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