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.


An Ounce of Inspiration

I suppose it’s no surprise, but I for one, perform better when under the influence of inspiration.  My projects just flow when I am driven with excitement to complete them.  I don’t even have to ignore the boring aspects of the project; I just fly right over them as if they didn’t exist.  But without that inspiration, it’s sometimes a drag.

Okay, that’s me.  Now, how do you get the entire team motivated like that?  All at once?

Clearly the answer lies in goals that every one shares.  Fame, fortune, accomplishment?  It’s different with every project, and every person.  The key is to find common ground that everyone can get behind.

I remember the old MacPaint program on the early Macintosh’s.  All the author’s names were in the About box.  Those guys met in Andy Herxtfeld’s home, and pounded out the next great thing: Fatbits!  But there’s no simple formula for every project team and every project.  In other words, you cannot simply offer comp time or best-employee certificates for every job.

Years later, names in the About Box isn’t enough.  Been there, done that.

Eventually, people grow weary of simple incentives.  They need big “life incentives” that mean something to their lives.  They need to know their efforts are making a difference in the world.  That people recognize their work.  Yes, it takes that much.  Nobody wants a shallow life.

How do you inspire your team, all at once, to change the world?


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



Life Isn’t All Work

This is a little reminder that we all need from time to time.  I’m not going to get too depressing here, but I attended a close family members funeral last week.  As I talked with family and friends at the service I was reminded of what’s truly important in life.

We all know this, but rarely stop and do anything about it.  We get caught up in the daily grind and focus on the latest hurdle at work.  Well I’m here to say that last year I said forget it, and took my family on a 10 day vacation!  We spent time at the beach and doing a whole lot of nothing.  During this vacation I got to spend time with my aunt whose funeral I attended last week.  I remember chasing and catching fireflies with my children in her backyard, priceless.  Jeez, I’m a city boy raised in So-Cal.  And during that time I got to ride on my grandpa’s tractor around the old family farm.  I am so glad we took that vacation!  These are just a few memories that no one can pull from my mind.  It was relaxing and it was more fun than I ever thought it could be. 

Life will always bring excuses as to why we can’t slow down to enjoy time with family and friends.  We Americans work harder than any people on earth.  Yet we ought to recharge and relax once in a while.  What are one or two weeks out of the year?  For me its a lifetime of memories and more fun than I ever dreamed.

Project Tracking is an Albatross?

I just got off a conference call where the customer lamented that project tracking (in his organization) is an albatross.  E.g. too much work!

His company had been using an Excel spreadsheet, and wanted to switch to Standard Time® for project tracking.  Their spreadsheets had grown so large that grooming them consumed too much time.  His statements really got me thinking.

Every project has two components: doing the work, and managing the work.  That’s no big secret.  This person was lamenting about the management part, and wanted to know how Standard Time® would improve that.

Unfortunately, the answer is not in the tool, but in his organization.  Questions arose regarding the size of his teams, their self-sufficiency, and how granular his tasks needed to be.  We agreed that his tasks were too granular – too small.  He had been trying to micro-manage everything, and that was driving him crazy.

Let’s face it, project tasks change frequently.  It’s nice to document every task you’ll work on, but in practicallity, some well-defined buckets could catch all the task work.  Each time log could describe the work performed, and you’d still have some basic tasks to report on.  Simplicity is best.

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.


Web 2.0 Collaboration

eWeek published a little piece in the Application Development department regarding Web 2.0 collaboration.  (See a link to the article by Darryl H. Taft below.)  The upshot is that developers have been using Web 2.0 collaboration for years.  It’s the rest of the world that’s just catching up.  How about you?  What Web 2.0 technologies do you use?

I use the following resources pretty regularly.


Honestly, I’m not a big web surfer.  I don’t spend a lot of time subscribing to RRS feeds and plugging into the forums – with the exception of projecteamblog.  I don’t even have special ringtones.  Web 2.0 is not that exciting to me.  I’m not much of a social networker.

Tell me why I’m wrong!  What am I missing that could help in the areas of project management, application development, and team management. says there’s 11 million blogs out there, plus or minus 500 million that come and go every month.  I must be missing something!  I’d like to hear your comments…


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?


There’s Some Done Already!

I know a person (who will remain unnamed) who uses a little trick to work on projects.  When starting a new job, she does just a little bit the day before.  When she comes in the next day to begin the project, she’s happy to see that there’s some done already!  And then, she can continue where she left off.

Nobody likes to start a new project with a blank page.  Yuck, where do I begin?  That small hurdle is sometimes enough to make you procrastinate a whole other day.  Yes, I do it too!  I have hundreds of small projects I’m responsible for, and sometimes I can’t bring myself to start another one.  To avoid a new one, I’ll putter around on secondary tasks, avoiding the real work.  But, if my project is already started, I have no trouble picking up where I left off.  It’s the starting that bugs me.

I think I’ll try this little trick next time!

— newshirt