Webinar Recap: Microsoft Project Do’s, Don’ts, and Cool Customizations

Please find below a transcription of the audio portion of Sam Huffman’s Microsoft Project Do’s, Don’ts, and Cool Customizations 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. You may watch the live recording of this webinar at your convenience.

Kyle: Hello everyone and welcome to today’s MPUG Webinar, Microsoft Project Do’s, Don’ts and Cool Customizations. My name is Kyle and I’ll be the moderator today. Today’s session is eligible for 1.25 PMI PDUs in the technical category and the MPUG activity code for claiming the session was on the screen now. Today’s session is an hour and 15 minutes. Like all MPUG webinars, recording of this session will be posted to mpug.com shortly after the live presentation ends, and all these sessions watch on demand could be submitted your webinar history, and live sessions you attend are automatically submitted. Within your history, you can print or download your transcript, certificates of completion including the one for today.

Kyle: You can access that by logging on to mpug.com, click on the my account button, and then click on the webinar report’s link. If you have any questions during today’s presentation, please send those over to me at any time using the chat question box on the GoToWebinar control panel. We do have time set aside at the end of the presentation to answer those for you today. All right and we’ll go ahead and get started with today’s session. We’re very happy to welcome back Sam Huffman today. Sam first gained insight into Microsoft Project while working as a member of the project development and support team. He has maintained his depth knowledge of projects with each release, and is a leading authority in the use and features of project, project server and project online.

Kyle: Since the early ’90s, Sam has honed his instruction skills by delivering training programs to thousands every year. As most of you know, Sam is a frequent contributor to the MPUG community and he is also the author of the book Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts which is available on Amazon and with some of the material you see today was derived from. With that said, welcome back Sam and I’ll go ahead and hand it over to you to get us started with today’s session.

Sam Huffman: Thank you Kyle. There we go. All right. Yeah, hopefully everybody can see that MPUG.

Kyle: Oh, that’s good.

Sam Huffman: Yeah, all right. Thank you all for attending. I’m very grateful for that. Hey listen, Kyle is going to manage the questions today. If you have any, just know that at the conclusion of the webinar, we’ll answer as many questions as time allows and after that, I’ll get a log of questions, answer the top five or so, 10 or so on my blog and on MPUG’s website. More on that will come out after the conclusion of the webinar. My blog URL by the way is at the end of the webinar, and it’s also at the end of the next slide. If you’ve attended any of my webinars, you know what to expect. PowerPoints used to introduce a topic, MS Project and other office apps are used to demonstrate the topic, and then back to PowerPoint for the next topic and so on.

Sam Huffman: I also use ZoomIt. Now some people accused me of getting them dizzy, but I’m not trying to make you dizzy. I’m simply trying to use a tool that can clarify a point or highlight a point, and I’ll try to remember it. I can’t guarantee this, but I’ll try to remember to say I’m going to use ZoomIt now so you can prepare yourself for it. A note of caution here before we begin. If you’re using project is in a portfolio or PMO, any of the enterprise level projects, consult with your administrator before you just start changing anything in project that you may see here today that you desperately want or desperately need. Now I’m referring to project server, project online, and so on.

Sam Huffman: These enterprise environments have rules and they need to be adhered to. Here we go. Here’s what you’re going to learn today. It seems to me that the basics are what trip people up when using MS Project. Even experienced users get caught up in the problems being mentioned in this webinar and there are many. These are just the most common problems that I get asked year after year of using the tool across all versions. These experienced users that use project sometimes violate the rules unwittingly or unknowingly, and we’re going to look into some of those along the way here. These are so common that I included them in Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts and more about the book later, the latest edition is available with the URL on this slide and take a screenshot if you’re interested.

Sam Huffman: Let’s get started, shall we in Microsoft Project do’s and don’ts and some of these cool tools that are available for us? Here’s the first one, including summary tasks in project sequencing. Now, I know that some of you have done that and you caught yourself at it, and you knew that there was a problem, but I’ll also bet that there are some laying out there waiting for you. Now what I’m talking about and I’m about to use ZoomIt. What I’m talking about is this. This right here, what we’ve got is summary tasks. Those are ways of organizing the project if you recall, and then subordinated or indented under summary tasks in this outlying format are the tasks that will have work people assigned and so on.

Sam Huffman: When you link to summary tasks, what happens is that it determines whatever is linked to it, whatever the sequence task, the next task might be or the next summary task. The earliest that this summary can occur or the first task in the summary is the finish date of the predecessor summary. The successor summary just can’t get any overlap at that point. Now obviously and optionally you can tell a project that you want to have lead and lag and so on within sequences, but by default, this is what happens. What also happens when this link is made is if you get the opportunity to compress a schedule, so let’s say that this third activity can follow the first activity.

Sam Huffman: If you get that opportunity, when you link the summary tasks that are involved, that will not occur. I’m going to demonstrate that to you and also a way of eliminating that problem. Of course, the best way to eliminate it is not make it to begin with. Let me get into project now and we can have a look at this. I’ve created a file that I call project do’s and dont’s because that’s actually what we’re talking about here, and here we have the first item that includes summary tasks and project sequencing. Notice that I’ve got the sequence between the two summaries, summary one and summary two, and there’s four tasks. People call these work packages. Some call them subordinated tasks.

Sam Huffman: I’m not going to get hung up in the terminology, but I will use the terminology summary to represent the organization of tasks. Summary one has tasks one and two. Summary two is composed of tasks three and four. Here’s the hypothetical. You’ve been asked to examine the project and compress the schedule. You look at this and you figure out that task ID number three can be a predecessor of task ID number six. I’m going to select both of these and I want to create a link between this number three and number six. Watch carefully what happens in this sequence. Yeah, you saw it, didn’t you? Nothing happened. Absolutely nothing, and that’s because in these rules of sequence, the latest predecessor drives the start of the successor activity.

