Monday, 12 November 2012

MS Project - My Rules

I get annoyed, quite easily, as you will notice when you read my blog. Something that annoys me is the incorrect use of MS Project. I say incorrect, but I have no official training or expertise in the product, I just know how "I" use it.

I have three simple rules when using MS Project.

Don't Force Dates

I break down my project into as many sub categories as I require. This will change throughout the project, where particular tasks are broken further down to individual tasks for a more accurate time estimation as the project progresses. The only dates I set are the start date and any individual milestones, which have no dependencies (where possible).  My preference is only to set a Start Date.

My golden rule of not adding dates, means that each of my tasks will have some form of dependency, which means that I can move one task by a number of days and see the affect it has on my overall project. If you start forcing dates into your plan, you will find that you could find that your dependencies do not work for you and you may end up with some time within your project where resources are not fully being utilised. This error will prevent you from seeing the potential time saving that you can exploit for early completion.

Only use 100% Complete

A second mistake I feel many people make in MS Project is that they estimate a task is X% complete, for example, a PM showed me a task which was 79% complete, so I asked how that was calculated ! Obviously this was difficult to explain.

I was advised from a very early stage in my PM career that nothing should be estimated as part complete. Nothing is part complete, it is either complete, or it isn't - Black and White.

If I need to show progress in my plans, I will break down a task. For example, I may have a task to "Collect Business Requirements from HR", so I may break this down to four individual tasks, so that the top task of the WBS will reflect the completion of 25%, 50%, 75%, 100%, as each of the tasks are completed (100%!).

Keep It Simple

I try not to complicate my project plans. I am a simple guy and I just do not need additional complications. I rarely use SS, FF and SF in my plans, but if required I may add a little lag to tasks where reviews are required or a signature is required before I can start.

I find that non-Project Managers in the team, as well as many Project Managers,do not understand these terms and understand the impact to their project plan.  I like to ensure that my project plan is as simple to read as possible, so that anyone in the organisation can read it.   This improves communication and expectations to all involved.

So, in summary, the three simple rules with using MS Project are...

  • Do not add dates and restrict your opportunities. 
  • Do not add estimates to the %Complete column, a task is either complete, or it isn't - Break down your tasks further so each can be set to 100% upon completion. 
  • Do not over complicate the WBS with the FS, FF, SS etc... Keep It Simple. 

One final question. Does anyone use MS Project in the office and then have the ability to edit this plan on an Android device? I would be interested in your application choices.

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