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Microsoft Project 2010 : Refining a Project Schedule (part 8) - Overlapping Tasks - Finding Tasks to Fast-Track

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1/13/2015 2:58:49 AM

Splitting Tasks into Smaller Pieces

Sometimes splitting a long task into several shorter ones can help you shorten your schedule. For example, instead of asking one person to carry out one big task, you may be able to assign different people to perform some of the work simultaneously. Huge, single-handed tasks are rare, as they should be, if you’ve created a thorough work breakdown structure. However, if a long task sneaked past your WBS work, you can turn the original task into a summary task and create subtasks underneath it.

Here are the steps to create a subtask:

  1. Select the Task Name cell below the original long task, and then press the Insert key to create a new task.

    A blank row appears underneath the original long task.

  2. Press the Insert key repeatedly until you have enough blank rows for the subtasks you want to create.

    When you’re done, select the blank Task Name cell immediately below the original task.

  3. Type the name of the subtask, and then press Enter.

    Project selects the next Task Name cell, so you can repeat this step to fill in the Task Name cells for all the subtasks.

  4. Select all the tasks you just created, and then choose Task→Schedule→Indent Task (a green arrow pointing to the right).

    The original task turns into a summary task with the newly created tasks as its subtasks.

  5. Edit each subtask to define their durations or work, add the resources you want, and then link them.

    Be sure to remove the resource assigned to the original long task, or you’ll have double the work and cost.

Up To Speed: Shorten Lag Time Between Tasks

If critical path tasks have lag time between them, shortening that lag time seems like a simple way to shorten the critical path. You don’t have to jockey resources around or pay more for faster results. Remember, lag time is there for a reason, like the delay you add while you wait for paint to dry. Sometimes you can streamline processes to cut lag time, like expediting a mortgage approval by having someone carry your paperwork through every step in the process.

In projects, approvals can chew up time, especially if you have to wait until the next meeting of stakeholders or the change control board. When you’ve shortened the schedule as much as you can with other techniques, you can see whether faster turnaround on approvals is feasible. For example, ask stakeholders if they can meet more often or request that people take 3 days to review documents instead of 5. You can also investigate whether paying extra for faster deliveries from vendors is worthwhile.

Overlapping Tasks

Fast-tracking is about getting where you’re going faster than usual. Unfortunately, like applying makeup, drinking coffee, and dialing into conference calls while driving to work, fast-tracking in project management can also increase risk considerably.

Fast-tracking a project means overlapping tasks that usually follow one another. At its best, fast-tracking shortens a project schedule without increasing cost or sacrificing quality. For example, if you’re launching products in different markets, the creative advertising folks can work on the ads while the media planners line up advertising outlets and the Accounting Department negotiates the price of advertising spots.

The risk is that work done in a predecessor task doesn’t mix with work that’s already been done in an overlapping successor task. Backtracking to recover from these wrong turns can negatively affect your project time, money, quality, or scope. For example, say the technical writing team writes help topics before the software is complete. Late-stage software design changes could require rewriting help topics, or worse, reprinting documentation.

Finding Tasks to Fast-Track

Some tasks are more conducive to overlapping than others. For example, tasks earlier in the project are riskier to overlap. Designs tend to change in the early stages, so you wouldn’t want to pour concrete based on early sketches. But once the design is finished and approved, you can overlap plumbing and wiring without too much trouble. You may need to tell each contractor where to start working, but the systems shouldn’t interfere as long as everything goes where the architectural plans say it should.

Critical tasks are still the best candidates for fast-tracking, because a shorter critical path means shorter project duration. Long tasks on the critical path are the most effective choices because a small percentage of task overlap represents a significant cut in project duration. Moreover, overlapping the longest tasks may shorten the schedule with only a few changes, so you don’t have as many risks to monitor. For example, overlapping a 3-month task by 10 percent shortens the critical path by 9 days. Overlapping a 10-day task by 9 days is a 90 percent overlap—the tasks practically run simultaneously, so changes in the first task are more likely to affect the second task.

Filtering the task list for critical tasks is the easiest way to find which tasks to evaluate for fast-tracking. You can work backward from the finish date and look for critical path tasks that you can overlap with acceptable risk. To focus on fast-track candidates in Project, do the following:

  1. Hide the summary tasks in the task list by choosing Format→Show/Hide and then turning off the Summary Tasks checkbox.

    If your project uses several WBS levels, the summary tasks can outnumber the critical tasks, so hiding summary tasks helps you focus on critical work tasks.

  2. Focus on critical tasks by applying the Critical filter .

    Click the down arrow to the right of the Task Name column heading, and then choose Filters→Critical.

  3. Jump to the last task in the task list by pressing Ctrl+End, and then work backward, looking at every pair of linked critical tasks for tasks you can overlap.

    If you want to look at the longest critical path tasks first, sort tasks by duration from longest to shortest. Click the down arrow to the right of the Duration column heading, and then choose Sort Largest to Smallest. You see the critical tasks listed with longest durations at the top, as shown in Figure 12.

When you sort tasks by duration, the task ID numbers are as jumbled as the task bars in the timeline. After you’ve located long tasks to overlap, sort the tasks by WBS (click the down arrow to the right of the WBS column heading and then choose “Sort A to Z”) or ID (choose View→Data→Sort→“by ID”) so you can see links in the Gantt Chart timescale.

Figure 12. When you sort tasks by duration, the task ID numbers are as jumbled as the task bars in the timeline. After you’ve located long tasks to overlap, sort the tasks by WBS (click the down arrow to the right of the WBS column heading and then choose “Sort A to Z”) or ID (choose View→Data→Sort→“by ID”) so you can see links in the Gantt Chart timescale.

 
Others
 
- Microsoft Project 2010 : Refining a Project Schedule (part 7) - Adjusting Resource Assignments - Assigning a Different Resource , Using Slack Time to Shorten the Schedule
- Microsoft Project 2010 : Refining a Project Schedule (part 6) - Adjusting Resource Assignments - Increasing Units to Decrease Duration
- Microsoft Project 2010 : Refining a Project Schedule (part 5) - Project Tools for Change - Undoing Changes
- Microsoft Project 2010 : Refining a Project Schedule (part 4) - Project Tools for Change - Seeing What Changes Do
- Microsoft Project 2010 : Refining a Project Schedule (part 3) - Evaluating the Project Schedule - Reviewing Project Costs
- Microsoft Project 2010 : Refining a Project Schedule (part 2) - Evaluating the Project Schedule - Finding the Best Tasks to Shorten
- Microsoft Project 2010 : Refining a Project Schedule (part 1) - Evaluating the Project Schedule - Comparing Finish Dates to Deadlines
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