Sam Huffman: The latest predecessor is going to be the summary task. It’s holding back all the others. Now watch what happens when I take the link off between summary one and summary two. Now what I’m talking about is this link between the first task and the third task is going to kick in, and we should see the schedule compress up. Here we go. Yeah, it did. Now, so what does that mean to you? Well, here’s what it means. If you include summary tasks in sequencing, you increase the chance of artificially increasing your project duration. How many times have you been asked to shorten your project? You get the drift, this is an important one. Don’t do it. If you have to create sequence between summary tasks, then consider not sequencing the subordinate tasks inside of each.

Sam Huffman: In other words, wouldn’t worry about so much about the sequence. May be drive it with something else or keep the sequencing internally as I’ve done here, and keep summary tasks out. All right. Next item in our list here is assigning resources to summary tasks. Now look at the screen. Notice that in this case, we’ve got a summary task, and then we’ve got two regular activities that are subordinated underneath. A resource has been assigned to the two tasks and over allocation occurs. Project has this view called the resource graph, and peak units that we’re seeing here at the bottom of the graph is referring to how many of the resource that’s selected, in this case Carly, how many are required in order to work on a daily basis on these tasks?

Sam Huffman: Notice that it’s calling for three, not two. We’ve only got two activities here. Let me demonstrate this and how you might get around it. I’ll go ahead and ramp the second from the list. This technique that I’m using by the way is what you might use to focus a team on individual tasks or individual areas of the project, so they don’t have to see all of the project. I’m simply using the task name field and filtering on their order. This is project 2016 I’m using for this demonstration, and I think that this will go all the way back to like project 2010 or even earlier than that. Here we go. Same deal, notice Carly is assigned to two tasks and also assigned to the summary task.

Sam Huffman: I did that intentionally to show you that you may not see the resource name there. Now I’ve hidden the indicators field because the indicators field would show that hey, there’s an over assignment here going on and would give you a hint, but if you’re not looking for it, you won’t see it as here. I’ll go to my view tab, bring up the project graph detail, the resource graph detail, and you can see what I was attempting to show in the PowerPoint slide. Here we’ve got three resources or three resource assignments I should say, and only showing two in the Gantt Chart. The question is gosh, how do you deal with that? Well, the way to deal with it is to not do it.

Sam Huffman: Assigning a resource to a summary task mean it’s assigned for that entire duration of the summary, the entire duration of the tasks underneath, and that can bring about its own problem. Let me show you how you can tell when you try to level. Highlight the activities under the resource tab. I’ll try to level the one selection, and I’ll get the error message. Over allocation cannot be resolved. Let me zoom into this a little bit, so you can read it here. Oops, there we go. Carly’s over-allocated because of the combined assignments of the summary task and the regular detail tasks. It can’t level it. It’ll never be able to level it until that resource is off of the tasks that are combined.

Sam Huffman: Resources either needs to be removed from the detail tasks or from the summary. Other than that, it’s always going to be over allocated, and that can create some severe problems in your projects. I bet you some of you anyway have seen this occur. The options that you got are skipped or to stop. It cannot do it and it will not do it. Now let me eliminate this by if that was trying to level, if I go into the summary task now, and I’ll remove the resource. Now if I try to level, watch what happens. Everything is fine. Again, resources on summary tasks are they’re little bit deceptive because they’re not quite as visible as I would like for sure. When they are assigned, if they’re assigned to any of the detail tasks inside the summary or under the summary, you’ll get into this inability to level.

Sam Huffman: All right, moving on to the next item here. leveling resources without analysis. This is one of my favorite ones because it involves an area of project that is often ignored or just flat and not seen and it’s a powerful option. Hang on and we’ll go look at it. Get number three here, level resources without analysis. Now, so here I am, I’m assigned to four activities under this summary level resources without analysis. My expectation would be if I had like these, I should be able to spread out the tasks in some way in some manner, so that I’m not over allocated, and I am. Once again, let’s see how bad it is, and there we can see it. There’s four assignments. Good, it’s just the tasks.

Sam Huffman: It’s these four that are causing the over allocation. Now in project in the resource tab, the ability to level is in the leveling options. There’s lots of articles on this in the MPUG site and for that matter offsite, I’ve written some. Others have written some as well. Robin Nicholas has a really fine article on leveling if you care to look at it. These are the options. I’m not going to go through all these because there are so many options or also many articles on this, but one thing that you often don’t pay much attention to is this idea of leveling order. There’s a couple of them, standard ID and priority standard.

Sam Huffman: If you’re just leveled, you’d expect to see task seven occur before task eight, task eight before nine, and so on in project, but what is often missed is that standard includes a field or a checkbox called priority. Watch what happens when the priority is used in addition to other settings in project. I’ll just simply select the tasks, level of the selection. Oh wow, but you didn’t back. That’s the effect of priority. The higher the priority, the less likely project is to move or delay an activity. Priorities are pretty easy to find. If you double-click on a task, any task and look at the… I think it’s the general tab yup, priority sits just beneath the duration of box.

Sam Huffman: Now the lowest priority, and this is where I think the project team had a little fun, the lowest priority is one. If your boss says, “Hey, this is priority number one,” it means it can be delayed probably indefinitely. No, not really, but you want to look at this, if you’re going to use priorities, they do affect the leveling algorithm and you can get some unexpected results. In this case, I set it up so that the highest level is 700 or I think actually it’s 900. There’s a thousand different levels of priority from one to 1000. One thousand do not level, leave this task alone. Rather than constrain the activity, you might be better off with simply setting a priority of a thousand or higher or thousand around that anyway.

