MS Project Tips : Maintain a section to track your external dependencies

Project Managers are always playing around with dependencies. It could be dependencies with your vendors or suppliers or peer teams or project team members.

In reality , you will hardly find a project without dependencies. If not external definitely we will have internal ones.

There will be deliverables from parties who are beyond your span of control. But your deliverables will have dependencies on those. Any delay can impact your project.

The following can help in managing those

  1. During project planing stage identify your dependencies also.
  2. Create a Summary task in MS Project and capture your dependencies under that.
  3. On the tasks which are under your scope & control, set the predecessor field to appropriate tasks captured under your dependency summary task.
  4. It’s a good practice to set a finish date for the external dependencies. To do that, you need to work backwards. Look at the task which has a dependency on the external dependency. Use your  judgment and identify a delayed start date, the task can absorb without jeopardising the overall project time lines. ( That start date – ‘y’ number of days ) would be your external dependency’s finish date. Choose ‘y’  based on your comfort level.
  5. Utilize the project review calls to keep a tab on the progress by external teams. You can raise a flag based on the info you have captured on the dependency and your task as in step(4)

MS Project Best Practices – Maintain Project Plan Templates

No two projects are same. But you will still find some items repeating in each and every project. So also is the fact that each project will come across areas of improvement.

How do you ensure that we don’t miss out those common tasks in our next project?

The common tasks  could be part of the process followed at the organizational level or by the nature of the project. A project manager who have executed project in the organization in the past, will be aware of those. But how about a project manager who joined your organization recently and about to start with his maiden project?

Having this mandatory tasks or items as stipulated by the organization or type of project captured in a project plan template helps in addressing this scenario.

How do you ensure that the mistakes made in the current project are not repeated in future projects?

Lessons learned is the formal way of addressing this. You can maintain a centralized repository with adequate indexing and search criterion , so that its easy to find what you are looking for. But this still doesn’t ensure that we will miss something in future.

Each lessons learned will end up with a recommendation on how this mistakes can be avoided. And this recommendations should be implemented either on the processes or templates or tools used for project management.

So if any of the recommendations can be addressed by including that as a task in a project plan, then a project plan template is the right place.

Project Management Office(PMO) owners change, so will Project Managers. But embedding the best practices or lessons learned in our processes , templates and tools ensures that experience gained by our predecessors are utilized by future team.

Last but not the least, have your project plan template available on a centralized repository. And make it mandatory to Project Managers to always use a  template to start off with their individual project plan.

See Also : More articles on MS Project

What’s the best sequence of steps involved in creating a Plan in MS Project ?

Note : This post doesn’t capture/discuss the activities involved in Planning a project. But it focus on entries required in creating a plan using MS Project. Menu references are based on MS Project 2010.

Your Project Plan will have the following key ingredients(may vary)

  1. Summary Tasks
  2. Sub Tasks
  3. Milestones
  4. Effort / Work
  5. Schedule
  6. Dependencies
  7. Resources assigned.
  8. Calendar

Based on my experience, I found the following order of Entry effective and eliminates any adjustments or rework later.

  1. Set the “Calendar Options for the Project”.
    This is accessible through “File” –> “Options” –> “Schedule”.  Set your Shift Timings*, Hours Per Day, Start work day of the Week and  Average days in a month as appropriate for the project
  2. Enable display of Project Summary task.
    This can be achieved by setting “Show Project Summary Task” check box under “Display Options for this Project” accessible thru “File” –> “Options” –> “Advanced”
  3. Key in your Key Summary Tasks. Only Task Names.
    Never Key in Estimates , Duration or Schedule for Summary Tasks.
  4. Create a dummy milestone to capture the Start date for the Project
  5. Key in your Milestones with the dates.
  6. Key in your Sub tasks / Detail Tasks. Only Task Names.
  7. Key in your Work Estimates in Work Column for your Detail / Sub Tasks.
    Never key in Work Estimates to any of the Summary Tasks. This will affect rolling up of Estimates of Detail Tasks to Summary Tasks.
  8. Key in your duration of each task for your Detail / Sub Tasks.
    Never key in duration to any of the Summary Tasks. This will affect rolling up of duration of Detail Tasks to Summary Tasks.
  9. Indent the Sub Tasks / Detail Tasks under appropriate Summary Tasks
  10. Set the Dependencies
    Stay away from setting Dependencies for any of the Summary task.
  11. Assign the Resources
    Stay away from assigning resources to any of the Summary task.
  12. Set the Project and Resource Calendar.
  13. Review the Plan so that it aligns with your Project Schedule agreed.
  14. Validate the Value in Work field for Project Summary Task against the Total Estimated Effort for the Project.
    If all the other tasks are either the child of this task or any other task coming under the task, then MS Project will roll-up the efforts of individual tasks to the Project Summary Task.
  15. Level your resources.
    Some of the resource’s total assigned effort for a day may exceed standard hours or their availability.  These cases can be identified in the Resource Sheet View. Over-allocated resources will appear in “RED”.   The main reason for over allocation would be due to assignment of a resource to multiple tasks whose schedule overlaps.
  16. Create a Baseline for the Project for tracking when the project is running.

