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Webinar Recap: Working with Microsoft Project Master Schedules and Subprojects

Please find below a transcription of the audio portion of Ira Brown’s session, Working with Microsoft Project Master Schedules and Subprojects, 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, Working with Microsoft Project Master Schedules and Subprojects. My name is Kyle and I’ll be the moderator today. Today’s session is eligible for one PMI PDU in the technical category. The MPUG activity for claiming that is on the screen now. Like all MPUG webinars, a recording of this session will be available on mpug.com shortly after the live presentation ends, and all members can watch the recordings at any time and still be eligible to earn the PDU credit.

Kyle: All sessions you watch on-demand can be submitted to your webinar history and the live sessions you attend are automatically submitted. Within your history, you can print or download your transcript and certificates of completion, including the one for today. You can access that via logging on to mpug.com. Click the my account button and then click on the transcript link. If you have any questions during today’s session, please chat those over at any time using the chat question box on the GoTo webinar control panel. We do plan to answer those for you during the session today. All right, we’ll go ahead and begin.

Kyle: We’re very happy to welcome back Ira Brown today. Ira is the founder and president of Project Widgets, a leader in the field of project management, and is a recognized Microsoft Project expert. Project Widgets is well known for offering add on products for Project and Project Online, as well as for creating custom solutions that meet their client’s unique business requirements. The company continues to extend the scope and breadth of their offerings, increasing the value they provide to customers, by creating Microsoft Project solutions that are tailored to an organization’s unique needs.

Kyle: They even have several free downloadable widgets available on their website, projectwidgets.com, that you can begin using right away. With that said, I’d like to welcome you back Ira. At this time, I’ll hand it over to you to get started with today’s session.

Ira Brown: All right, thank you very much, Kyle, I appreciate that and welcome everyone. Today’s session is called Working with Microsoft Project Master Schedules. It’s really nice to be back at MPUG here, and hope you find this session to be very useful. Before we get started on the content here, I’ll just give you a quick background on Project Widgets. As Kyle mentioned, we are a Microsoft Project solution provider. I’ve been at this now for well over 25 years; delivering Microsoft Project related services and products. Those products we refer to as our widgets.

Ira Brown: You can go to our website. You can take a look at a lot of the different widgets that we offer, including some of the free ones that Kyle mentioned. We work with companies in all different industries. We specialize in tailoring Microsoft Project to the needs of our clients, through combination of configuration, as well as creating custom solutions as well to get Project to do some things that it’s just not able to do out of the box, and also integrate Project with other applications and things like that.

Ira Brown: Why don’t we go ahead and get started. Today’s agenda is all about master schedules, we’re going to start off what is a master schedule, and how’s it useful. We’ll take a look at some techniques for how you go about creating a master schedule. One of the benefits of having a master schedule is the ability to create inter-project dependencies, where you create a link from a task in one project to a task in another project. We’ll see how that can be made even easier through the use of a master schedule. Then we’ll talk about baselining.

Ira Brown: When you set a baseline in a single project, you’re basically, you’re capturing a snapshot of what that project looks like at that particular point in time. Well, it’d be valuable to be able to do that across multiple projects as well in a master schedule. We’ll see how we can go about doing that. Oftentimes, when you work with master schedules, you still have individual projects that make up that master schedule are still being managed by individual project managers. We want to be able to take a look at how do they all work together. When you update an individual project, how does that update the master schedule as well as the other way around.

Ira Brown: One of the major benefits of working within a master schedule is the ability to create inter-project dependencies, but there are some limitations. We’re going to talk about generally what those limitations are, and then I’ll also mention a couple of add-ons that are available from some companies that specialize in this particular issue that deals with the limitations of inter-project dependencies. Then we’ll be primarily focusing on working with standalone Microsoft Project today, as far as how we go about creating these master schedules.

Ira Brown: But you can also do just about everything that I’m going to be showing you today in Project Online, as well as in Project Server as well. These techniques really apply to all, but there are a few nuances when you are working with master schedules in Project Online, which I will be covering as part of the session. We’ll also take a look at how you view a critical path within a master schedule. You can actually take a look at not just what’s critical within a project, but what’s critical across that entire master schedule. Then we’re going to wrap up with this topic right here, which shows how to date constraints, and inter-project dependencies and master schedules, kind of tying it all together with a real world use case that I think you’ll find to be pretty useful for the day-to-day work that you do.

Ira Brown: Okay, so with that, let’s get started. I do want to mention that, at the end of today’s session, I will be providing my contact information and I’ll be making this presentation available. Also we’re going to be having a drawing to win a free copy. In fact, we’re giving away three copies of our Driving Path Widget, so you just have to send me an email at the end of the session with your contact information, and we will enter you in our drawing for one of three copies of our Driving Path Widget, okay? All right. Let’s start off, what is a master schedule? Well, a master schedule is really a method for combining individual projects, all together into a single project, sometimes referred to as the container project.

