Simple Calendaring in Project Plan 356

Simple Calendaring in Project Plan 356

When scheduling a project in either Microsoft Project or Project Plan 365, you can change the calendar for your project, i.e. the days your work is ongoing – or not! In fact, you can tailor calendars in many ways, for example, you can have unique calendars for people (resources), for tasks and for the project as a whole. Having all these custom calendaring options is great, but can be a bit complex and confusing to set up (see here). 

What if all you need to do is change the days of the week everyone is working, for example if your project locale is somewhere Friday & Saturday is considered weekend time off (or, if you are lucky enough to just work 4 days a week instead of 5)? In these simple cases, the latest version of Project Plan 365 provides a much easier way to change your project calendar.

And what if you just want to extend the default work week (M-F) by one day, perhaps to finish up some work left over from Friday, using Saturday to get that done. Here too, Project Plan 365 provides a quick way to change the project calendar to reflect that one extra day of work.

Case 1 – Changing the Default Work Week

In the case where all want to do is adjust the work days within a week, for example, to indicate your project is being rolled out Sunday through Thursday, instead of the usual Monday through Friday, then just follow these steps:

1 ) Open Project Plan 365 and go to the File menu to select Options:

2 ) In the Options dialog, go to the Schedule tab and check or uncheck the desired-working days from the Default working days group:

A default work week, for example, used in most Muslim-oriented countries.

In the example above, we’ve changed the default work week, and have also updated the default project calendar all in one go.

3 ) Click OK. 

Case 2 – Changing a Single Day

In the case where all want to do is extend or limit your work by a single specific day, for example to finish up some work left over from Friday - on Saturday, then just follow these simple steps:

1 ) Within your plan, open the date-picker from anywhere within in the Start/Finish column and click on any non-working day that you wish to change (in this case, Sat):

2 ) When clicking a non-working day (or a working day for that matter), an Alert message appears, from which you have these three options:

If you selected a non-working day (in this example, Saturday the 7th) and then hit the Make this a working day radio button, clicking OK makes that Saturday a working day.

3 ) Here you can also Adjust the default working days (just as we did in Case 1 above), i.e. if you decide you are working all Saturdays from here on out, you can just select the Saturday checkbox to make that so:

TIP: You can also use this alert to MOVE a task to the next working day (by selecting any task and hitting the radio button named the same).

4 ) Click OK, and you’re done.

Summing Up...

For these common cases of calendaring adjustments, you can simply use Options / Schedule to change the default work week, or just click on a Start/Finish date (from any view) to make changes to a particular day. This technique greatly simplifies tailoring your work days to the days you are actually working - or not!

Note: Of course, you can always do all of this the “hard” way (by using the Change Working Time dialog), but the two cases described here do not need such heavy lifting, and this simple method allows Project Plan 365 users to make the most common calendar adjustments in the shortest amount of time. (Sorry Microsoft Project users, this feature is not available to you.)

To start calendaring the easy way, subscribe to Project Plan 365 right away!

Taking Snapshots, the Project Management Way

What is a Baseline?

A baseline is generically known as a value or condition against which future measurements can be compared. Within the context of project management, these values and conditions are the project’s scope, cost and schedule. A project baseline can be thought of as a “snapshot” of a project’s initial condition, just before work begins.

Baselines are used to evaluate project performance over time, by comparing an initial project snapshot with any subsequent images captured while your project progresses. Baselines are also used to quantify any variances from the original plan while the plan is in motion.

You can also think of a project baseline as a “sanity check,” in the sense that project sanity is defined as not making the same mistake over and over again while hoping for a better result!

Once your project is designed, capturing an initial project baseline is the first step taken to ensure better project performance — and PM sanity – over time. The baseline draws a line in the sand that says, “This is what we thought was going to happen, vs. what actually happened.”

Most decent project management tools have a feature for capturing the initial baseline and displaying any variances from that initial line in the sand. Project Plan 365 & Microsoft Project are no exception. Both can store and display up to 10 baselines for any given project (or for a select group of tasks). The typical baseline metrics most project managers use are: baseline duration, work and cost. However, many other metrics can be defined and then displayed.

When setting up a project plan, it is important to remember to set the initial baseline before putting the schedule into play. In other words, this step needs to be taken before work begins, but after you have designed your project plan and when you are ready to roll.

Note: Forgetting to set an initial baseline is a common mistake, and this boo-boo can’t easily be rectified once your plan is in motion.