Sam Huffman: Now I know some of you who use Excel a lot try to do this in Excel. Well, yeah, I don’t think it’s really one of those feasible features in Excel. Now I know why it’s a bad practice and this whole idea of trying to work on level activities without doing analysis. Take the time to look at what they’re assigned to, look at the tasks in question, and do a little bit of checking just to see what the condition might be. If you are going to use priority, I have a piece of serious advice for you, and that is make a note on the task. You make a note same way you set a priority, double-click on the task. In this case, go to the notes tab and just make a note, whatever it might be that the task priority is set at whatever the case may be and what the reason is.

Sam Huffman: You don’t want to move it because of some contractual basis or the rarity of the resource or whatever it is. You can put it in right into a note and explain it. It’s important to be able to look at it, analyze it, and then understand what the impact might be. All right, moving on here. We have a lot of material to go over. If I’m moving a little fast, you know why now. Here’s the next one. It’s constraining activities. Every project has got some tasks that are constrained, but they shouldn’t be the rule. It should be the alternative, the strategy that’s used and utilized, and again the notes field utilized as well. Here is the reality. Constraints can be honored before the other calculations.

Sam Huffman: The more complex your project is and the more constraints you have, the more understanding needs to be had about those constraints and about your project schedule and duration. These are set in the task information of project as well. You see me get to the task information by double clicking. Let me show you the effect of this in project. I’ll eliminate this detail and go to the next item. Bear with me. Constraining activities and once again, I’ve got the indicators field excluded here, so that you can focus on what I’m showing rather than trying to look for hints here. We’re going to look at that in a moment here. Constraints, there’s a lot of different types, but the most common constraint occurs because we type a date in.

Sam Huffman: Project wasn’t designed for that. It was designed to be flexible, not strict, so we have to be careful. I want to give you an example here. When a duration extends like here’s one that’s going to extend a day, you expect that, I’m just going to go back here, four days. Here we go. You expect this to occur that the successor tasks move out, but if you go too far or you use constraints, you might get something a little bit more like this, six days. If it extended two more days, project is saying, “Wait a minute, you’ve got a scheduling conflict now.” If I continue to allow it, you’ll see what happens. Let me zoom in. This second task has a constraint on it that it can finish no later than a specific date.

Sam Huffman: The the effect here is that the second task is locked into that date, and it cannot, it cannot be extended. Even though the predecessor task is extending, it’s not moving the successor. It’s not ever going to move the successor. You’ll get into a situation of trying to figure out what’s causing the problem. Let me show you what this looks like in the entry table when we do have the indicators field. Hold your mouse cursor over that little calendar, and it says this task has a finish no later than constraint, and it does look like a calendar. You zoom in a bit. When you see this type of icon in the indicators field, it’s simply saying that a task is partially or totally constrained.

Sam Huffman: Now I’m going to look at those constraints just for a moment, and then we’ll move on. Under the advanced tab, here is the constraint type, and those are the constraints. The default constraint and project is as soon as possible, but there are others. They deal with partial constraints like the one in question here finish no later than a date. It means it’s okay it can finish earlier. If it’s the flexibility, it’s earlier than that date and as you see, there’s others as well. Must dates are absolutes. As soon as a must finish on or a must start on is utilized in project, that task is not going to move, it is done. The schedule for the activity is finished and it’s locked in place. Very, very careful with that one guys.

Sam Huffman: Okay, now to remove that constraint, simply select… I’m going to move this we can see the effect of this. Simply change the effect or are change the constraint to as soon as possible. If you watch the schedule, well out it goes. Constraints can be considered an honor before other calculations, and that can be a disaster to a schedule. Now if you’re worried about constraints, let me bring it back on again, and you want to know how to find them any other way, another way of finding them. There’s a grouping called constraints. Let me find it, constraint type, and when you use the grouping, it will show you all of the different types of strange that you’ve got an effect in your project.

Sam Huffman: It’s a very fast way of troubleshooting some constraints or if they’re not real visible to you of finding constraints. I’m going to remove that now. We’ll keep on running. All right. Now this next questionable area here, scheduling projects as late as possible, it sounds good at first blush. You know when the date your project has to be completed, so schedule it to finish two or three days earlier, and then build your project, except, it’s more difficult than that. Let me show you what I’m talking about. I’m going to bring up a completely different project, and then we can look at it and see what’s see what’s there that might bug us a little bit.

Sam Huffman: Here is a project I’m calling late schedule, and it looks absolutely normal, predecessor, successor tasks. You can see the sequence between the two of them. It looks great. Now in the default manner of scheduling in project, project will determine durations, and we’ll schedule finish dates. Okay. Schedule finish dates, that’s super important here, so that you build a project from the start and it looks at the finish dates into the completion of the project. It’s a method of scheduling. In terms of critical path analysis folks, those of you who’ve been involved in a little heavier project management, it’s the forward pass, but it’s not the only pass. It’s not the only way of scheduling.

Sam Huffman: If I increase the duration of this task to say five days, watch what happens to the other calculations to the finish date, and then to the start and finish of the successor. Go to six. The finish date was recalculated and the sequence kicked in, and then we recalculated the start and finish dates of the successor task. I’m going to undo that now. Now why did that happen? It was a setting. It’s in the project tab. It’s in project information, and it’s right here. Here we have the start date that I entered. The finish date is grayed out. That’s an indicator that the finish date is calculated, and we’re saying schedule from the project start date, and here is what I want to point out to you.

Sam Huffman: When you’re scheduling from the start date also called the forward pass, all tasks are as soon as possible. Now in other words, that’s given the information that you’ve given it, that’s the best it’s going to be. Watch what happens when I select project finish date. Now the starting dates are calculated, and we’re calculating from a specific finish date. I’ll look at the text there underneath again, and notice that this time, it’s saying all tasks begin as late as possible, as late as possible. Previously, it was as early as possible. We’ve taking taken away flexibility very greatly with this technique. This is called the backwards pass. I’m going to leave it alone.