Ira Brown: When you insert a project into a master schedule, that project that you’re inserting is referred to as a subproject. Oftentimes, this technique of creating a master schedule is useful when you’re managing a program. Remember, a program is really when you’re managing all these related projects together, and you might have individual project managers managing those individual projects, but sometimes it may be useful to look at them all together. The master schedule is really a convenient way to do that. All right, so there are a couple of different techniques that you can use for creating a master schedule.

Ira Brown: We’re going to take a look at these various techniques in a moment. The first technique is, where you basically start off with a blank project. You use the subproject function within Microsoft Project to insert a project into your blank project, and then you’ll do that, let’s just say you have a few different projects, you’ll insert each of them in as subprojects. Then you can actually then save that new project that we just created that has these various inserted projects, and that really becomes the master schedule. Okay, so that’s the first technique we’ll take a look at it.

Ira Brown: Another way you can do that is, there’s a feature within Microsoft Project that lets you create a new window. The idea here is that, you basically open up all the projects that you’d like to be able to combine together into a master project. We use this new window technique to pull all these projects together. The reason I’m saying that here, you can see it’s a temp, I’m calling it a temporary master schedule. Well, sometimes you may want to be able to use this technique, just to temporarily combine those projects into a single window, to allow you to create inter-project dependencies among the different projects that you’ve inserted.

Ira Brown: This is a really convenient technique for doing so. Then once you create those inter-project dependencies, then you basically can close that master schedule without saving it, because you really just only did it on a temporary basis, to facilitate the creation of the dependencies. Then you close the master schedule, but then all those inter-project dependencies you’ve created, are now still available within the individual projects. That’s another technique and another reason why you might want to be able to create a master schedule. Okay, so let’s create one.

Ira Brown: Let’s see how it’s done. I’m going to go ahead and go into Microsoft Project. I’m going to start off by just creating a brand new project here. Let me just put in a few tasks here. I’ll put in a task called analyze and design and build and test and implement, and we’ll put some durations on these tasks. All right, so we’ll make design 10 days, maybe we’ll build for 15 days, we’ll test for another five days, and then we’ll implement over two days. Then let’s go ahead and link up all these tasks together just within the single project. I’ll just highlight all these tasks, click the link button, there we go. Let me just change my view, so that maybe instead of looking at days, I’ll look at weeks, so now I can see it all together here pretty nicely.

Ira Brown: I’ll turn off my timeline, because I really don’t need that for now. I’m going to go ahead, and I’m going to go ahead and save this project. Let’s assume that we are going to be building some sort of component, and it’s comprised of three different products. Okay, so I’m going to go ahead and I’m going to call this first project that I’m creating, product A. Thanks. There’s product A. Then I’m going to basically just save this two more times, and we’ll turn this into product B and product C. We’ll just go ahead and do a save as, and then let’s create another project here called product B.

Ira Brown: We’ll do that one more time, file, save as and then we’ll call this product C. Okay, perfect. All right. We now have three projects, that are all identical to each other. Let’s assume again, that these individual products, product, A, B, and C are all part of this larger master product that we’re putting together. We’ll manage them individually, but we want to be able to pull them all together to see how they’re related to each other. To do so, we’ll start off in a blank project, just like I’m showing here. We’re going to go to the project tab, click subproject, and I am going to select product A and then just click the insert button.

Ira Brown: Then I will just go to the next blank row, we’ll do the same thing for product B, and then we’ll do the same thing for product C. There we go. Guess what folks, we’ve just created our first master schedule, just by inserting these projects. Let me go ahead and adjust my timeline here. We’ll look at weeks. One of the techniques that you can use when you want to expand out all the tasks across every one of these inserted projects is, we can just go to the view tab, say outline and show all subtasks like that, and then you can see everything’s all expanded out.

Ira Brown: Now we’re looking at all three of these product projects, all contained within a single master scheduled. You take a look at the indicators column here. If you hold your mouse over this indicator, it tells you that this project was inserted read/write from this location. You can see we have three individual projects now all inserted within this master schedule. All right, so what I’m going to do is, I want to be able to work with this master schedule anytime I want. I’m going to go ahead and save this. I’m going to go into that same folder, and I’m going to call this the Project Widgets Master Schedule.

Ira Brown: There we go. Now, this master schedule is available to me anytime I want to be able to use it. The beauty of working with a master schedule using the technique that I’ve used here to create it is that, if the individual project manager has updated product A, another project manager updated product B let’s say, well then when I open up this master schedule, it’s automatically going to refresh for me source projects. It’s live project data here. The other thing is that the way I’ve created this master schedule, because I created it in kind of a two way read/write manner, I actually have the ability to update any one of these tasks from the master schedule and I can save it, and those changes will be written back to the individual source projects.

