake: Ignore setting the start date and project calendar): Ignoring the start date of the project. and setting the project calendar. What you’re looking at here is that project information dialogue showing the two places that, number 1, that the project can start, that is the start date. Second, where the project calendar is set. These are two key things that should be done prior to starting to enter data into your project. I’m going to get into Project and just illustrate that for you. Again, it’s a Project tab and then project information. Here’s the start date. I just typed in 4/9/18 because that’s next week and that’s when I wanted to start the project. Project calculates over a vast range of dates from January 1st, 1984 to December 31st, 2149. Setting the start date helps Project calculate where to start the calculations rather than be lost in time. The default is to start on the current date, whatever the current date might be. That means that you have a choice. You can use the current date or if the project started in the past, you might want to use that past start date so that you can capture information that’s already happened in your project. The project start date is the current date and you enter in tasks that have a start date before that date, you’re going to see error messages. And you’ll see them continually until Project no longer has to calculate the dates that are before the project start date. Important to set the start date for when the project actually started. Second, notice it’s the standard calendar used for calculations but I’ve got the visual over here is going to be the “my calendar” so I’ll set it for my calendar. Click on okay and now the calendar that’s going to be used for calculations is going to be the same calendar that’s used for the visual, for the Gantt chart here. We are in sync ready to continue our project. Scheduling matches the timescale.


27:52 – Slide 6 (Ignore calendar hierarchy): Here is another mistake. This one can be a project killer and that’s making the assumption that there’s only two sorts of calendars in Project. I hear this a lot from individuals that there are resource calendars and project calendar. The reality is there are 4 calendars in Project, not two. Project calendar is lowest priority and loses in conflicts and that’s why it’s important to understand this hierarchy. What you’re looking at in this slide, from bottom to top, is the hierarchy project. The lower it is in this triangle, the less priority it is for the calendar. Project calendar is going to lose to any other base calendar. When we created a new calendar and we created a new base calendar that’s associated with a resource for example then the project calendar is going to lose. Base calendar then loses to the resource calendar. Obviously resource calendar wins in the case of the project calendar. A misfire or a misfit. And finally there’s a task calendar and the task calendar can be the highest priority. I use this one with some care because it can trump any of the other calendars. Resource calendars are really exceptions for specific resource. For example, their holiday, their vacation during the year. Base calendar might represent the shift for temps, part-timers and so on. The calendar that’s associated with that resource in that case would be a part-timer. And then the task calendar can be established so that it ignores resource calendars entirely and any resource that’s assigned to it is expected to work on it. I’m going to demonstrate that in this segment. In this segment, I’m going to show how to get to the calendars in Project and I’m going to illustrate the power of the task calendar. As we go through this, bear in mind that my hope for you is that you take what you’re learning here, put it to use immediately in your project to double check the calendar setup and make sure that you’re getting the right rules if you will that apply to your project while you’re working on the project. So back in Project, to get to the calendars, same way. Project tab, change working time. This is where you would get in, you can edit them. Resources get their calendar set in the resource sheet. There’s a base field that you can see here and this is where I established my calendar as the basis for each of the resource teams. IT, HR, finance team and another team I wanted to display for you to show the power of this calendar. You’ve got the standard calendar which has nothing. We took the standard calendar and we created project calendar called “my calendar”. We made sure that the time periods are going to show correctly in the Gantt chart and now we’ve associated that my calendar with each of the resources. So it’s time to look at my calendar now and if it will fit our needs. Back to the Gantt chart, i’d like to point out that we’ve got some dates here for each of these projects. The dates for this last project are in June, June 5th to Jun 18th. My calendar then, my project calendar which is my calendar for June needs to be open and it is, that’s great. I’ll look at my HR resources and June is open for them as well. If I schedule the resources on this one project, the HR project, the last one, I should have no trouble scheduling in June and that’s exactly what’s happened. But if for example I change my resource, go to the resources tab, and change my resource from the HR team to the test team here. I’ll click on okay. Now, what does the task team’s calendar look like? I should’ve checked that first but here we go, here’s my task team. April is okay. May is okay. It’s using my calendar as the base. June is okay. July though, this team is not available. Doing something else in other projects, they’re not available for my project. Okay that. Still, June. My resources are still aligned with my project calendars. Base calendars are different but it’s using dates that are available for the project and for the task. Now I’m going to do one more thing. Remember that 4th calendar? Under the advanced tab, I just double click on the task, about two-thirds of the way down, you’ll see calendar. The default is none. I want to point something out to you about this calendar. Here it is (highlights option “Scheduling ignores resource calendars”). This calendar can be set up so that scheduling ignores the resource calendars. In other words, the task calendar trumps. You’ll see the effect of that in just a second here. I’m going to take my calendar and I’m going to use task calendar for that. It’s a calendar I set up and the task calendar in fact has June as nonworking. When I click on okay, it pushed it out all the way into July, then July into August. Why? Let me show you why. Here is my task calendar that I applied. June is nonworking. The resources that I applied are the test team. July for them is nonworking. Since I can’t get the task conducted in June or July, Project had to delay the task to August. You’re seeing the effect of calendars immediately. Project calendar, a different base calendar, a resource calendar and finally we applied a task calendar. Be careful folks when you’re using these calendars. Watch your calendar hierarchy. It’s volatile and it can ambush you. For example, remember this task calendar? I’m going to go ahead and tell Project to ignore the resource. Remember the dates, they are 8/1 to 8/14. Scheduling ignores that resource calendar and it cranks it back to July I think it is because the July calendar was off for the resource. Now it’s being utilized, we can see it. Let me show it here on the screen (37:18). It’s occurring during July. Thew resource still has July as nonworking but this task is ignoring that. Careful. Careful with the Project calendar hierarchy, it can come back and bite you.


