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Microsoft Project 2010 : Performing a Schedule Reality Check (part 2) - Looking for Technique Errors

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3/10/2015 9:00:59 PM

Looking for Technique Errors

Technique errors are problems such as data omissions or mistakes made while putting a schedule together. Here are some of the most common technique errors:

  • Missing data

  • Data where there should be blanks

  • Misspellings

  • Duplications

  • Incorrect variables

In order to prevent or detect technique errors, audit your tasks, resources, schedule, and calendars.

Auditing Tasks for Technique Errors

When auditing your tasks for technique errors, check for the common problems related directly to the individual tasks:

  • Do all tasks have at least one predecessor and successor? If you do not verify this, you might end up with “dangling” tasks. These are tasks that do not explicitly drive from the beginning or to the end (measurable definition of success) of your schedule. This can cause problems for the following reasons:

    • You might have tasks in your schedule that are extraneous or unnecessary. You might also have forgotten important relationships between tasks; this situation can cause your schedule to reflect incorrect dates.

    • There are exceptions when it is acceptable to have tasks with no predecessors or successors—for example, recurring meetings and ongoing tasks, such as project management. It also might be okay for tasks to have no resources assigned, although this situation needs to be reviewed. For example, a task that is outside of the control of the project might be added to represent the elapsed time. Consider leaving these tasks in Manually Scheduled mode. The default group “Auto Scheduled vs. Manual Scheduled” (View tab, Data, Group) will make it easy to separate the two types of tasks.

  • Do all tasks have resources assigned? Milestones and summary tasks are exceptions. If tasks do not have resources assigned, who is going to be completing those tasks? This can be a problem because if no one is assigned to complete a certain task, the work will not be accomplished and your project potentially can be delayed. In addition to this, you should ask yourself whether you have enough resources or too many resources.

  • Are there any unnecessary task constraints? Task constraints are based on the logic of the workflow and natural deadlines, such as the start date of a trade show, the favorable season for climbing in Nepal, the availability of launch pads, and so on. However, if you incorrectly schedule your tasks, Microsoft Project 2010 can insert constraints, so make sure you are aware and agree with all constraints in your project.

  • Are the tasks the appropriate size? This is a personal measure: How large or small do you want tasks to be? Is two days too small; is four weeks too large? Only you can decide. The task size depends on the purpose of the project schedule. If the purpose is to calculate the overall duration of the project for a rough estimate based on the achievement network at the top level, task sizes of two weeks or more are acceptable. However, it might be more helpful to your team to have tasks broken down into smaller parts to create a well-defined list of deliverables and the actions that need to be performed to achieve them. Here are additional considerations for task sizes:

    • Is the schedule used for execution?

    • How often is progress monitored?

    • What is the experience level of the people doing the work?

Remember, the more detailed the schedule is, the more work it will be to maintain as the project progresses. Many project managers make the mistake of building overly elaborate, highly detailed schedules only to find that the maintaining them takes far more time than what it’s worth. In these situations, Microsoft Project often unfairly shoulders the blame for being “too complicated,” when in fact it’s the schedule detail itself that exceeds the bounds of usefulness.

Auditing Resources for Technique Errors

Problems relating to resources are very important. If your resources are not available, are overallocated, or are assigned to incorrect tasks, you will have problems. To audit your project resources, review the following common problems:

  • Does your project contain duplicate resources? Have you used two or more names for the same person? This can happen easily when multiple individual resources are assigned to multiple tasks in a schedule. If work is assigned to duplicate resources, you might have created overallocation for the actual individual resource.

  • Does your project schedule contain generic resources? This scenario can occur if you, for example, have assigned a task to “System Engineer” because you are not sure about the specific individual resource available for this task assignment but you know the skill set required to complete the task. Until the individual resource is determined, uncertainty can exist in your schedule. What if this person is assigned to a higher-priority task in another project in the meantime; who will be responsible for the task in your schedule? As a final step in verifying your schedule, ensure that all generic resources have been replaced with the real ones.

  • Are any of the resources in your project schedule overallocated (or underallocated)? This is a situation where a resource is scheduled to perform more work during a workday than he or she can accomplish. As a result:

    • The overallocated resource can fall behind on his or her work, affecting the schedule. If the resource is working on critical path tasks, this might cause the entire project finish date to slip.

    • The overallocated resource might become very unhappy or burnt out.

  • Are any resources scheduled for overtime? How would you define overtime? When is it appropriate to use and not use overtime? When does overtime become a problem? Based on previous experience, take into consideration the following:

    • Extended periods of overtime for many weeks tend to burn people out.

    • Scheduling overtime creates a more optimistic view of the project completion date than might be warranted.

Auditing the Schedule for Technique Errors

When auditing your project schedule for technique errors, concentrate on the following questions:

  • Is your schedule up to date? Verify that your project reflects the latest contract changes and that the scope of the project has not changed since the last time the schedule was updated.

  • Is your schedule the appropriate size? Does it include all of the necessary deliverables and milestones?

  • Is your schedule baselined? Baselining enables you to finalize the project estimates and designates the end of the planning phase. If you neglect to baseline your schedule, Microsoft Project will not have any base values to compare your actuals to, making reporting and analysis difficult.

  • Are all milestones entered correctly? Ensure that all tasks you intended to be milestones have a duration of 0. In addition, milestones represent the mark for starting or completing something, so ensure that your milestones are linked to the correct tasks.

  • Are project costs specified in the schedule? In order to effectively track your project budget, ensure that it reflects the most up-to-date cost rates for your resources. Having erroneous costs in your project can cause problems during analysis.

Auditing Calendars for Technique Errors

Correctly defined calendars are fundamental and a very important component of your project schedule. When auditing calendars, address the following common problem areas:

  • Are corporate holidays defined in the project calendars? If holidays are not defined in the resource calendars, Microsoft Project will schedule work during those days. This can cause problems because work will be scheduled when resources are not available, which guarantees the tasks to slip. In addition, this creates a more optimistic view of the project completion date than might be warranted.

  • Are vacation days defined in the resource calendars? If vacation days are not specified in the resource calendars, work will be scheduled during those days. This can cause problems because work will be scheduled when resources are not available, which guarantees the tasks to slip. In addition, this creates a more optimistic view of the project completion date than might be warranted.

  • Is the working-day length set correctly? Scheduling eight working hours per day might be unrealistic. Very few days are that productive, especially over a long period of time, because of other obligations, such as meetings, email, and so on. Take this fact into consideration when scheduling working time in your project calendar.

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