Sam Huffman: I’m just not going to touch it and I think best way of illustrating this is to look at the predecessor tasks, and watch what happens when I increase the duration. I’m going to increase it to seven days. Watch what happens. Notice that the start of the task was dropped back two days. In other words, we’re calculating the start from the finish going backwards. This can be really tough to get your head around as you’re building a schedule. My advice is if you’re early in your career here with Microsoft Project or project management, schedule from the start and swatch and build your project. Then if you need to, if you have to, when you’ve got your project together and you think it’s pretty well right, correct, then try the backwards pass and see what it looks like.

Sam Huffman: Early on, I would say to get your head around this whole concept, start with the defaults, leaving the project information set to the project start date, and you’ll be in good shape again. Now once you’re familiar with some of these methods, they can be quite useful when you’re doing what is, particularly when we get into baselining and just plain old barn storming, but until you grasp it all, it can be a headache so start simple. Now, the next item we’re going to look at here is inadequate baselining, and I’m sure a lot of you have had baselining thrown in front of you into you’re sick of the word, sick of the terminology. Without it, we can’t really determine what we wanted to do versus what actually happened.

Sam Huffman: In this Gantt Chart that you’re looking at, the baseline dates are represented by the gray bars, and the task dates as being planned are the blue bars. Right now, all is perfect and in this very short little tiny example, we have the perfect project planner because there would be no variance. The difference between the baseline start and the start would be start variance zero. The baseline difference between the baseline finish and the finish will give you the finish variance. Now we’re seeing 12 days here because this is the project-level. Inadequate baselining is the summary task for 15 and 16 here. There’s more in the project than just these activities.

Sam Huffman: Let’s look at this in action, and see if we can’t get into a little bit of… Well, I don’t know, let’s just see. Get back into project do’s and don’ts. Get out of constraining, look at inadequate baselining and here we go. Now I’m going to look at the baseline, so we can see it. Format tab, choose the baseline. I could also look at this in terms of a tracking Gantt, which would show me things like the delays and other aspects of my schedule. I want to focus right now just on the current schedule and on the baseline dates, I’m going to change the duration of this task to six days. Now let me also change my table here to the tracking table, and we can see what’s going on here. Zoom in here a little bit here.

Sam Huffman: I’m sorry, I mean rather than tracking, look at the variance table. Here we go. Baseline start, baseline finish, start and finish, and then what we’re left with on the right-hand side here is variance. We have four days variance in terms of finish variance and four days variance in terms of start and finish variance on these two tasks. Many times you’ll see a project manager’s performance based on the variances that are in the schedule, or at least the schedule performance. I’ve seen this occur way more than I would like. You see the variance, we know we’re going to get graded harshly. Well, you know what, let’s go to the project tab, set the baseline, and let’s just refresh that baseline. Let me just set that to select them.

Sam Huffman: Let’s reset that baseline. I mean it’s not affecting the schedule, so that we’ve become once again the perfect planner. Now, what’s happened is the history is now forgotten or it’s been overwritten. The cause has been ignored and all we’re doing is continuing to press on towards the conclusion of the project. In other words, we haven’t learned anything. This whole idea of inadequate baselining is some people might think it’s fraudulent, but in many ways, it’s self-fulfilling prophecy when it’s utilized so strongly as a governing agent in organizations. Best to just leave it and then explain it, and then move on with your project. It’s just baselining. It isn’t heaven and earth, and your reputation will be better off in the process.

Sam Huffman: Baselining, anytime you baseline, you’re probably going to get variances also in cost and also in work. Just bear that in mind that you’ve affecting more than just the schedule. You’re affecting the cost evaluations, work evaluations as well. Now keep run on going here. This next one, well it can inflate the work values and thus the cost and a project, even though it looks like it’s a very effective tool. By the way, it is an effective tool. It’s called elapsed durations and you’re seeing an example of it here. Type in a three into the duration field and project will give you a three working day for duration for an activity. Type in three E days and it will give you three consecutive days, but what it will not tell you is what the effect is.

Sam Huffman: You’ll have to determine that yourself. Elapsed durations deal in 24-hour periods when you’re using days. An E day is 24 hours. A day is eight or whatever you set the working day to be. For every duration unit, there’s a commensurate elapsed duration unit. If you have a minute, then you’ve got an elapsed minute, elapsed hour, elapsed day, elapsed week, and so on in the project. Let me just illustrate to you how that work values can fly and increase so heavily. We’ll get back to our do’s and don’ts file. Here we go. Here’s the exact same example, 3-day activity, three E days, and we’ve got some starts and finishes. I’m going to bring up my entry table because it’s got the work field right adjacent to the duration field.

Sam Huffman: By the way if you’re new to project, I strongly suggest that you do that, that you that you insert the work field next to the duration field because time, work, money all have a relationship, and it’s better to see them than to not. Look, I’m going to add a resource. I’m going to assign the resource Sarah to both activities, close it out, and I want to point out that there’s an over allocation for sure, but I’m more interested in the work field. How much work can Sarah do in three work days? Well 24 hours, but in three elapsed days, it’s 72, 24 hours per day, and then whatever that sequence might be, whatever that duration might be.

Sam Huffman: I liken this idea of an elapsed duration useful for tools or for big pieces of equipment, for large IT type projects where we’re dealing with large backups or moves, that type of thing, but it’s not necessarily useful in terms of team schedules because that it can accumulate so rapidly. Just be aware of that, that this can come back and bite you. Again, elapsed durations, just typing in the E in front of the D is all you need to do, and it will create this situation. Could be fatal to your project in terms of cost, and I’ll guarantee you, the resources won’t like the assignments so much either. All right. The next item here, incorrect calendar association is a little slippery.

