You Gotta Love It

Are you the leader of a project team?  Or do you hope to be someday?  Here’s a tip for managing people.  Love what you do.  And show it.

If you are in leadership, you will not have success until you love your work so much it’s contagious.  People need to see you digging into every aspect of it.  And digging hard.  They simply will not follow until they see the passion.  Are you uncovering new ideas and methods?  Finding improvements in managing projects?  Making it look fun?

Think of things through your team member’s eyes.  Do they see someone who can take their careers to the next level?  Sure, you may be a good ol’ boy, but do they feel compelled to follow you?  Fight for new business?  Endure the pain for the pleasure of success?  Not if they don’t see you doing those things.

The point I’m making is that managing teams, projects, and products is more about leading by example than begin one of the gang.  Be a person they want to emulate.


Define: Constraint Type

Contraint type: A task scheduling option that determines how project tasks interact with each other with respect to dates.


Microsoft Project allows you to set constraint types for each task.  Using task constraints can really bugger up a project, if you don’t know what you are doing.  Ever hear of scheduling conflicts?  Consider using deadlines instead.  I feel constraints can be useful when used in moderation.  But most managers do not need to dive this deeply into task management.  Why?

Most projects change rapidly from day to day.  Because of this, you may find yourself fiddling with esoteric task options, only to find that they become irrelevant next week when the schedule changes.  That’s where deadlines can be simpler.

Here are the task constraints MS Project offers:

  1. As Late As Possible (default in a project scheduled from the finish date)
  2. As Soon As Possible (default in a project scheduled from the start date)
  3. Finish No Earlier Than
  4. Finish No Later Than
  5. Must Start On
  6. Must Finish On
  7. Start No Earlier Than
  8. Start No Later Than

 Clearly, these options control the behaviour of tasks that are linked together.  Let’s say you chose the “Start No Later Than” constraint type.  In this case, you would be required to supply a date that the task cannot start after.  Let’s say you chose August 1st.

A scheduling conflict can occur if a predicessor task causes your task to start after August 1st.  Schedules change so frequently that this is likely to happen.  Actually that can be a good thing.  Consider it an alert that something has gone wrong with your project.  If your project slips so badly that these contraints become activated, it can alert you to deeper problems witn your project team.


How to: Split Tasks in Microsoft Project

In this post we’ll discuss how to split tasks in Microsoft Project.  In other words, how to break tasks into segments representing the exact times work will be performed.

Microsoft Project tasks do not necessarily need to start on one day, and continue until the task is complete.  They can be broken up into segments.  In other words, work can be performed in a discontinguous fashion.  For instance, 16 hours in one week, 16 hours in the next week, and a final 4 hours the following week.  This technique is illustrated below.  Steps to perform it as also included.


Split bar, showing each segment of work

Split hours, in Task Usage view


I must warn you…  I feel this is a micro-management technique.  It can be good to define exactly when the work will be performed, right down to the hour, but do you really want to spend your time doing that?  That’s better left to the discretion of engineers who will actually be doing the work.

Follow these steps to split Microsoft Project tasks:

  1. Create a new task in the Gantt view (See the View menu)
  2. Right-click in the header area, and choose Insert Column
  3. Insert the Work column (it represents the planned work for a task)
  4. Enter 10 hours for the Work
  5. Choose View, Task Usage
  6. Notice the number of hours for each day (this is the time you will work on the task)
  7. Skip a few days, and enter some additional hours into the Task Usage view
  8. Choose View, Gantt Chart to return to the preview view
  9. Notice that the Gantt bar has been split to show the new hours



Define: Free Slack

Free Slack: The amount of time that can be spared in a task before it begins to affect other tasks.


Some tasks don’t really need to be completed by the time you’ve set for them.  In other words, there’s a little slack available before they need to be finished.  That’s Free Slack.

Microsoft Project calculates free slack in tasks when they are linked to other tasks.  If a task is not linked to another, the free slack is the amount of time from the finish date until the end of the project.  Here’s a quote from MSP:

The Free Slack field contains the amount of time that a task can be delayed without delaying any successor (successor: A task that cannot start or finish until another task starts or finishes.) tasks. If the task has no successors, free slack is the amount of time that a task can be delayed without delaying the entire project’s finish date.