42:07 – Slide 7 (Mistake: Recreate the same calendar for every file): When Microsoft Project started, a file named global.mpp is opened and then read by the program. That file is a template that contains the setup configuration required to display your data, calculate work and calculate the task schedules correctly. The calendar is a part of that, that whole make up. The organizer can be opened to copy the components and you can save these components back and forth between files. If it takes an extraordinary amount of time to create a calendar and you want to use that calendar on other projects, projects that you haven’t even begun yet, then you want to take the calendar you just created and make it available in the organizer. This demonstration I’m going to show you the organizer and then I’ll show you how to transfer calendars to the global so they’re always available and we’ll see some other capabilities.


43:13 – Slide 7 continued: Organizer exists as a control mechanism, those are all in the file tab under organize global template. I’ve got my file here, set up for success. I’ve also got my global MPT. Project is recognizing that they’re both open. Under the calendars tab, you’ll see that Global contains 24 hours, nightshift and standard. Those are the default calendars that come out of the box for Project. But my calendar isn’t over there so if I start a new file up, I won’t be able to see my calendar. I’m going to take my calendar. As soon as I click on it in my current file, the copy command changes. It’s telling me I can copy it to my global. I’m going to do that. Now I have 4 calendars in my global template. Now notice also that the calendars that are over here, those are base calendars. The project calendar, which is my calendar, and the defaults are here as well. 24 hour calendar is not, neither is nightshift. These are all specific to this file. Now it’s in my global template. I can close it and I’m going to tell Project that I want a new file. Blank project and if I look at that project…here’s project 1. Notice that in the calendars, it can use the my calendar that’s in the global. How do I use it? Same way we used calendars earlier. We go to our project information, calendar we want to set to what this project is…my calendar. Not there, it would not be there. I’ve not moved it into my global. Now you’re not limited just to use global, you can others as well. I’ll go back to my global and here’s that project I just created, that blank project. Instead of the global, I’m going to use the set up for success, the one I’m using for demonstrations. I will take another calendar there, my task calendar, I’ll copy it into one and I think I’m going to just make sure my calendar is in the file itself. As well as using the global, we’ll put into the file itself. I can use not only a global template but I can use other files as templates or as containing vessels for this organizer. Organizer has views in it. Reports, modules, those are macros. Tables, you know what those are, they’re used for tabular information, text information. Filters, queries against the database, the calendars…maps, that’s used for importing/exporting in other programs. Custom fields that we might use for getting information, getting Project to give us some analysis back so we don’t have to do it. And groups, same thing, so we don’t have to conduct analysis. We can move these things back and forth. Now you can save a tremendous amount of time if you use the global template.