Sam Huffman: Yeah, it can be very difficult to figure out. I want to go with carefully through this one, so you can see it. Incorrect calendar associations. Now we have two activities nicely sequenced. Everything seems to be fine. There’s a common use in project where in projects might have a task in one project that has to synchronize to a task in another project. I don’t mean by embedding one within the other. I mean by making sure that the schedules are synchronized with each other. Don’t assign a task calendar in project, unless it’s absolutely necessary. A task a calendar is a calendar that is specific to an individual task or group of tasks. It’s not the same as your default calendar that utilized for calculations.

Sam Huffman: In fact, it can be one of those very, very fatal exceptions in terms of scheduling as well. Now I’m going to give you an example of this, but again without a task calendar in place, this is just two normal tasks. If the predecessor extends, the successor goes out into the future. It’s when we start getting into the exceptions that we see issues. Let me get to you something along these days, along this. Task ID number 30 here, it needs to synchronize with another task in another project and another program. That tasks is conducted only on Thursdays, and you’re told there a Thursday calendar available for you. Obviously, we’re on Friday. That’s not going to work because the predecessor’s on Thursday.

Sam Huffman: When’s the next time that this task could actually be utilized? Well, it’s the next week on Thursday. I’ll assign that task calendar. Okay, it’s right here, calendar. I’ll assign the Thursday calendar. I’m told it’s good, but before I just go in and okay this, I’d like to show you something here. When you’re using a task calendar you can tell project that it should ignore all resource calendars associated with resources that are assigned to that task. you’ve got resources that want to be on vacation, that’s too bad. Project’s going to schedule it anyway, and now if it’s off as it is now, then the resource calendars are going to still come into play and be the driver of the sequence and of the schedule.

Sam Huffman: Okay, so there’s my Thursday calendar. I’ve applied it to the tasks and when I say okay, there it is, it’s working on Thursday. Where we get into trouble is when we don’t actually know how do we evaluate these calendars. Let me show you what I mean. I’m going to go into my change working time dialog. Now I’ll look at the Thursday calendar. Okay, so this is January. In this case, we’re in 2014 in this example file. We see a lot of tasks that are off dates. In fact, we see the 1st and the 9th of January, the only working days. We’re already on the 9th now. If I increase my task that’s proceeding this into this area of the timeline, then project is going to have to schedule this task into the next month.

Sam Huffman: Let’s see if that’s the case. I’m going to take the task to a project I want it to be like eight days. Yup, go ahead, allow the conflict. Here we go and it is in February. When we start talking about using these tasks calendars, be exceedingly careful, make sure you have a chance to look at that calendar, look at where you are in your timeline, and ensure that you don’t have a conflict here in calendars or incorrect calendar associations. Use them that’s your own risk and in particular, watch out for that checkbox that we saw on the tasks calendar where the resources calendars can be ignored. Very tough to swallow it when you’re a resource and that have occurs.

Sam Huffman: The next item is a little bit easier to understand. It’s organizing project tasks incorrectly, and it has to do with outlining. Before we jump into project, I’m just going to walk through this with you, so that we can talk about it or look at it together. Here we’ve got a summary task and two sub-summaries. One summary is called letters. One summary is all about numbers. What’s wrong with this picture? Well obviously, C is a letter, not a number. What’s wrong with it is that when the data rolls up, and what I’m talking about now is this. When the information about C rolls up to the summary task, it will inflate the actual cost work, whatever the details why B in numbers.

Sam Huffman: It will inflate it when this activity should be in letters and inflate or get the summary information correct, so that reporting can be correct. In this case, everything about this category of numbers is going to be suspect, schedule, cost, and work. Let’s look at it in project. You’ll get the drift out here as we go alon. All right, so here you go. Here’s C and once again, it’s in the wrong place. It needs to be up in letters. You click on the ID of the activity because if you don’t, you’re just going to take the name of the task, and then of the other details. You can either cut it and then paste it in or as I’m about to do, simply move it up, and we’re back in business.

Sam Huffman: We have letters now and numbers in a pristine condition, and the reporting on the tasks resources work will be more correct because they are in the organization that was intended in the project. Now what I’m saying here is, it’s not just the label here that we’re trying to get into the right place. It’s also the context. It’s never just numbers. It’s also the context. The details of each summary are the actual nature and the definition of the summary task itself. It represents everything that’s underneath it and to take an element out like this C, means that we have stripped some of that information out, and we now don’t have it in the right information to give the right report on the right amount of data. Watch out for that in a project.

Sam Huffman: This is another one of those very, very, very common mistakes that I see. Now the next two things that we’re going to look at in project go to a little bit higher level of detail. The next item here in our presentation is don’t just dismiss agile tools. When I hear the term agile used by most the project managers I associate with, what I understand them to be saying is that they have a hybrid project. In fact, that’s tending to be a huge trend in project management, is that the original idea of a waterfall where you see bars in the Gantt Chart and agile where we’re looking at things like, oh I don’t know sprints, for example, or we’re looking at customer stories, those types of things, those have to coexist peacefully because we might have two or three different customers involved, one understanding, one not.

Sam Huffman: When we’re creating these project files, we have to create them in a way that we can convert on the fly to make sense to whoever’s watching or working with us in our project. I’m going to give you an example of that by opening another file up that I call project Kanban. Now, a Kanban is a technique and that’s what we’re talking about here. This idea of a waterfall is a technique. The idea of understanding and simplifying project schedules is a technique. Kanban was created by Toyota a long time ago. You can read about this in my blog. As a matter of fact, I have a very extensive article on how you create it within Microsoft Project, but these tools have the ability to be useful and powerful to you.

Sam Huffman: Now the latest versions of project include agile tools like Scrum and Kanban boards like you’re seeing here. These are a major component of the enterprise project management apps as well, like project online and project for the web. In the earlier versions, like the one you’re looking at project 2016, you’ll have to make your own. I’m going to demonstrate this for you and considering and make comments on its multiple uses, but again, you’ll have to make your own. I’ll show you how in my blog. It’s also in the book and gives you step-by-step instructions how to create this very but very powerful tool. Later, I’ll give you the information needing to have a look at it and get involved in it.