So, how is this valuable to you?  This only applies when a successor task is not linked directly to its predicessor.  In other words, there is some slack time between them, even though they are technically linked.  This can be valuable to offer some spare time for the resource to finish the task, or to do other things.


How To: Use Resource Pools in MS Project

This post discusses how to use Microsoft Project resource pools.  First, let me say that you are going to find this a little kludgey.  Standard Time® has a better solution for resource pools, so you might find it a bit easier to assign users to project tasks.  But, this will discuss resource pools in MS Project.

What is a resource pool?  It is just a common set of employees or resources that will be used to assign to project tasks.  Standard Time® has all resources and projects available in one database, so the “pool” is always available.  Microsoft Project uses the technique below to meet this requirement.

To create a resource pool:

  1. Create a new Microsoft Project MPP file
  2. Choose View, Resource Sheet
  3. Enter the names of resources you will assign to tasks in your projects
  4. Save the file with a catchy name like RezPool.mpp
  5. Consider creating resource pools for each workgroup in your company
  6. Keep the file open for use in the next step

To associate the resource pool with your project:

  1. Create a new MPP file (a new project)
  2. While in the new project, choose Tools, Resource Sharing, Share Resources
  3. Choose the “Use Resources” option
  4. Choose RezPool.mpp from the dropdown list
  5. Click OK
  6. Save the new project file

To use the resource pool in task assignments:

  1. Make sure both your project file and resource file are open in Microsoft Project
  2. Click in the Resources column next to a task
  3. You should see the list of resources from the pool
  4. Choose one

This technique should allow you to share a common set of resources, which you will frequently assign to task.  As we said earlier, you should consider creating multiple resource pools representing each workgroup in your company.  But, consider using Standard Time®, where resources are always available for all projects.


Business Driven Initiatives

What percentage of your organizational time is spent on business-driven projects?  In other words, how much time is spent working for customers?

Even a one-man operation must worry about this number – this percentage of customer-driven time.  Every organization has projects they do for customers, and projects for in-house development.  The balance between them is what I’m talking about.  Do you know your percentage?  Do you track your project time?

I’d like to think that 90-95% should be customer-related.  Any lower, and you’re probably spending too much time fiddling with non-marketable work.

I once worked for a company that wrote all their own software development tools.  At the time, Microsoft was selling full-featured compilers for $300.  Yet this company wrote all their own.  In their case, I would guess their customer-drive project time was less than 80%.  That’s too much time fooling around with internal tools.

A company with that much time on their hands won’t do well.  What say you?


Define: Six Sigma

Six Sigma: A project management methodology used to ensure quality and lowest possible costs.


The more I look into Six Sigma, the more I like it.  Like all project management methodologies, it does have some heavy-handed aspects.  But, the basic philosophy is sound.

Here’s a link and a quote from Microsoft’s web site (article by John Knutsen):

The “hidden office” (from Microsoft’s web site)
The difference between 99.99966% efficiency (Six Sigma) and 99% efficiency can be thought of as the “hidden office.” The hidden office represents all activity that results in defects (not meeting customer expectations) or not doing things right at the first attempt. Customers don’t pay for the hidden office.

For example, say a company bills 8 million customers on a monthly basis. If the process were performing at a 99% success rate, 80,000 customers would be incorrectly billed each month. The hidden office represents the costs and resources required to find and fix incorrect billings, and to address customer dissatisfaction.

The basic philosophy of Six Sigma is that poor quality costs your company money.  Doing things wrong the first time costs money.  The best way to lower costs is to reduce defects.  In other words, do things right the first time.  That’s the driving force behind Six Sigma.


The Trouble with Time

The trouble with tracking project time is that most people don’t know how quickly it passes.  Unless you are a geek who studies where project time is spent, you probably have little idea how quickly it rushes by.