Ira Brown: It’s really kind of nice, the way I’ve created this; you can go in this bi-directional manner. Okay. Now, it’s also possible to create master schedules that only work in a single direction. We’ll talk about that as well in a little bit. All right, so I’m going to go ahead now, and I’m going to close the master schedule. I’m now going to open up the individual projects that I saved. Let me go and open up product A and let’s open up product B, and let’s open up product C. All right, so now I have all three projects open individually. I’d like to show you another technique for creating a master schedule.

Ira Brown: Basically, the idea is you open up all the projects, you then go to the view tab, click on the button that says new window. Notice, that we can see all three projects listed here. But if you hold down your control key and select all three projects like that, and then it says what kind of view do you want to be able to put these projects in? I’m just going to pick a Gantt chart view. Now I’m going to click okay and watch what happens. There you go. We now have ourselves what’s effectively a master schedule, just by using that new window technique to combine the open projects into a single window.

Ira Brown: Now, what’s nice about this is that, I don’t necessarily have to save this new window. I can think of this as a temporary container, that’s going to be useful for allowing me to create inter-project dependencies. That’s actually what I’m going to do. Okay, so let’s suppose that the design task in product A should be the predecessor to the design task in product B. I want to make sure that I don’t actually begin the design in product B until I’ve completed the design in product A. All right, so the way we can do that is simply by selecting the design task in product A, holding down the control key, and then clicking the design task in product B.

Ira Brown: Once I’ve done that, I click on the task tab and I click this button right here called link the selected tasks. Notice what just happened, we now have this link going from design in one project to design in a different project. This is really the same way that you create links if you’re in an individual schedule. But because we’ve combined all these schedules together into a single window, now we can really utilize that same technique to easily create links between projects. Now some of you may be familiar with the predecessor’s column or the successor’s column and you can, yes, you can actually create a link by typing in the full path and the project name and then the ID.

Ira Brown: But isn’t it much easier just to bring them all together and then just create the link the way we did it? I think it’s an easier way to do it, and you can just immediately see what the impact is of creating that dependency as well. Now, let’s say the design task in product A, also drives the design task in product C, so let’s create that link as well. I’ll show you another technique that you can use that also creates the links. If I hover my mouse over that Gantt bar, and I just click and drag, notice what’s happening here, it’s got that little link on the end of it, and you just drop it on top of this design task and then let go, and it also creates that inter-project dependency for us.

Ira Brown: That’s another technique you can use. Now that I’ve created the links between projects, what I’m going to do is, I am going to close this temporary master schedule that I created, because I really don’t need to save this one. I really only wanted to use it, to facilitate those two inter project dependencies. I’m going to go ahead and click this button right here, and it’s going to ask me, do you want to save project three? Well, that’s this temporary project. I really don’t. I’m just going to say, no. All right, and then let’s go back to project A or product A rather. Notice now, when we look within product A, notice how we see these two design tasks here, and they have this gray shading to them.

Ira Brown: Well, these two tasks right here are referred to as external tasks, and they automatically get that gray shading, they get a gray Gantt bar. Basically, what that’s telling us is that, the design task within the product A project is driving the start of the design task in some other project, as well as the design task in yet a different project. That’s what this is telling us. Now, one of the things that’s useful here, when you’re looking at the product A project, you might want to know, I wonder what project those external tasks came from? Well, we can go ahead and we can insert a column here called project.

Ira Brown: Now you can see that this design task comes from product C, and this design task comes from product B. All right, so now, that makes it easy to see where it came from. Now, sometimes, it’s useful to see those external tasks. If you can see how you’re impacting tasks in another project, or how perhaps tasks and other projects or impacting a task in your project. But other times, you may not want to show them. What if we did not always want to see these external tasks what could we do? Well, this is a really good use for a filter. It turns out in Microsoft Project; there is a field that is called external.

Ira Brown: It’s really just a flag field, that’s set to yes automatically if a particular task is external, and if it’s internal to the project then that external field is set to no. Let’s see how we go about doing that. I’m going to go and click on the view tab. This is where we see our filters. I’m going to go ahead and create a new filter. I’m going to call this something like exclude external tasks. The logic for the filter would be, only show those tasks where the field called external task is equal to, then we just type in the word no. Then we can click, either save or apply and I’ll just click apply.

Ira Brown: Notice how the external tasks are filtered out from the view. We see that external task filter is currently applied. If I want to clear that, I can just simply say clear filter, and now the external tasks are back. Anyway, that’s the basic idea, you create that master schedule and create your links, close the master schedule, you don’t even have to save it, because we only use it to create these links, and now you can see that the links are in the project. Now, if I were to go take a look at, so this is product A but what if I look at product B? Well, product B also has an external task.