Sam Huffman: If you’re not familiar with these boards, they are a simplified look at project workflow, and they’re often used by managers and executives to get very specific but simplified status, like this project. This is a basically a project lifecycle that I’m using in as an example here. Summary tasks, work packages, subordinated underneath them. I’ve got a baseline. It’s got work associated, resources assigned. It’s got some work that is scheduled to be broken, that’s what these ellipses mean. It’s also done, that’s what the bar down the middle means. We’ve got some tasks that are completed and some tasks that are underway. Now, we don’t want to have to go through and go scrolling across and scrolling down, and trying to figure out all this.

Sam Huffman: Really and particularly executives need some way of getting to it quickly. In agile, you don’t really use the Gantt Chart as much as we would in this waterfall approach, and that gets right to the design of Microsoft Project. This is just a chart representing the data in the tasks sheet where I’m circling my mouse cursor. The task sheet is a view. When we’re talking about creating something like a Kanban board, then we’re talking about modifying the task sheet. Let me give you an example of what I’m talking about. Here’s a very, very simplified Kanban board. Looks complicated, really isn’t. We’re seeing tasks that are done, tasks that are in progress, tasks that haven’t started yet. Okay.

Sam Huffman: We don’t have our sprints involved. We could. We don’t have our individual user story involved. Again, we could, but in this case, it’s very simplified. You’ve seen and heard managers, and you might be a manager yourself and you say, “Hey, where you at on the project?” Now, what you mean is this. What do you got done? What’s in progress? What’s not started? If you need more details in project, it’s a simple matter of simply changing, right clicking on the button up here in the little corner, and choosing cost. That’ll give you the cost information. This is how much it cost to get done what we’ve got so far or work. This is how much work has been conducted so far and so on.

Sam Huffman: Anything that we can create or we can evaluate or watch or track, we’re going to incorporate into a table in a Kanban board. Now how did I get this? Well, go back to the Gantt and show you. In the view tab there in the data subgroup here, we have this whole idea of grouping and I’ll go ahead and select the Kanban board, so that you can see how I created it. If this is interesting to you, you might want to get a screenshot of this. What I told project is group by Kanban board. It’s a text field that I modified. I’ll show it to you in a moment here. It’s a task I put it in ascending order, then I saved it. That is as simple as it gets. Now I could show summary tasks.

Sam Huffman: I could create embedded or at what should I say here, nested groups. I could see the Kanban board and then cost and so on or whatever I wanted to see. I can use this idea of grouping this it. I’ll cancel out now. Again, the Kanban board can be applied. It’s simply a grouping that you can apply on any of the task sheets, even on the Gantt chart. Check it out. There we go. Now the Kanban board’s categories now become the summary tasks, and the cost and the work, the durations all roll up to this text field. In essence, we’ve turned a text field into a summary task. How does that happen? Well, it happens like this. In my custom fields, I’ve got something called the Kanban board.

Sam Huffman: Text one, it’s got a formula in it. That formula is saying, “Hey, if a task percentage of completion is 100%, call it completed. If it’s zero, then it hasn’t started and if it’s otherwise, then it’s in progress.” Three states and that’s it. As we begin to track the project and the tasks, we can start to see this whole idea occur as a calculated field, and then organize around it accordingly. Again, this is in my blog. If you’re interested in it, feel free to go look at it, take it, try it, and I think you’ll actually like it. Simple formula in a field used as a group, and what else that means then, I think this actually has a report built on it. Get into it. I’ll use more reports. Now, I got a user story here. Here we go.

Sam Huffman: This is one of those groupings that has multiple levels so I got a user story and then I’ve got the actual Kanban board state completed underway. Now I’ll select the report and you can see what’s going on. I’m looking at all tasks, then grouping by the Kanban board, and I’m outlining all of the sub-test, so I’m seeing the entire project. It’s truly easily done. We’re looking at maybe at the most 10 minutes work in a fairly complicated project file. I’ll go back to the Gantt, or you can leave it like this. One person, one customer may need a Gantt chart. Another customer may need strictly one of these Kanban views. Another customer may need the Kanban views and a user story or a confirmation.

Sam Huffman: Meaning, we’re going to do these or not, or they’re under a review or we’re not going to deal with it. We can modify this in a number of ways. Now what I’m getting into is this idea of customization. You can turn something as basic as a Gantt chart kind of blah into something very useful, very visually appealing, and give you the information that you need and that your customers need, and that your managers need without getting bogged down in all the detail, and use it for summarizations. Let’s go on and look at this idea of cool tools. Pardon me. Michelangelo is a past director of the project group and when I first met him, he told me that even though he was fairly new to the job that he had decided and figured out that using project is like ordering pizza for a large group of people.

Sam Huffman: Eighty percent of the people that would get into those pieces will be fine with whatever was bought, but 20% of them you did something different, wanted something different. When you think about it in terms of pizza, vegetarians, gluten-free, all that, yeah, it’s never going to be 100% of the people liking the tool, liking the the pizza, liking the tool Microsoft Project. I need it, for example, to help me with my risk evaluations. Again, there’s many articles on risk and how its utilized in project of custom fields and how its utilized in project. Yeah, I did a blog on this. Had four parts to it on how you might utilize project to get to the risk evaluations, or you might need it for understanding the funding state of a project or the location of the tasks in the project.

Sam Huffman: There’s a multitude of things and these all involved some level of customization. I want to bring up first of all this idea of risks, so we can see it and you see it in practice. Okay. In the simplest form and simplest format, risk is described as the probability of an event, times the impact of the event, and you get a chart that looks something like this. If the probability is low or one, and the impact is low or one, then it lies in this area of this very simple little graph. It’s a one. The risk is a one, a one out of 25. It’s a low risk, but if the probability is high of five and the impact is disastrous of five, then that result is 25, and that’s a very high risk and worthy of consideration and strategies and tactics for what you’re going to do if an occurs comes into play.