* If you change the Working Times in Project Options, then you need to explicitly match the new timings by changing them in the “Change Working Time” dialog box. Select the “Work Weeks” tab, while the Default entry in this tab selected, click on “Details”. In the “Details” dialog box, multi-select your work days and select the “Set day(s) to this specific working times” radio button and then key in your Project specific work times.

See Also : More articles on MS Project

MS Project Best Practices : Don’t miss to update calendars in your Plan for accurate scheduling


Don’t miss to update the Calendar in MS Project for accurate scheduling.


You keyed in your Plan with all key tasks, assigned your resources to the task, set the dependencies. But have you accounted for the Organization Holidays or Resource’s Vacation that will come during the project time line? If not then some of the tasks may not reflect the real world start or finish date.

Scheduling in MS Project happens based on the assigned resource’s availability, effort / duration of the task, dependencies and the calendar. To factor in the holidays and vacation plans you need to tailor your Calendar.

Two types of calendars are available in MS Project

  1. Standard Calendar – A Calendar global to the project
  2. Resource Calendar – Each resource assigned in the Project will have an individual calendar.

Standard Calendar is ideal for setting Holidays, Exceptional Working days etc which are global to the Project.

Resource Calendar is the best fit to capture the vacation plans for a single resource.

Calendars can be accessed by going thru “Project” –> “Change Working Time” menu. Depending on the version of MS Project you are using, this may vary.

Once the “Change Working Time” Dialog box is open, Standard and resources Calendars are accessible thru the “For Calendar” drop down. Select the appropriate Calendar. Resource Calendar will have the names of resources working on the project.

To Add a Holiday or vacation, go the “Exceptions Tab” and key in a “Name” and the “Start” and “Finish” dates. Once this is done, you can see the exception days will appear with appropriate legend in the Calendar displayed above. Once done, Click OK to save the changes.

To make a non-working day a working day, say for eg: you are compensating for a Holiday falling on a week day, then after entering the Exception details, click on the “Details” button and Select “Working Time” radio button under “Set working times for this exceptions“. Once selected MS Project will populate the default project work times in the below table. You can change this if you wish. Click OK to save the data entered on “Details” tab. Again click OK on “Change Work Time” dialog box to save the Exception.

If you have already assigned resources or schedule to the tasks, MS Project will update the plan automatically to reflect the changes.

See Also : More articles on MS Project

MS Project : Best Practices – #1

Avoid manually setting the start and finish dates for a task.

If you are doing so, then you are downgrading a plan created in MS Project to a plan maintained using Excel. The tool provides auto scheduling which could be due to dependencies , change in duration or change in effort. When a date is manually entered, auto update of timelines doesn’t

A best practice is to always define milestones. For eg: Your project will have a start date. Avoid keying in the start date manually to the first task in your plan. It’s advised to create a dummy milestone and manually enter the start date to that. And to your first task, set a dependency to this dummy start task.
It’s also a good practice to create a dummy start task as the first task in the list of tasks under a phase / module that’s defined in the project.

See Also : More articles on MS Project


Estimating Resource Requirements using Microsoft Project

This post will help you in Estimating the Resources needed to complete a given task with in a prescribed Schedule using MS Project..

I assume, Human resources here. One Full-Time-Effort(FTE) is taken as 8hrs / Day. If the Effort for 1 FTE is different in your case, for eg:9hrs/Day then change “Hours Per Day” option under “Schedule” in Tools –> Options on MS Project. On Project 2010 this option is available under File –> Options –> Schedule.

Let’s have a scenario first.

Here is the schedule given

Task Duration
Technical Design 20 Days
Code/Build/Test 18 Days

Listed below are the efforts arrived by your team for the above tasks in the Project.

Task Effort(Hours)</td>
Technical Design 600 Hours
Code/Build/Test 500 Hours

Now let us see using MS Project, how many Full Time resources(FTE) do we need to fit our efforts within the schedule given.

Steps required on MS Project

1) Set up MS Project

  • Go to “Tools” –> “Options”. On Project 2010, you need to go to File –> Options
    • Select tab “Schedule”
    • On the “Default task type” drop down select “Fixed Duration”
    • Select tab “View”. On Project 2010, Go to File–> Options. Select “Advanced” tab
    • On the “Outline Options for <projectname>” check the Option “Show project summary task”. This option is available under “Display Options for Project” in Project 2010
    • Click “Ok” to finish the Definition
  • Open a new Project in MS Project
  • If the default Gant Chart View doesn’t have the “Work Column”, do the following steps to insert the same
    • Right Click on the Column heading
    • Select the “Insert Column” menu item
    • On the “Column Definition” dialog opened, select “Work” from the “Field Name” drop down.
    • Click “Ok” to finish the Definition