Ira Brown: You can see there’s this external task called design that’s coming from some other project. Again, if I wanted to know which one, I can simply insert the project field here, and it tells me it’s coming from product A, and that is driving the start of the design task in the product B project. Now, I can go ahead and I can save these individual projects. I’ll go ahead and I’ll close them, and there you have it. Okay, so the next topic that we’re going to talk about is creating a baseline in your master schedule. All right, so you can use the set baseline feature of Microsoft Project, be able to set a baseline for the entire master schedule. Just as a review, remember, when you use the set baseline feature, what you’re really doing is you’re saying, “Let’s take a snapshot of what our project looks like right now, so that we can compare then any future changes that might occur to the project to that baseline.

Ira Brown: We can see what has changed within the project.” When you’re capturing a baseline, what you’re really doing is, there’s a field in Microsoft Project called start and there’s a field called finish. Well, there’s also a field in Microsoft Project called baseline start and a field called baseline finish. When you set your baseline, Microsoft Project is really copying the start dates for all your tasks into baseline start, and the finish dates for all your tasks into baseline finish. It also does the same for cost and work and duration. It’s a really useful technique to see where things have changed over time in your project.

Ira Brown: But this is also a useful thing to do for a master scheduler. You can imagine, if we’re building this complicated product that has many different components to it, maybe we create that master schedule of product A, product B, product C, and we then set the baseline, get our schedule to look exactly the way we want, and we wait for all the individual components, and then we set the baseline for that entire program that’s contained within that master schedule. Then when we do that, if the individual projects, we probably want the baseline information to be captured there as well.

Ira Brown: We’ll take a look at how that works in a moment. But what’s important to remember is, depending on the technique that you use, when you’re capturing the baseline information in your master schedule, not all of that information may carry over to the individual projects. You have to do it a very specific way. Let’s take a look and see how this would be done. For that, let’s go back to Microsoft Project. I’m going to open up the master schedule that I saved a few moments ago. Again, notice when I open up the master schedule, it instantaneously refreshes the information from the individual projects.

Ira Brown: What I’m going to do is, I’m going to insert a couple of columns here. Here we see start and finish, I’m going to put in a column here called baseline start and then to the left of finish, I’m going to put in a column called baseline finish. There we go. Notice that initially, before you set the baseline, that those fields are populated with an NA, we have not yet captured the baseline. When we do capture the baseline, what we’d expect to happen is, the start dates would get copied into baseline start, and the finish dates get copied into baseline finish. Some of you may be familiar with using the baseline, so how do we do that normally?

Ira Brown: Well we go to the project tab, and then we go to where it says set baseline, and we choose the set baseline option and we say, let’s go ahead and set the baseline for the entire project. Let’s go ahead and do that, and notice what just happened. It only captured the baseline information at this top level here, at the product level, product A product B, product C, but the individual tasks themselves are not baseline. If you’re looking to be able to capture the baseline for every single task within this master schedule, we need to do that in a bit of a different way.

Ira Brown: What I’m going to do is, let’s actually undo that. I can just click my little undo button right here, or I could even use the clear baseline feature, that would work as well. But since this was the last thing I did, undo will work just fine. Okay, so let’s see the other technique for setting the baseline, so that every Task gets baseline. What I’m going to do is I’m going to go ahead and click this little corner button here, it’s going to select every task within the entire master schedule. I will then go to the same set baseline. But this time, what I’m going to do is rather than saying the entire project, I’m going to say, “Let’s do it for selected tasks and let’s roll up the baselines to all the summary tasks from all the subtasks.”

Ira Brown: Then we’re going to go ahead and click okay, and let’s see if this works any better. There we go. Notice now, my baselines for every single task are captured. Just keep that in mind, if you are setting a baseline within a master schedule and you want to make sure that every task gets baseline, you have to use this technique. Now, what I’m going to do is, I am going to click save. All right, now notice what it says. It says, “Do you want to save your changes to products C?” It gives me this ability to say yes or yes to all or no, or no to all. Remember, what we’re dealing with here is we’re in a master schedule, I’ve made changes effectively to every task that goes back to product A, and then product B and then product C. Really, every one of those individual source projects changed.

Ira Brown: If I want to make sure that I write those changes back to the individual schedules, then I’m going to say yes to all here. There you go. Now, I’m going to go ahead and close the master schedule. When I open up product A, you will see that … In fact, let’s actually do that, let’s open up product A. This would be true for any of the other ones as well. If I insert the column here called baseline start, there you go. You can see that those baseline dates came over. The same would be true for baseline finish. You can see that the data is actually getting written back to the source projects from the master schedule.

Ira Brown: The next thing we’re going to take a look at is, what happens if you make a change to a source project, and then how does that change get reflected in the master schedule? What I’m going to do is, I’m going to go into the product A project here, and I’m going to go to this task called design in product A, and what if we think it may take us a little bit longer to complete the designs. I’m going to change that from 10 days to 15 days. Notice what just happened, that it shows me that, as a result of increasing the duration of design in product A, it pushed out the two related design tasks in product B and product C.