Sam Huffman: This idea of probability times impact giving a value that you can evaluate, well that’s a very useful one to us in Microsoft Project. For example, here’s risk analysis. Now remember, we were looking at risk in terms of the two terms in terms of probability. Here’s the text field that’s got just five things. Impact view, five items. If I click on it, you can see that I created a pick list of the five items. This times this gives this, and this is evaluated in another field. Now I’ve broken all this out, so that you could see it in action. In reality, you would probably combine the risk level and the severity into one field, so you could save fields, but you want to see this in action by breaking down the individual component.

Sam Huffman: Now what does it really look like? Well, okay. In probability as a custom field, I simply created a lookup field, and these are the possibilities, so that’s the pick list that you saw low to high. Same for impact. Okay. The risk level is determined by probability times impact. That’s a formula and it’s a simple one. Text one times text two, so touched one view times the text two view gives me the risk level. Not such a big deal so far. The risk severity is the evaluation field. This one’s a little more complicated, and the formula is a little more complicated because it’s looking at what that result might be, what that risk level value is, and what it means.

Sam Huffman: High, medium, low are utilized here in this case to represent what the result is, whether it’s a one, five or a 25. If you need to take a screenshot, please do. Additionally, well this will just give text. Additionally though, we want a graphical indicator to represent that text. The red dot is high, yellow dot medium, green dot low risk. Simple as that. Again if you needed screenshot, go ahead. Now on summary rows is what I’m using here, just for these three tasks. Then you wind up with what appears to be a very simple little table that’s doing some fairly quick evaluations and mathematics on the data that you’ve given it in terms of risk. Now once you’ve got that, then you can organize.

Sam Huffman: You can use this whole idea of grouping. You can create reports based on where the risk is and so on. Let me try one other thing here. I want to bring up a different project here for funding state. Let’s see. I want to bring up a small projects portfolio, but you didn’t expect that. Here I’ve got projects, one-liner projects associated by department, IT, finance, HR. This is what I’m using as a real quick and dirty evaluation as an exec maybe without getting involved in the enterprise. We just need a first blush, so I can think about it. I’ll have my projects, I’ll have them outlined, and I can come across this with other custom fields if needed to help me out. For example, I may actually need a… Oops, what am I doing here?

Sam Huffman: I may have the funding state or the project, whether it’s been approved or not and a custom field, a text field. Here we go. These projects are the approved projects. There’s two IT and one finance. There’s three projects pending their HR. One IT project was declined and two finance projects were declined, so that’s helping me out in terms of understanding the funding state of the projects to begin with in terms of maybe my discussions with other executives. Oh also, I want to know the location, so I’ll look at this. I’ll see the location of the activities, California, Oregon, Washington, all west coast. Again, it’s a text field associated with these individual projects or tasks.

Sam Huffman: Last thing to look at here in this particular one is the… Well, let me give you a whole different file, so you can get the gist of this. Here, I’ve got a file that I’m trying to work out, whether or not I’ve got a problem with tracking with my project managers. I’m going to set the start date, and I know we’re approaching the finish time here Kyle. I’m going to set the current date to the 5th of May. Here we go, project, project information. I’m going to use the current date to the 5th of May. Now I’ve formatted the current date, so that we might be able to see it a little better. See that? Our project has some very quick buttons. Quick and dirty, people like them.

Sam Huffman: Click on the first task or all of them even if you want and just say, mark these on track and there you go. It’s set through the current date. We are done through the current date, but oftentimes we get a chance to start something new early. We’ll get that task and we’ll tell it wait, we’re 25% done already. Here’s the problem. This is the current date and by selecting my percentage complete, I have begun tracking a task a week from now that I have no chance of tracking because I can’t get in the future. This is an error, or we’re doing what if analysis, one of the two. What should happen here is that we need to break the relationship if we’ve started.

Sam Huffman: It’s the same as a complaint which will have the task here, and give us a chance of evaluating it. Instead of just clicking on the percentage complete, I would tell project that my start date was the 9th or 8th, 7th. Wants to remove the link, and what happens is now I’ve got it starting on the actual start date or this date. I could move back to the current date, which would be I guess the 5th. My mistake there. Actual start date is the 5th and now I can track it correctly, and notice what it did to the schedule. It brought it in. Now, there’s a lot of possibilities here and again, this is my latest blog entry. Go have a look at it. It’s called future tracking.

Sam Huffman: It can help you evaluate and find out those areas of your project where their mistakes might have been made. The mistake would potentially skew the cost curve as well as the work that was expected. This of course affects resources, so it’s not as simple as this. You have to do some evaluation. All right. You’ve seen it. There are webinars, there are papers on this. You’ve got resources available. I urge you to explore them. Here in the user group, there’s a vast library of webinars, papers, instructional articles. My blog got a lot of information, goes clear back to project 2007 and finally, there’s this new edition of Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts, and a bootcamp as well.

Sam Huffman: Hey Kyle, I need to take a drink of water. Why don’t you explain to these folks what that do’s and don’ts can do for them or how to get it?

Kyle: You got it Sam. As Sam mentioned, a lot of case material is derived from the Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts book which was written by Sam. If you’d like what you saw and want to continue with the learning that he has provided, the book is available for purchase in both paperback and Kindle formats on Amazon. Additionally, Sam and MPUG joined forces to put together the Microsoft Project Do’s and Don’ts Bootcamp which is built from the book, but also includes corresponding video training, workbook with training exercises, and pre-configured project files, and all of that corresponds to each chapter in the book as well so you can work along as you learn.