2) Task Definition

  • Add a milestone task to denote our start date , On Row 2 enter the following
    • Enter “Start” on the “Task Definition Column”
    • “0 days” on the “Duration Column”
    • “0 hrs” on the “Work” Column
    • Now set the anticipated start date for our “Technical Design”, by entering the date on the “Start” column(either enter the date in the default date format or select the drop down to view the calendar)
  • Add our first task in the Project – i.e., “Technical Design”. Go to the next row(3rd) enter the following
    • “Technical Design” on the Task Definition Column
    • “20 Days” on the “Duration” Column
    • “600 Hrs” on the “Work” Column
    • Now MS Project will populate the “Start” and “Finish” column based on our effort and duration.
    • Go to the “Predecessors” column of our “Technical Design” Task and set the dependency to our “Start” milestone
    • Enter the id displayed on the “Id” column of our “Start” task in this column. You can see that MS Project updates the Start date based on the date set for our “Start” milestone
  • Add our third task – i.e. ,”Code/Build/Test”. Go to the next row(4th) enter the following
    • “Code/Build/Test” on the Task Definition Column
    • “18 Days” on the “Duration” Column
    • “500 Hrs” on the “Work” Column
    • Now MS Project will populate the “Start” and “Finish” column based on our effort and duration.
    • Go to the “Predecessors” column of our “Code/Build/Test” Task and set the dependency, “Technical Design” finish to start “Code/Build/Test”
    • Enter the id displayed on the “Id” column of our “Technical Design” task in this column. You can see that MS Project updates the Start date based on the finish  date displayed for our “Code/Build/Test” Task

3) Arrive at the Full Time Effort(FTE)

  • Enter a value, for eg: Developer on the “Resource Names” column for all of our non-milestone tasks. I.e., “Technical Design” & “Code/Build/Test”
  • You can see that MS Project appends a % value to the value we entered. The “Technical Design” task, “Resource Names” will display “Developer[375%], means you need 3.75 FTEs to complete 600hrs of Technical Design in 20 Days.
  • After completing the “Resource Names” entry on all our tasks – Technical Design and Code/Build/Test and from the values appearing on the Resource Names column, we can infer that the Technical Design task needs 3.75 FTE and Code/Build/Test  needs 3.47 FTE.

4)   Now what if, we don’t have the MS Project calculated FTE in hand?

  • Adjust the value on the “Duration” column of our tasks to arrive at the required FTE. Please note that when you change the value of the duration, MS Project adjusts the value in the work column. Please reset it to the original effort for the task (This Is the Default Behaviour For MS Project)

Once you arrive at the required FTEs, the Start and Finish columns should show the workable schedule

See Also : More articles on MS Project

Are we losing Enterprising Entrepreneurs ?

The flourishing mobile ecosystems have created opportunities for a budding entrepreneur in launching a mobile user-based product without much investment. We are fortunate to have the environment, tools and financing partners to take our ideas to realization.

But are we seeing a wrong trend that’s being created recently ? What’s really alarming is the short life-cycle of these products.

So what’s the typical life-cycle of a product in this category?

Phase I

An out-of-the-box idea coupled with a brilliant solution is what it takes to launch your product. Rest is handled by the ecosystem and the initial users who use the product.

Phase II

The second phase kicks in by the involvement of noted technology centered portals and famous tech-bloggers to bring in additional popularity( read advertisement) to rocket the product to next level. Based on the uniqueness of the solution, this phase will be easier.

Compared to the situation a decade ago a tech entrepreneur’s job is easy.

What happens next ?

The product have gained enough popularity that it starts getting attention from big players. And one day, the company and the product is acquired by them. Usual promising by them and the entrepreneur that the new alliance will take the product to next level.

Did they keep that promise?

Sparrow – Sparrow didn’t exist on Android platform. Google acquired and said, expect more. In my opinion this product was killed. Sparrow also didn’t have another choice as the push-to-device feature was shot down by Apple. Without this, on the long run, Sparrow will be like any other email client on iOS. So why don’t I cash in?

Instagram – A highly popular photo sharing app with its cool filters made a novice’s snap looked like a professional and appealing snap. It’s ever-increasing user base alerted facebook.

Mailbox – A clever email app, which changed the way we dealt with our day-to-day emails. The product has not even come to main stream. The innovative solution and popularity by tech portals was enough for Dropbox to see a business proposition in the product.

If talent was in Sparrow for Google, it was user base in Instagram and additional revenue thru storage in Mailbox.

Did all these budding tech companies make any wrong decision by selling their products to big players?

In my opinion they did the right thing. Existing ecosystems and choices have made the task in getting our products to mainstream with far less efforts than earlier. And none of these products can survive a decade of existence. Tomorrow another clever entrepreneur will come with a product more innovative than theirs and erode the user base or revenue. Or probably the big companies themselves with bring in their own version as a feature to their existing product line.

So why not cash in on my efforts and exit at the right time.

But, think , are we sending a signal to the user base? All the above products were free, so a valid genuine user concern can’t hold. On the other hand user’s mindset will be getting tuned to the fact the any forthcoming product like these will have a short life cycle. They will be cautious next time they pitch in to use or try a new product. By the time you get used to the product it will be acquired and killed by big companies.

So, if you are an aspiring entrepreneur who wants to ultimately sell your ideas in tech world, launch products which are aligned to the business goals of big players.

It takes a mammoth task, dedication and persisting vision to build and sustain an Enterprise

Will Dropbox be the next Instagram? Only time can tell.