Ira Brown: That’s what is going to happen. If we look at it from the perspective of product B or product C, chances are, what we’ll see is that, the design tests are going to be rescheduled because of this inter-project dependency. Let’s actually see how this works. I’m going to go ahead and save product A now. Remember, the one change that we made is we increase design to 15 days. We’re going to go ahead and close product A, let’s open up the master schedule. There’s the design task in product A. Notice, it says 15 days. That just shows that it really does work. We’ve updated the individual schedule, and that’s immediately reflected in the master schedule.

Ira Brown: Okay, so I’ll go ahead and close the master schedule. Now what happens if we open up product B? Well, before I do that, I want to familiarize you with an option that we have in Microsoft Project. I’m going to go to the options dialog just by clicking on file and then options, and let’s click on the schedule tab here. I’m sorry, I think I told you the wrong tab. Let’s go to the advanced tab. There we go. Notice, there’s an option here that says cross project linking options for this project. Whether or not we even want to show the external predecessors or show the external successors, you can check that on or off here.

Ira Brown: But I want you to take a look at this one right here. It says show links between projects dialog box on open. There’s this feature in Microsoft Project that says that, if you have an inter-project dependency, and you open up a project that has an external predecessor, it’s going to display this dialog box to give you an idea of how that external predecessor will impact the tasks within your project. There’s also a related option here, which we’re going to take a look at a little more closely later in this presentation, as to whether or not you automatically want to be able to accept new external data, if you turn that option on then you don’t even have to show this link between projects dialog box.

Ira Brown: I’m going to just click okay here. Just wanted to point that out to you and now I’m going to go ahead and open up product B. Remember, we created that dependency from the design task in product A to the design task in product B. Here’s this link between projects dialog. What is this really telling us? Well, here you can see, here’s the design task in our project, task ID three. Notice that we’re on the external predecessors tab right now. Here’s this external predecessor called design, with a finish to start relationship. It’s currently as it’s reflected in your project scheduled to finish on the 22nd of December.

Ira Brown: But it actually has been pushed out in the source project to finish on December 29th. This is basically telling you that, if you accept this into your plan, it’s going to push out the finish date of this external task, and any of the downstream tasks that it may be linked to in your project may be impacted as a result of accepting that external link. But let’s go ahead and accept it and let’s click close, and then watch what happens when I do that. Pay attention to what this design task right here. Notice, it still says 10 days from the other project. I’m going to go ahead and hit close. Notice it now says 15 days.

Ira Brown: We basically accepted that into this project, and in turn, we have pushed out the starts and finishes of the related tasks in this plan. All right. Now, one of the things that we looked at earlier in this presentation was remember, we set the baseline for across all of the projects. As a result of doing that, let’s take a look at the field called baseline finish one more time. I’m going to insert that in this project, and let’s put in baseline finish. Okay, so notice that the baseline finish of this task here build was 126. That’s what it looked like when I set the baseline. Notice, it’s now been pushed out.

Ira Brown: You can see then, that as a result of accepting that external dependency, if you want to know what changed in my project, well, you can make that determination by comparing the baseline finish to the finish, or the baseline start to the start. But one other technique that’s really useful is, there’s yet another field in addition to baseline finish and finish, which is called finish variance. I’m going to go ahead and insert the finish variance field. Notice, now that several of these tasks have a five day variance. That tells us that, those tasks are finishing five days later than what was originally planned according to the baseline.

Ira Brown: That’s a really useful technique to be able to see if things are slipping within your project. You always have to set the baseline first. But then as the dates change, as start changes, as finish changes, this variance is going to automatically calculate. The variance can be viewed within the context of the individual project. But it can also be viewed within the context of the master schedule as well. All right, there you go. What I’d like to do at this point is let’s just take a short break, and open it up if there’s any questions anyone has, Kyle can moderate that and let me know what those questions are.

Kyle: Thanks, Ira. Yeah, we do have a few questions here. The first one is asking, how many subprojects can be added to a master schedule, and do all the subprojects need to be in the same network?

Ira Brown: Okay, well, in terms of the maximum number of projects, I will actually have to look into that one. I know it’s a really, really big number though. Now, here’s the deal, though, even though that the true limit may be a very, very large number, you have to remember that when you’re inserting these subprojects into its own master project, when you open up that master project, Microsoft Project is actually going out and it’s really opening those individual projects. If you have three projects like we do, it’s opening three projects. If you had 100 projects, it would have to open up 100 projects.

Ira Brown: It’s not instantaneous at that point, and you actually have to allow time for each individual project to open. Now each individual project may only be a fraction of a second. But when you have 100, or if you have 500, then you could be waiting a long time for that master schedule to open. It’s not really intended for a very, very large number of projects. I think a lot of it will depend on the speed of your network and the speed of your computer, because obviously, the faster things move, the quicker you’ll be able to do this. But I guess what I would question is, what is your motivation?