>>> To work along with the following tutorial, download this sample plan (and Project Plan 365, if you don't have already) <<<

To visualize how a baseline is used, let’s take this simple three-day, three-task, three-person project as an example, before the initial baseline has been set:

Step 1. Open a plan in Gantt Chart view for a project  with no baseline set:

Step 2. Navigate to the Project ribbon / Set Baseline and set the baseline there:

Once you have set an initial baseline, the app begins crunching numbers and updating baseline values in fields and on the Tracking Gantt chart, as each change is made:

Step 3. Now with a baseline set, you can begin tracking and then see the changes made to your plan. Let’s assume that our three-day, three-task, three-person project was completed, but with Team member 1 — being the slowpoke that he is — is taking two days to complete the one-day task as planned. The resulting display in our project plan now shows this variance, using actual values and baseline values - and displaying a baseline “shift” in the Tracking Gantt chart:

Variances (baseline shift) are shown in baseline fields and on the Tracking Gantt chart. Baseline shifts are an important indicator of project performance over time and should be employed by every project manager when evaluating project metrics.

A quick way of seeing these shifts in your plan, is to use the Project ribbon to view Project Information / Project Statistics, which are updated in real-time. Project Statistics shows basic baseline values and variances from the actuals:

-- This article first appeared on MPUG.org on November 21, 2017 and appears here with permission of the author.

To begin implementing baselines within your plans, simply subscribe to Project Plan 365 today!

Innovations in Sub Building – and PM!

How New Technology, Better Collaboration, Simulations and Modular Designs Make for Project Success: An Examination of Nuclear Submarine Building

Some of the largest and most expensive projects completed of late have been fraught with huge time & cost overruns. These unexpected delays and expenses cause partial or full project failures with much hardship for all involved! Yet there have been a few cases where multi-billion dollar projects have been completed on time, under budget and beyond all odds - with a minimum of rework. Well, reasonably so…

The development of the USA’s Virginia-class nuclear submarine – a collaboration between two fierce competitors (General Dynamics and Newport News Shipbuilding) – is just such a success story. This US DOD project produced modernized submarines that cost far less to build and maintain than the previous model then in service (the Seawolf-class submarine). There were four key innovations that contributed to the Virginia-class project success:

1. Virginia-class submarines were designed using the then new technology – CAD (computer-aided design) – eliminating the mountain of paper blueprints needed to begin the project.

2. Resources from two competing companies were employed in order to cut down on build time – placing them in anunnatural collaboration.

3. A simulator was built to test the design of crucial command components – before installation on the submarine assembly.

4. The interior of the submarine was built in modular parts (some the size of a small house) that could be slid in and out of the hull later on down the road, thus extending overall life expectancy of the class.

By examining these innovations more closely, we can glean our own lessons-learned likely applicable to our own projects, no matter how large or small.

How innovations in technology helps any project manager…

It may seem obvious to use the latest & greatest technology when starting a new project, but that is not always the case. Sometimes project managers like to stick with what they know (works), and also like to play it safe, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

This wasn’t the case for Virginia-class planners, as they knew they needed to use technology innovations to bring their project in under budget, and under the intense political scrutiny of 1990’s defense-budget reviews. So they took a gamble, used the new CAD software and went completely paperless for their build plans.

Now while today’s planning tools have made great strides in the elimination of all sorts of paper previously employed (by just using our beloved software), we should also follow the Navy’s lead and hold technology reviews. Since new tech arrives almost daily, we should examine new developments in technology before the start of every new project.

For example, if one were starting a project today and haven’t upgraded to Project Plan 365 (Business or Enterprise plan) - or Microsoft Project 2019 - then some thought should be given to upgrading. But no matter what technology you are using to plan and rollout your projects, it’s important to know that the tech is changing all the time.

How innovations in collaboration can turbo-charge project finish-times…

As project managers, we are always talking about collaboration (one of the most famous buzzwords of the 21st century), but from what I’ve seen, we rarely innovate in this regard before the start of each new project. We suggest a “collaboration review” before the start of your next project, where your team spends some time discussing how to better work together on the next new thing – take the Navy’s lead here and consider something outrageous and uncomfortable, like collaborating with the competition. That’s what the US Navy did when rolling out the Virginia-class project, and they shaved years off delivery times.

Another good idea is to take a look at Real-Time Collaboration (rTc), which is a feature of Project Plan 365 that puts all the players together - from design to final wrap-up. 

How innovative modular designs can save you time and money…

We tend to think of modularization as something that happens during manufacturing processes, like building “plug & play parts” for phones or cars. But have you ever thought of building project plans in a modular fashion? Fortunately for Project Plan 365 and Microsoft Project users, this is such an easy thing to do – if some foresight is used.

Project Plan 365 users that have subscribed to either the Business (PMO) or Enterprise (EPM) plans, can build parts of a plan, manipulating either individual parts or the whole plan at will. Likewise, Microsoft Project users can use the Master Project / Subproject feature to build modular parts of a plan, and those parts can be easily re-used later on down the line.

Hint: Subprojects are the reusable bits. That’s what the Navy did with reusable parts of  the submarine, so surely we can do that with our projects. The end result will be less time spent reworking old plans to fit new projects, and in short, we’ll just save a lot of time and money.

How innovative simulations can make any project more risk-resistant…

The Virginia-class engineers knew they had no time to design components that would later have to be redesigned because they didn’t quite work when actually installed in the final product. So they built a simulator to test critical component-designs before actually putting them into action. (As an added benefit, personnel who would later have to operate those components, had a shorter learning curve.)

