Saturday, May 25, 2013

Top tip #1 - Milestones, baselines and tracking in MS Project

A bit of a departure from the norm today. No far-reaching debates on the state of the nation - just neat way of creating a baseline and tracking and reporting milestones in MS Project.

Take the example below (Figure 1). We can save a lengthy discussion about Duration and Work for another time.

Figure 1

You'll see a very brief example project plan with some milestones, tasks and all the usual carry on.

It's not everyday that you get to play spot the difference on this blog but have a look at the illustration below (Figure 2). What's the difference? And, does it matter?

Figure 2

How about Figure 3 then?

Figure 3

Last one then. Have a look at the excerpt below. It's actually the same as Figure 3 - but just formatted a bit differently.

Figure 4
For the eagle eyed amongst you this was all about Tasks x & y and amending the duration. When Task y was adjusted in Figure 2 - the milestone Task z didn't get pushed out. But when Task x was extended in Figure 3 - it forced the milestone Task z to get pushed out a day.

This is hard enough to spot and track on this simple example. At the 50 to 100 row level its next to impossible (yes - I know Project helps with highlighting tasks which change but that's not a panacea for us here. Particularly when plans are being shared and updated by multiple parties).

What is shown in Figure 4 however is a tiny bit of formatting on a baselined project plan and it is immediately apparent that the milestone has moved. I think this is very very helpful. It helps you (the project planner or project manager) while tinkering with your project plan to see what you have manipulated and which milestones move and by how much. It's also extremely helpful in tracking a milestone summary derived from several plans - but we'll come to that another day.

For now a quick explanation on how this is done.

  1. Baseline your project plan. In Microsoft Project 2010, select Set Baseline from the Project group on the ribbon.
  2. Select (say) Baseline1 from the drop down (you can use the default)
  3. Click OK
  4. Select Format | Bar styles from the Format group on the ribbon
  5. In the name column, find Milestone and change the colour to Red (for instance)
  6. Select Insert Row, enter Baseline1 in the name column, format your the appearance as a black milestone, enter Milestone in the Show for tasks column and select "Baseline1 finish" for both the From and To fields.
The output should end up looking like Figure 5 below. Click Okay to apply the changes.

Adjust your project plan to push out a milestone and you will see both the original baseline milestone and the new milestone date.

Very handy.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

WBS - Second Foundation

A previous post (WBS as foundation) is far and away the most read post on my blog. So (and with a passing reference to Mr. Azimov) I'm following up with some additional practical tips that I use on more or less a daily basis.

For what a WBS is, how to construct one, what its ideally applied to and its limitations see my previous post.

So we still use the hierarchical structure previously described and I tend to use the SmartArt feature in Excel to generate and maintain the WBS structures. I tend to keep things fairly segmented - one worksheet per WBS and one WBS per work stream.

Please, please note - there are some big powerful tools out there for generating and maintaining WBSs. SmartArt works for me because as often as not I'm in a position to decompose stuff to a level that suits me. It may not work for you.

What I do next is create a product dictionary on a separate worksheet. I'll include a sample spreadsheet in a little while so you'll see the whole shooting match in action. There's a reason we put all the products on one sheet and you'll see that in the template I supply.

I cite a few points worth consideration.

  1. In my last post I talked about the constant K - and idealised abstraction of the total amount of work required to deliver your project assuming no waste. This is relevant to our discussion here as K1 is the volume of work not identified during planning and due diligence. If you can't include it at the outset of a project, include the work as you discover it within the WBS and product dictionary - there's all sort of good reasons why.
  2. The product dictionary is a fantastic way of tracking all your discrete components of work, who's doing it, the status of the work and a host of other stuff to
  3. The work breakdown structure and the product dictionary comprise a very good record of the work done, work in progress and work yet to be started.
  4. The product dictionary forces a degree of rigour into the definition of work that is issued to members of the project team
  5. If you do define the WBS and product descriptions up front, the project plan will pretty much write itself. I succeed in winning this argument about 50% of the time and that 50% is always a better oiled and tuned project than the other 50%.
  6. Both the WBS and product descriptions can form a very useful foundation to reporting and communication (what's done, what remains to be done and so on).
So there's a lot to recommend these two products and we can still extract a bit more smartness from the approach. See my work book here. I've included two different WBSs, each of which applies to a different work stream. We've got a product dictionary with a number of products assigned to three different people. There's a bit of filtering applied which means we can (for instance) pull all the products assigned to a given individual. And there's a bit of conditional formatting which means the individual line items change colour depending on their status which makes keeping an eye on things that little bit easier.

You could configure conditional formatting to change the colour (say) for items that are 7 days before their due date or for items that are due or overdue. But, that's really something I tend to rely on my project plan for.

You'll notice a lot of duplication in the sheet. In the instance here this is because this is a specimen created solely for you delectation and delight. However, it does highlight a particularly useful element of working in this fashion which is within any product dictionary there is a great deal of duplication. The Quality Criteria are generally re-usable for various products as are the resources and acceptance method. In short, these build nice and quickly, particularly where there's a bit of existing policy, process and procedure which can be referenced.

Lastly - something useful in Excel is the paste special 'transpose' function which means I can take any row, paste special and transpose into the 'product description' sheet as shown and I've a readily communicable summary of the product description to do with as I wish. If the product description looked familiar - it's a standard Prince 2 product.

And that is really about all there is to it.