Kyle: You get the book itself and the video content is eligible for PEU credits, and you will receive the certificates of completion once you complete the bootcamp. Finally, you’ll also have access to a knowledge test, so you can check what you’ve learned along the way when working on the bootcamp. Right now, I assume most everyone here is an active MPUG member, and you can access the bootcamp and save $60 off the regular price and receive all the bootcamp materials in the book for $19.99. I chatted a link over to the book or the bootcamp. Those are both available in the chat box there, as well as a link to Sam’s blog. If you want to stay the loop on Sam’s writing and teaching, you can check out his blog which is also in the chat box there. Yeah, so back to you Sam.

Sam Huffman: All right. Thank you very much. I managed to get a drink. Hey listen, these are tough times. Let’s think like protons. Stay positive, we’ll be better for it. Let’s have some Q and A. I know we’re at the time limit, but maybe we can do a question or two, Kyle. Is that okay?

Kyle: Yeah, sure. Let’s go ahead and take a question here. This one came in from April asking, “You used grouping a lot. Can you create a group within a group so that the data is nested?”

Sam Huffman: Sure and actually, we saw that a little bit earlier. Let me jump back into project here and in fact, I’ll go into the Kanban. It was April, then here’s the deal. I want to actually look at user story confirmation and other info here to help me figure out my project. Here I got the user story. These are confirmed, meaning whatever you want it to mean. Is it funded or not? Is it confirmed we’re going to do it or not, whatever? In this case, these are completed and they were a specific area in the project. How I got that was to go into my Kanban board, so hang on there and in the more groups I’ll edit that, so you can see what it looks like. I’ve got group by story number, then by is it confirmed or not, and then by the actual Kanban board, the in progress, done, not started.

Sam Huffman: Maintaining a hierarchy along the way, we’re able to do exactly that. I have forgotten how many of these nests that we can create, but I think it’s like seven or eight. Maybe some of you know more than me, but there’s quite a lot of embedding. Now truthfully, you might want to have maybe two or three as your max because you start seeing as you’re seeing here each time we go down a level, we’re going to indent. It can get to be a lot to try to comprehend, so keeping it simple but understandable is probably your best choice. Okay, back to you Kyle.

Kyle: All right, maybe we can sneak one more question then before we close out. We have one from Phil and he’s saying, “Let’s say I create a very useful field group or a view, how do I get that into another file?”

Sam Huffman: Oh, great question. You put in your time. Sometimes to do what I’ve done here in the webinar with all these custom things, now you’re talking about a little bit of time. I think I’ve got five hours at least into some of this. How do you get it into a position of being in your basic template that you use in a project? Well, in file, in this case, it’s in info in project 2016. You have the global template. Again, if you’re on enterprise level project, make sure you talk to your administrators. They get very touchy about this organizer, and this is how you move things around between files or between your global. When you start project, a global MPT starts up with all of this tabbed information.

Sam Huffman: When you start a file, you may or may not have all that information and in fact, here we’ve got some fields that we created that aren’t in the global. If you really liked that Kanban board, you’d select it, move it into your global. Then from that point on, your global template now uses the text one field as the Kanban board, and it will take the formulas. It will take any information you’ve associated unique to it along with it. That’s a way of getting it from a file into the global. Now a lot of times, you don’t have to go to all this trouble. Let me just delete this for a second here. A lot of times, you don’t have to go to this trouble. In options, okay, in the advanced tab down in… Let’s see.

Sam Huffman: I’m trying to remember where that is. Oh, here we go. It’s in the display, automatically add new views, tables, filters and groups to the global that may or may not be on. It really depends on if it’s been modified, either intentionally or accidentally. I turn mine off because of all the presentations I give. I made sure that it’s off. Other folks may have it on, so that anytime they make a change, well it’s going to be there in the global for you, so that’s it. Those are the two controls.

Sam Huffman: One is the global going back and forth and in any files that you might want to move data back and forth, like let’s say from the small project’s portfolio into Kanban or back and forth, but the design is to take the global and be able to control what you see on, even a brand-new file now once you’ve moved the Kanban field or is going to have that in it. Let me go back here and make sure that it’s still there. Yeah, Kanban board is still there. Okay. Now if I go to file new, I should have a custom view, text one Kanban board, and I’ve got the formula of word stance. It’s as simple as that and there, that’s a demonstration of how to utilize it and make it work for you.

Kyle: That’s great Sam. Appreciate it.

Sam Huffman: Yeah.

Kyle: Yeah, I think-

Sam Huffman: That’s it.

Kyle: … that takes us… We’re up to the end here. Before I take the reins back, did you want to maybe share your contact info one last time and wrap it up?

Sam Huffman: You bet and you got it right… Whoops, right there.

Kyle: Perfect.

Sam Huffman: Listen guys, I appreciate you being here with me today, and I do thank you for paying attention at looking at this. I hope this is a value to you. Thank you.

Kyle: Thank you so much Sam. We really appreciate you sharing your time and your project expertise with the MPUG community. It’s always great to have you, so thanks again for joining us today. Everybody that is claiming the PEU for today’s session, I will get that on the screen for you once again. Eligible for 1.25 PMI PDUs in this technical category. If you missed any of the session and would like to go back and review anything that Sam shared with us, a recording will be posted to mpug.com a bit later today. You’ll receive an email with a link to that in just a couple hours.

Kyle: We also have some great sessions coming up on the calendar, and actually our 2020 Vendor Showcase where we’ll feature some of the best and latest add-ons and improvements to Microsoft Project that are available from some of our partners, Project Widgets, Critical Tools, Barbecana, and Triskell. Those are all available for registration. They’re open and free to everyone, so you can invite your friends and colleagues that may be interested and I chatted a link to our calendar where you can register for those sessions. All right, and that does it for today. Once again, thank you Sam. Thank you to everyone that joined us live. Thank you to everyone that is watching this on demand.

Kyle: We hope you have a great rest of your day, and we’ll see you back at a couple weeks for our Vendor Showcase 2020.

Sam Huffman: Thanks everyone.


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