Does that sound a little absurd to you?  After all, everyone from the day they are born, is conscious of time.  We live under its shadow every day.  So of course we all know how long things take to complete, right?

No… we don’t…  It’s like we’re willingly ignorant.  Nobody really wants to know how long a finished project will take.  I suppose this stems from impatience and aversion to hard work.  But there’s also a feeling that “the future” is infinite.  We really can’t see past the next few weeks, and a month (in project terms) is an eternity.

I always laugh when people say, “we’ll have that finished by [September].”  Supply your own month.  They don’t really have a clue, and don’t care either.  September is so far off, they can’t imagine it taking any longer.  The decision is purely emotional.  They can’t imagine is the key element in this scenario.  It’s not based on experience or logic, but rather the feeling that “future time” is next to infinite.  In other words, September will never come.

I’d like to know how you plan your projects…  Feeling or past experience?  Drop me a comment…


How to: Use Resource Assignment Percentages

This post discusses how to assign percentages to resource assignments.  Or in English, how to set how much each resource will work on a task.  By default, people in Microsoft Project are set to work 100% of their time on tasks.  But we know that’s not always practical.  People multitask their work, and may work on four tasks at once.  This post discuses how to multitask in MS Project.

Follow these steps to set assignment units in MS Project:

  1. Create a new task in MS Project
  2. Right-click before the “Start” column an choose Insert Column
  3. Insert the Work Column
  4. You should now have the Duration and Work columns next to each other
  5. Enter 16 hours into both Duration and Work
  6. Enter your Name into the Resource column

At this point, you should have a single 16-hour task that is assigned to you.  By default, it is assumed that you will work 100% of your time on this task.  But as we stated earlier, we wish to work on multiple tasks, spreading our time across them.  The steps below will do that.

  1. Right-click on your task
  2. Choose Task Information
  3. The Task Information dialog is displayed
  4. Click the Resources tab
  5. You should see your name and 100% at the right
  6. Enter 50% into the Units column and press OK
  7. Notice that the text [50%] has been added next to your name in the resource column
  8. Also notice that the duration column changed to 32 hours
  9. The finish date has also been extended to accommodate the extra time

 These steps demonstrate that the Duration column is affected by the assignment units.  Duration = Work * Units.  In other words, if you are only working half the time on a task, it will take you twice as long.  The following steps show what happens when another resource is added to the task.

  1. Right-click on your task and choose Task Information again
  2. Click the Resources tab
  3. Add another resource under your name
  4. Set the units for this new resource to 50% also
  5. Click OK
  6. Notice that the Duration went back to 16 hours because you have help
  7. Notice that the Finish date also went back to two days

We just learned that adding a new resource to a task can help it get done quicker.  Each person is working only half their time, but there are two of you, so the task is finished sooner.  You can use this technique to spread yourself around to many tasks.  But beware, this can become a little difficult to manage.


Paralyzed with Indecision

There is one trait of poor management that really irritates me.  Indecision.  I like a fast moving organization that makes decisions.  A long time ago, I read that AOL was like that.  Their managers made snap decisions and deals without any deliberation.  Too fast for the tastes of some.  Of course AOL/Time Warner didn’t turn out so well…

But lots of the companies I work with are paralyzed with indecision.  Here’s the kind of management I deal with all the time.

No… we couldn’t add the new Whiz Bang feature to the product because we needed Dan’s approval.  He was out on vacation until the end of the month, and had 10,000 spams to deal with when he returned.  Of course, we also needed Pam, Jim, and Joe’s input, but we couldn’t get them all scheduled for a meeting at the same time.  Joe was busy with Mary’s project, Pam needed to review the specs again, and I don’t think Jim likes me.  I’m not sure what the status is now…

Is it any wonder things don’t get done?  I don’t see any negative consequenses to indecision.  “Oh, you didn’t get the project done?  Oh, that’s okay…”  With a tightening economy, this don’t work.

My advice: if you are the manager of a project team, give your people the lattitude to make quick decisions – for good or for bad.  The cost of indecision is higher than the cost of mistakes – IMHO.