Ira Brown: Why are you creating a master schedule? If you’re creating the master schedule primarily for reporting purposes, then I would say, especially if you’re using Project Online, that there are other ways, better ways to report across multiple projects and report across programs, when you start to get into a large number of projects. We can use tools like Power BI at that point, and other reporting tools that would probably be more suited than creating a master schedule purely for reporting purposes. As far as whether the projects have to be on the same network, I would say they either have to be local on your computer, or you have to have a map drive.

Ira Brown: You need to be able to get to the projects in order to create the master schedules. If you can get to them, then you should be in good shape. Although one thing I would say is that, if you are using SharePoint, SharePoint doesn’t do great when it comes to inter-project dependencies that are saved as MPP files in a library. You would be, if you’re going to be using inter-project dependencies, then I would not use SharePoint for that purpose. Project Online works great though. I’ll talk a little bit more about Project Online in a few moments. Kyle, any other questions?

Kyle: Yeah, we’ve had quite a few come in. Let me know if we should move on, we can always come back to those. Actually, I think you just answered the next two questions with that last answer as well, so that’s good. Next question was Joanne asking, does this functionality also work in PWA, having a master project and subprojects?

Ira Brown: It absolutely does. In fact, I was going to cover that topic later in my presentation. I’ll just jump to it right now real quick, because I know we’re running out of time here. Yeah, so if you’re using Project Online, then for those people that are coming in through a browser, through what’s called the Project Web App or PWA, we want to know how does that work with subprojects and so forth? First of all, let me talk about creating a master schedule within Project Online, is essentially it’s the same technique. You’re connected in Project Professional, you will use the subproject feature, but instead of pulling in an MPP file, you will pull in a project that’s been saved to Project Online.

Ira Brown: But other than that, it’s exactly the same. Of course, when you’re working with Project Online, one other step in addition to saving a project is you also have to remember to publish your project. But once you’ve done that, then if I switch over to this is, for those of you that aren’t familiar, this is the Project Web App, or PWA. Let me actually get to it from here. There we go. This is the PWA homepage. If I click here, where it says projects, that takes me into the project center in PWA, and this is where I see all my projects.

Ira Brown: Now, if you’ve created a master schedule, and again, let’s assume we have product A, product B and product C, and you save it, you publish it, and then you go out to the project center and you say, “Where’s my product A and product B and project C products? I don’t see them listed here.” Well, the reason for that is because there is an option here in the ribbon, as to whether or not you should see subprojects. By default, you do not. You would see the master schedule here, but you wouldn’t see the subprojects. But if you click on subprojects, now it includes the individual subprojects that make up the master project, and you can get to those individual projects from here. Okay?

Ira Brown: All right. Let’s move on. We’ll hopefully have some time for a couple more questions at the end. The next topic that we’re going to cover is, let’s just go back to PowerPoint for a moment. We’ll talk about a couple other uses for master schedules and how they’re just a little bit different than what we’ve seen so far. One of the things that you can do when you’re creating a master schedule is, you can actually create a read only version of that master schedule that can be used for reporting purposes.

Ira Brown: When I say read only, what I mean is that, you can’t actually update the individual projects from that master schedule. Essentially it’s a one way link. As individual project managers update their product A and product B projects, when you open up the master schedule, those changes will be pulled into the master schedule. But it doesn’t go the other direction; you can update the tasks within the master schedule, and have that update the source projects. That’s if we create this special read only version of a master schedule. The reason you do that, again, is largely for reporting purposes.

Ira Brown: The other technique for creating a master schedule would be to basically create a complete copy of the individual projects. It’s not going to be linked back to the source projects in any way. It’s basically making a copy of those source projects. This could be useful for doing something like a what if scenario for your program, where you don’t really want to write the changes back to the source projects. It’s just really this more of this temporary way that you can model some things, and then if you like the way it turns out, then you can make those equivalent changes within the real schedule itself.

Ira Brown: Let’s take a look at how that would be done. The first thing we’ll do is to go back to Microsoft Project. I’ll go ahead and save this. Now we’re once again, we’re in a blank project and I’m going to create a master schedule. But watch, we’ll do it a little bit differently this time. I’m going to say let’s click on sub project. I’m going to pick product A, but when I insert it, instead of just clicking the insert button, I’m going to look drop down that little arrow there. I’m going to say insert, read only. Then I’ll do the same thing for product B, insert, read only and product C insert, read only.

Ira Brown: Let’s expand everything out just like we did before. It looks the same, but notice the icon that you see in the indicators column is a little bit different. See how it has that little exclamation mark, it says, “This project was inserted read only from the source project.” Now it’s just a one way link. I’ll pull in the changes from the source projects. But my change is here. I normally won’t even make any changes, but they wouldn’t, even if I tried to they wouldn’t get written back to the individual projects. Again, we’re using … It’s the same technique, but this time we did it, we inserted the project as read only.

