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.

–ray

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.

–ray

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?

–ray

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):

http://office.microsoft.com/en-us/project/HA011233361033.aspx

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.

–ray

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…

–ray

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.

–ray

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.

–ray

Audit at the O.K. Corral

I really wish I’d thought of this one…  🙂  (See the link below for PMI’s PM Network Magazine.)  Two project management auditors gang up on Wyatt Earp, demanding to know why he’s failed so miserably at the O.K. Corral.  They examine his project management methods and results, siting all kinds of iregularities.  Poor Earp has failed miserably in his famous gun battle, and he doesn’t even know why.

 Article by Michael Hatfield:

http://www.pmi.org/Resources/Pages/This-Month-in-PM-Network.aspx

 

The point Hatfield is making is this: sometimes you just have to go out with guns blazing.  Some projects just need to get done, regardless of what the experts say.  I’ve done enough all-nighter’s, 24-hour weekends, and three-day coding summits to know what he is saying.  The big showdown is sometimes what it takes to get the job done, and honestly, you feel like a gunfighter when the dust finally settles!

So, the next time your manager asks how you finished your project so quickly, tell him you went “Wyatt Earp” on it!

–ray

Define: Project Stakeholder

What is a project stakeholder?  Any person who has something to lose if the project fails.

This normally includes higher-level people in the organization.  People who would personally fail if the project fails.  This can include customers, shareholders, executives, vice presidents, and even high-level managers.

A complete or partial project failure would cost these individuals something.  It may cost them money, time, or position.

Every project has stakeholders, even small ones.  It is important to identify these people.  Who stands to lose something if the project goes over budget, is late, or is never completed?  Those people will natually want to control the effort, and have the right to do so.  They hold the purse strings, and they go down with the project.

Does that mean a project stakeholder controls every aspect?  No.  They must trust those who execute it.  In other words, there will be engineers, technicians, and other creative people who actually do the work.  Much of the ground-level control is in their hands.  They report to the project stakeholders who direct their overall efforts.

–ray

How to: Use MS Project Resource Allocation

This post will help you understand the Resource Graph in Microsoft Project.  The Resource Graph shows a graphical view of when your employees are scheduled to work.  You should also take a look at the Resource Allocation window in Standard Time.  It has additional options to help view scheduled employee hours.

 

Steps to use the Resource Graph:

  1. Create a new task in a blank Microsoft Project file
  2. Enter 4 hours into the duration column and assign the task to your name
  3. Choose View, Resource Graph
  4. Right-click in the graph, and choose Work from the menu
  5. Notice the blue bar representing the hours you entered (it stops at the “4h” line)
  6. Choose View, Gantt Chart to go back to the task view
  7. Create a second task, enter 5 hours, and assign it to you
  8. Choose View, Resource Graph to see the effect
  9. Notice that the blue bar has a red bar on top (this is the over allocated portion)

The previous steps demonstrate two simple principles: a graphical representation shows when employees are scheduled to work, and over-allocated hours are shown in red.  Standard Time takes this a step farther and shows under-allocated time in yellow.

 

Steps to add another resource:

  1. Choose View, Gantt Chart to see your tasks
  2. Add another task, enter some hours, and assign it to another resource
  3. Choose View, Resource Graph to return to the bar graph
  4. Right-click in the legend, and choose Next Resource
  5. Notice that the bar chart changes to show the hours for your second employee

Standard Time allows you to see groups of employees stacked on top of each other.  This lets you see allocated hours for the entire workgroup.

 

Steps to change working hours for a resource:

  1. Right-click on the legend, and choose Resource Information
  2. Click the Working Time tab
  3. Click in the calendar to select a day
  4. Drag the mouse to select multiple days
  5. Change the working hours at the right side (you are overriding the defaults)
  6. Click OK to return to the Resource Graph
  7. Notice that the bars change to reflect your new working hours

Normally, you’ll leave the working hours at 40, and change the start dates of tasks to reschedule them.

 

We hope this has helped.  Feel free to post comments on additional usage techniques!

–ray