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Thursday, February 25, 2010

Microsoft Project and Project Plan Creation

I have seen a few project managers and most technical people have dificulty creating basic project plans that refect reality and are trackable. I learnt some details about creating simple project plans that I explain here.

1. As a first step, enter the project start date in the project information dialog.
2. Enter holidays and work timings in the appropriate dilogs.
3. Enter a resource list and their availability (50% etc)
4. Add a column called "Work" to the column list. Work is the actual timing for completing a task - it is different from the duration (which is a default column). If a task take 16 hours and two resources work on it, then the Work is 16 hours and the Duration will be a single day of 8 hours.
Always ente work and never enter duration. MS Project will manage duration itself.
5. Start entering the tasks, the Work and the Resources for a task. Do NOT enter dates (start date and end date) when you enter tasks. Dates will be automatically calculated when you level at the end.
6. Tasks can be nested. More on task ordering later.
7. Once you have finished step 5, enter predecessors for the tasks. There are some rules here. NEVER enter predecessor task numbers just to adjust dates. If your dates are wrong, that means your project task arrangement is wrong.
If three tasks under a task heading are done by the same resource(s), then do NOT enter predecessors for each of the three taks. Leveling will take care of the dates correctly.
Again, I repeat, only enter predecessor information if a task actually, in real life, depends on the other task being complete, and is done by a different resource.
8. Now, click on the Level button in the Manage Resources dialog. You HAVE to level a project plan. Many people are afraid of leveling because it seems to mess up the dates - but leveling never goes wrong. What must be wrong is the way you arranged your project tasks or predecessors.
9. If, after levelling, your dates seem wrong (such as different tasks for the same resource starting the same date), do not turn off leveling. Make sure the predecessors are correct. Avoid the temptation to manually enter dates in the mpp.

Project Task Arrangement
In one of my recent projects, we had a Extraction, Tranformation and Loading (ETL) project plan for a business intelligence project. Data is moved from a Temp database to a Staging database and then to a Final database. We were moving data from 20 different files.
The initial project plan simply bunched together the Temp database tasks under one task heading and the Staging database tasks under another. This made the project task predecessors difficult to track.
We had this problem because we saw the project plan simply as a task list instead of reflecting reality. Such a project plan will be useless to track and will quickly grow out of sync with the "real" project status.
After mucking around, we changed it so that each of the 20 files had a separate task heading, with three tasks: Temp data transfer, Staging data transfer and Final data transfer. This led to easier tracking and capturing the natural dependencies between the tasks.
So, be creative in project planning. Do not just dump in your tasks. A big advantage in proper project planning is the ability to do projections - in case you add resources or tasks take more time. For doing projections, it is important that you have a good baseline projectplan.

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