Ira Brown: I’m going to go ahead and close this. Now, what if I wanted to do it for that what if scenario purpose, how would we do it? Well, again, we go to project, click on subproject. We’ll pick product A. But you see this little checkbox here that says link to project, I’m going to go ahead and uncheck that and then click insert. We’ll do the same thing for product B, and the same thing for product C. There we go. Insert. Oh, I got to pick it first. There we go. Then let’s expand everything out. Notice, in the indicators column, there’s no reference to the source projects at all. This is effectively a big copy, paste.

Ira Brown: It’s an exact copy now that you can do whatever you want to do, what would happen if we change build to 20 days? What would the impact be that sort of thing. Well, what if we changed around our dependency? You can do whatever you want, but it’s not going to have any bearing on the source project, because it is just a copy at this point. I’m going to go ahead and close this. That’s another technique, another benefit of how we can take advantage of this master project feature. We talked about Project Online. Again, really the same basic idea except that, when you get out to the Project Web App, you have to remember to check off that subproject checkbox.

Ira Brown: But other than that, everything else that we looked at is really exactly the same. The next thing I’d like to talk about is taking a look at the critical path for a master schedule. I’m going to go ahead and open up the master schedule that we saved. There it is. First of all, what do we mean by critical path? Well, what we’re talking about is with the critical path, it’s basically any task that if you were to change it by pushing out its finish date, or increasing the duration of the task, if that change impacted the finish of the overall project, then that task would be considered to be on your project’s critical path.

Ira Brown: It’s basically a task that has zero days of total slack. I can also insert a column here called critical. Basically, it’s a calculated field that tells you whether or not a particular task is on a project’s critical path. I can also insert the column here called total slack. All right, and you can see that any task that has greater than zero days of total slack is not on the critical path. That means you could push this task out by a day or two or three, or even up to 10 before it too would become critical. Then one of the things that’s nice is that, if you go to the format tab, there’s a little checkbox here called critical tasks.

Ira Brown: When you check that off, now, you can see across the master schedule, which of the tasks are on the project’s critical path. That’s really all we have to do. That will expose the critical path within the program that we’re looking at. One of the questions that came up earlier was, how many of these projects can you have all inserted together into a master schedule? I think a related question is, how many inter-project dependencies you have. Because that’s really, where you start to, the more inter-project dependencies you create, the more it slows things down.

Ira Brown: You normally want to have a limited number of inter-project dependencies. Only create them where they’re really important. You don’t want to have too many, because it will slow things down. Because remember, we talked about, when you open up a master schedule, it has to refresh from the source project, and it has to refresh all those inter-project dependencies and that does take time. If you are using, but if you have big programs that are all, that have dozens of links going back and forth all over the place, there are some other tools that are available from other project partners.

Ira Brown: I’d like to mention a couple of their names. One is called MasterLink, by a company called Matan, and another one’s called CrossLinks Pro from Project Pro Corporation. Those are a couple of add-ons that are available, that go beyond the native features of Microsoft Project when it comes to these kinds of inter-project dependencies. I recommend you take a look at those if you’re interested. In the remaining time that we have, remember, at the end of this presentation, I’m going to give you my contact information. We’re going to have a drawing to give away three copies of our Driving Path Widget, so we’re doing that in just a few minutes.

Ira Brown: But the final topic I’d like to cover, it ties a lot of this together. That is, remember when you create inter-project dependencies, you have a task in one project that’s driving the task in another project. You have your external predecessor, and then you have your successor within this project. Well, remember when we opened up our product B, and when the design task in product A changed, that caused all these tasks within my schedule, my product B schedule to get all pushed out. I might not want that to automatically happen.

Ira Brown: I might prefer to be able to see that when I have this external predecessor, that it’s going to be pushing things out in my project, but I just don’t want it to happen automatically. I’d like to be more in control of that. I’m going to show you a technique that you can use to give yourself a little bit more control. We’ve turned it into a widget as well. Again, if you email me at the end of the presentation, this is going to be a free widget. It’s in development right now, but it will be ready very soon and I will make sure that you get a copy of it when it’s done. But let me first show you how this all works.

Ira Brown: What I am going to do is I’m going to go back into my product B project. Let’s go ahead and open that up, product B. I am going to go to the options dialog again, and let’s go to the advanced tab. Remember I showed you earlier the show links between projects. Well, instead of having that checked, I’m going to uncheck it. I’m going to check the box that says automatically accept new external data. Basically, it’ll accept the data without prompting me. That’s the first step. Now, what I’m going to do is on the design task, this guy here within product B, I am going to put a date constraint on that task, I’m going to say that task must start on, and I’ll use the current date of 12/30/2020.