49:30 – Slide 8 (Mistake: Ignore Scheduling Modes): Ignore scheduling modes. I’m sure that some of you have been caught with this and had to go back and forth with auto vs. manual scheduling. There’s two modes for scheduling Project. Manual or auto. Default in Microsoft project is manual. This is means exactly what it says. When you’re in manual mode, Project will not update dates until you force a calculation. In auto mode, calculations are made automatically. So think very carefully about this when you’re planning or scheduling. For me, personally, I use manual scheduling to enter my task list. Only my task list. Not the durations, not the sequencing. At that point I’m in auto mode for everything but just my task list so Project is not interfering with me on that. I may also use manual scheduling on tasks or milestones I want to control not Project so it’s very useful for that. I’m going to show you those differences in behavior. I’ll show you how to change modes and we’ll set the default mode for scheduling. You can see that down here in the lower left hand corner, you can see that new tasks are manually scheduled. That’s what I’m set for. So if I enter a task, this one is an auto schedule. Notice that, regardless of what I say, Project schedules them both to be manually scheduled. That’s the difference in the icon that you see here. The bar with the arrow, that’s an auto schedule indicator. I’m going to change my autos to autos. Change the icon and change it to auto schedule, that will force it. I can right click on the task and tell Project I want to auto schedule it. I can go into my task tab and auto schedule it. Various different ways that I can create an auto schedule tab. Here we’re seeing it in action. I’m going to create a 5 day auto task. Notice how things are just being calculated. I’ve got the dates here but I created a manually scheduled task and I’ve got nothing over here. I guess that’s an advantage of a manually scheduled task because it’s not going to immediately schedule. If I wanted to make it a 5 day task, it would create a bar for me but the ends of the bar will be fuzzy. That’s indicating that it doesn’t have any dates over here to work with. No dates. It’s assuming it’s going to be in the same time period but the start/end dates are fuzzy logic. Watch this though, when I link this manual and auto schedule. It’s going to behave as though it were auto schedule, move out into the future. It gives me some very definite schedule dates. Unlike auto schedule tasks, if I unlink these two guys, the manually scheduled task is going to stay in place. Auto schedule goes slamming back to the start date of the project here. I’ll relink it again just so I can give you an example of why you may want to be very careful with this. I just increased the duration of my auto schedule to 10 days. Look at the sequence. Manually scheduled says what it means or it means what it says. It’s manually scheduled. If you want to change dates and schedule dates, you may get in the situation that you don’t see something move, click on the task…in the task tab, click on respect links and Project can help you out. Personally, I tired staying in manually scheduled tasks for the better part of a quarter and I finally went to auto schedule as my default and I’ll show you how to create that in a moment. But I still use manually scheduled tasks for tasks that I don’t want Project to mess with and for things like milestones. Now, to change this to auto schedule down here. File tab, options, schedule quick launch and down under the scheduling options for, you can choose instead of the project, choose all new projects. Change it to auto scheduled. When you do at that point, all new projects will be manually scheduled. Let me change that for this project as well. Schedule tab, set up for success… select auto scheduled. Click on okay and now, new tasks are going to be auto scheduled. As I enter in information or other tasks, by default they are auto. Very quickly, I just made a case here, gave you an example of a situation where manually schedule would not update and how you might correct it. Lots of other possibilities. Keep in mind that manually scheduling tasks just means that you need to watch them and make sure that the dates are the right dates that you’re expecting. When you change the new tasks dialogue, when you change it to new projects are auto scheduled, Project will leave the existing tasks and Projects settings as is for each task. You’ll have to go through and check them again.


56:57 – Slide 9 (Do’s:): Some “do’s”. Set the project start date. Create or modify the project calendar. Make it correct for you and your organization otherwise it’s going to be 52 weeks a year, Monday through Friday working days. Set that calendar for project calculations. And then ensure that project calendar is set for the timescale you’re going to use. Use the organizer to save time getting these calendars and other views that you might use back and forth with those files. Be careful with this idea of scheduling modes. There’s no one size fits all solution. Virtually all the projects that I see are a hybrid of manual vs. auto schedule mode which means that there’s a possibility of error, human error, particularly in this whole field of project management and using MS Project to schedule  your tasks and projects.


Watch the on-demand recording of Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts: Set Up For Success


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Written by Sam Huffman

Sam Huffman first gained insight into Microsoft Project while working as a member of the MS Project development and support team. He has maintained his depth of knowledge of MS Project with each release and is a leading authority in the use and features of MS Project, Project Server and Project Online. Since the early 1990’s Sam has honed his instruction skills by delivering training programs to thousands every year. Sam is a frequent content contributor to the Microsoft Project User Group (MPUG) and speaks to groups often about MS Project, Enterprise Project Management and the discipline of Project Management. He was awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional from 2010-2017. Check out his blog on MS Project.

The softcover version of my newest book Microsoft® Project Do’s and Don’ts is now available for purchase! It is portable, brief and to the point so you can find help when you need it. Through tips, best practices and examples it will help you jumpstart your project!

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