Use Project Plan 365 / Microsoft Project to do the same – by conducting what-if scenarios during any initial project plan design. It’s so easy to do: just run simulations by changing draft plan values inside of the app – thus simulating various scenarios, like unexpected changes in resource allocations, schedules or budget. 

Similar to what Navy engineers did with their simulator, project managers can make their project plans more efficient and less risky by first spending some time running project-plan simulations – before ever putting the plan into play!

So you’re not planning on building a nuclear submarine anytime soon…

Of course, most of us are not planning on building a replacement for the Virginia-class submarine, or any kind of billion-dollar submersible for that matter, but by taking the lessons learned from those that did, we can see how the innovations deployed on that project can lead to our own – even if our projects are much smaller and less costly.

By innovating our use of technology, new collaboration techniques, modular plan designs and simulations, we too can roll out projects as successful as the Virginia-class nuclear submarine.

-- This article first appeared on MPUG.org on November 21, 2017 and appears here with permission of the author.

To begin leveraging innovation in tech, collaboration, modularization and simulaton, simply subscribe to Project Plan 365 today!

What is a Work Breakdown Structure?

What is a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)?

A work breakdown structure or WBS is a common term in project management. The concept is used each time a new project is designed — and is best thought out before entering any data into a .MPP file. Yet even though the WBS is an important construct to project managers, creating and using a WBS in the project design phase does not occur with the regularity that you might expect.

Some of this lack of use of the WBS stems from the complicated definition; a 243-page specification published by the United States Department of Defense (MIL-STD-881C) was initially developed back in the 1960s to help NASA and the U.S. military better manage mega-projects, like building rocket systems or getting to the moon. Yet for those outside of the US government, no one wants to adopt a practice that takes 243 pages to describe.

It doesn’t have to be that difficult.

A WBS is really just a visual breakdown of a project into smaller components — think hierarchy – which makes planning for (and creating) the required deliverables easier to accomplish for any project team.

The benefits of designing a project that incorporates a WBS are multifold:

  • The WBS helps define key deliverables and sub-components of deliverables before work is scheduled and started, resulting in a smoother rollout during the project. The scope of your project is captured in the WBS, helping to prevent mission- or scope-creep later.
  • The WBS provides a much-needed collaborative tool that can be reviewed early on with project teams, management and other stakeholders before a plan is locked in.
  • The WBS gives everyone a clear, visual representation of a project, without having to wade through the minutia and tedium of other types of project metrics or documentation.
  • Through use of a numbering schema, the WBS identifies parts of a plan numerically (often called WBS codes), which can be used in many ways during the execution of your project. For example, a repetitive deliverable that is identified by number can be easily resourced, costed or scheduled programmatically from within Project Plan 365 (or many other scheduling tools).

To develop a WBS for your next project, just follow these three golden rules:

First, the 100% Exhaustive & Mutually Exclusive Rule provides that within every level of your WBS, everything you need to deliver is represented within that level. For Level 1 of your hierarchy, for instance, you should find everything that you need to deliver for your project in totality. Within level 2 of that hierarchy, everything you need to deliver for that subcomponent of your project is included (and nothing else). There should be no overlap in scope between the various levels of your WBS. Just the act of creating the WBS exposes deliverables or events that may detrimentally overlap in your plan — and therein lies the beauty of employing a WBS. This figure shows a sample WBS structure set up in a “mind map” format.

Figure 1. First "branch" of a WBS showing a breakdown as levels within a plan.

Second, the Make a Logical Structure Rule provides that you make a visible representation of your WBS in a hierarchy that makes sense, and is easy to read. In olden times, this was often done in PERT charts. In today’s world of simplification, a much more recognized and modern visualization tool is the ubiquitous mind map, as shown in the figure above.

Note: the numbering schema that goes along with this hierarchy can be automatically generated within Project Plan 365 (see Figure 2 for an example), and WBS codes should be generated this way instead of typing them within the Task Name.

Figure 2. An automatically-numbered schema can be created within the .MPP - just add the WBS column to any view and BOOM - you're done!

Third, Grammar Rules should be followed, but don’t worry, this grammar is easier than you think! Here’s how you do it:

  1. Use descriptive nouns to describe all your deliverables and sub-deliverables
  2. At the lowest levels, use action verbs to describe what’s needed to make each sub-deliverable “happen.” Figure 3 shows WBS grammar rules in action.
  3. Use row #1 to name the project and set the title of the plan.
Figure 3. Syntax of a best-practice WBS.

In summary...

By following these three golden rules, your WBS will become an invaluable tool throughout your project planning experience: from the initial design collaboration – to the actual scheduling in Project Plan 365 — you will surely come to depend on having a WBS prepared for every project that you manage.

To give Work Breakdown Structures a try, simply subscribe to Project Plan 365 today!