Ira Brown: That’s what it currently is, that’s when it’s currently set to start 12/30/2020, and then click okay. Now, I will get a warning message when I do that, and I’ll just pick the third option here that says continue, a must start on constraint will be set. I’ve just put a constraint on that task. Now what I’m going to do is, I am going to create a graphical indicator that will show me when I have this out of sync situation, where there’s this external predecessor that is going to be pushing things out in my project, I don’t want that to automatically happen, I just want to be notified when I open up my project that I have this situation.

Ira Brown: What I’m going to do is, I’m going to insert a column here. I’m going to use a custom duration field. I’ll use duration one and I’m going to put a formula in duration one. Again, we right click, and I’m going to go to where it says custom fields and then formula. Just to save a little bit of time, let me go ahead and copy this formula, and then I’ll explain a little bit about what it does. Basically, this is evaluating whether or not a task has any external predecessors, and whether or not it has negative slack, which means that by having that constraint date on this task, it’s not allowing the task to be rescheduled.

Ira Brown: That’s going to cause this negative slack situation, and this will tell me if that condition has been met. I’m going to go ahead and click okay. I’m also going to put a graphical indicator on here, where we’re going to say, “If that field is less than …” Oops, sorry, “Is less than zero, then I want to be able to show some graphical indicator here.” Maybe I’ll pick this little yellow light, this little yellow indicator, click okay, click okay. Actually, let me just change. I’ll call this sync status, and then we’ll center it and then click okay. Notice, there’s no indicator in there right now. What I’m now going to do is, let me close product B, let’s open up product A, let’s make a change to this design task.

Ira Brown: Once again, let’s increase from 15 days to 20 days. That’s going to push out the tasks in the other projects. I’ll save this. Now let’s open up product B. Notice what just happened. Number one, I did not get that dialog box. It automatically accepted the external data. But because I had a constraint date on this task, it did not automatically move the tasks in my schedule. It just shows that I have this out of sync condition, and I can see this little light here telling me that. Now that draws my attention to this, I can decide what do I want to do? Do I need to contact the other project manager? Do I just want to accept this date into my plan? Well, in this particular case, I’m going to accept it in the plan.

Ira Brown: This is where the little widget comes in, accept date from external predecessor. I’m going to click that button and watch what happens. Do you want to accept the date from the external predecessor? I’ll say yes and notice the indicator goes away, and then my dates now shift in my project. This is the widget that we’re working on. It’s got a little more work, but it’s going to be free. If you send me your contact information, I’ll be happy to share this with you. Folks that is really everything I wanted to show you today just in the nick of time. Let me thank you all for attending today’s session.

Ira Brown: I wish everyone happy holidays. Again, this is my contact information. I will send you the presentation. We’ll enter you in the drawing for the Driving Path Widget, and we’ll also send you a free widget of the one that’s going to handle that sync status that we took a look at. All right, so again, thanks everybody for attending the session and we’ll see you next time.

Kyle: Thanks Ira. I really appreciate your time today and sharing this with the MPUG community. Real quick, before we change the screen here, I’ll just remind everyone at the top of the viewer window, there’s a screenshot button. You can just take a screenshot of Ira’s contact info. Don’t have to worry about jotting that down. I’ll just give you a second to do that, and then I’m going to share some upcoming events and the PDU code for claiming today’s session with PMI. All right, so on the screen coming up now, you’ll see the activity ID to claim this session PMI, and it’s eligible for one technical PDU.

Kyle: If you missed any of the session and would like to go back and review the presentation, the recording will be posted at mpug.com in just a little while and you’ll receive an email with a link to that. MPUG members have access to our full PDL to library of on-demand webinar recordings. We have one more session before the year closes out. In two weeks, on December 16th, Bill Dow will return for a session on project recovery process. Do you know how to recover a project? That’ll be a great session. We’re also beginning to build a schedule for first quarter of 2021.

Kyle: The first session to kick off the year will be on January 6th, that’ll be from Nenad Trajkovski. That session is how to manage projects using Microsoft Lists, which is a fairly newer app that Microsoft has released. We hope to see you there. I chatted over a link so you can register for those sessions and we hope to see you at those events. With that said, that wraps up today’s event. Thanks again Ira for presenting. We appreciate that. Thank you to everyone that joined us live or is watching on-demand. Hope you have a great rest of your day, and we’ll see you back soon for our next live event. Thanks


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Written by Ira Brown

Ira Brown is a leader in the field of project management and a recognized Microsoft Project expert, Project Widgets is well-known for offering add-on products for Microsoft Project and Project Online, as well as for creating custom solutions that meet their client’s unique business requirements.  This company continues to extend the scope and breadth of their offerings, thereby increasing the value they provide to customers, by creating Microsoft Project solutions that are tailored to an organization’s unique needs.  They even have several free, downloadable widgets available on their website that you can begin using right away.

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