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Need assistance setting up MS Project with schedules that are already started and already behind.

Posted on 2008-10-08
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Last Modified: 2013-11-15
I hope I can be clear on this. I would like to use MS Project to track tests in our lab. We have what we call "Test Requests". I have several employees that will perform the work. I am trying to set up MS Project such that I can estimate completion dates, provide a view of what my people are working on, and their progress.
Here's the catch. I have about 130 of these Test Requests already in the queue. Some have been started, others are still waiting to be worked on. There will be more coming in on a daily basis.

The person who submits the request provides a desired completion date. I provide them with an estimate.
On MOST of the tests that we do, the completion DATE is always late because changes are asked for in the middle of the test. So for example if I enter Test 1234, it was requested back in Decemberr of 2007. Even though it will only take my worker about 14 working days to do the work, we still have this test open with an expected completion date of October of 2008. The reason is beyond our control, so it's not an issue, but when trying to show this in Project, it shows up as a project lasting 3 hundred or so days and when I try to show resources it shows this worker needing 300 days of work.
Is there a way to show his actual needed working days (let's say he's completed 25% of the job, so he's done 4 working days out of the 14, then he pauses for two months to do other things), can I show this in project, showing his actual work completed, but still show that the project won't be completed until some other date farther down the road?

I am looking at each project as unrelated to all the others. The only thing I might do in the future is link all projects from one technician.

I'm hoping for some advice. I have the project built up to a point in case anyone wants to see what I have.

Any advice or tips is greatly appreciated!

Thanks

Jeff
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Question by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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by:bobsegrest
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Hello Jeff,

Duration and work are separate things in Microsoft Project and I suspect with a little guidance it can be used to provide a more accurate model of your effort.

Your description almost sounds like you have a one task project plan.  If this is the case, it may be necessary to break each project (request) into a few more tasks.  For example, your task list may need to be something more like:

  Request Submitted
  Provide Estimate
  Perform Initial Tests
  Perform Final Tests
  Deliver Test Results

It is almost always a bad practice to model "waiting for something to happen" as a task.  Project allows you to define a lag between tasks or the definition of a constraint ("start no earlier than" for example) to model this sort of zero effort delay in a project.

Please zip one of your project (mpp) files and attach it to this discussion topic.  This will give us a better picture of your current plan and provide a base for more specific feedback and guidance.

It is also a good idea to tell us what version of Microsoft Project you are using and whether or not you are using a Project Server each time you ask a new question.  Sometimes the answers or at least the examples offered need to be version specific.

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt
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by:dbase118
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Jeff,

You can also accomplish this with the split task function. There is a button on the toolbar next to link and unlink that allows you to split a task into pieces and move the pieces further out without adding to the continuous duration of the task.

For example take a 15 day task and break it into three 5 day chunks. Each of those pieces can then be spread out further accross the schedule as needed.

Bob brings up an important point about distinguishing between work and duration.  If you have thees three 5 day pieces and you placed them say on Oct 1-5, November 1-5 and December 1-5, there is only 15 days of work but the duration will show as roughly 65 days. As duration is the time elapsed from start to finish of a task.

Splitting the task however will make sure that the work assigned to the resource which can be viewed in the resource usage view is accurate for each task
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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Thanks to both of you for commenting.
I have attached my initial project.
If you take the very first line item, this was a task that was assigned and started back in 2007. I put the start date in as the date he actually started it. I put the finish date as when I expect to have it finished.  The  Est duration is a text column that I put there because that's how many days it should take. As you can see, it shows duration as 259 days or something like this. I am still a little unclear on how to break this into segments but that sounds like something I would like to do. He has worked on this periodically over the year, only putting a few days of work into it.
Some notes:
All of this stuff is imported from an excel spreadsheet and hopefully will also be updated that way. (I get the report in excel which has the dates, updated progress %, etc.
I don't think any of the tasks can really be linked or grouped as all of these are individual and the workers budget their times as necessary. Sometimes we might have a task that is dependent on another but that's rare. It's usually which engineer is yelling the loudest, that's the one we work on :)
I understand what you're saying about breaking each task into sections, but this would be a nightmare for me to upkeep.. or maybe not.. I'll have to think about it. Actually my boss would like to see three sections "setup", "test", "paperwork" for each task, but now that's alot of work for me.
I will be updating this list every few days so I don't want to re-import, retype, etc...
Also, we would like the option to sort by Resource, Project #, and requestor.

The version we're using is 2003 standard I believe.
summary of the task titles:
Resource: This is each technicians name and he is assigned a TR # for each test he needs to run
TR: The actual Test Request number assigned to this task in the test database.
Project: This is important as each test is part of some project, they aren't necessarilly run at the same time, but "charged out" to a particular project.
Test Type: Just our description of what the test is doing
Tool Type: I think that's self explanatory.
Manufacture: same (we test our tools and our competitors)
Requestor: The engineer who requested the test.
Est Dur: My estimate in days, for now a text column but this needs to be implemented in the schedule
Start: My estimate of when the test will start or the actual start date.
FInish: My estimate of when the test will finish. (Note that FInish - Start never equals my Est Dur).
% Comp: My entry based on user info
Priority: My number given to the technician to prioritise his tasks.

I realize thisi is alot more info, and I appreciate very much all the advice!

Jeff
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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Forgot to attach the file.
It tells me it's not allowed?
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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Ok I've changed the extension on the file inside the zip to .txt so make sure and change it back to .mpp before opening it. Not sure why EE doesn't accept .mpp files.
Copy-of-TRs-by-technician.zip
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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I wanted to add one more thing, please destroy this file after you've looked at it. It does contain some information that is not for public viewing.

Thanks
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by:bobsegrest
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Hello Jeff,

I have downloaded your project file and will purge it from my system per your request.

Please contact an Experts Exchange moderator to see about getting your project file purged from the web site.

In your last post you mentioned that you had imported stuff from Excel.  There is a huge difference between using Project to manage tasks and using Project as a display device for data maintained in some other system.

It is certainly possible to manage independent test activities as individual tasks within a single project plan using Microsoft Project.  If importing data from Excel is a one time activity and your intent is to maintain (add new tasks, update task schedules) your test activities within a project plan, I'll be happy to contribute.

Is this what you have in mind?

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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Hi Bob and thanks again for the response.
If you talk to my boss, he thinks we can set something up to automatically do everything in Excel, export to Project each time as a display. But then he contradicts himself and says he wants to track workers load, etc.. features of project.
It is my belief that we need to keep it in project, and I manually type in the dates, % complete, etc. from the Excel spreadsheet to the Project program. At least this is what I'd like to try first.
So to answer your question, I would like to keep everything in project, so any help is greatly appreciated.

Jeff
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by:bobsegrest
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Hi Jeff,

Good answer...

You have probably observed by this point that most office applications don't do scheduling, resource availability and capacity management.  Most people perceive these as fairly simple things until they actually try to do them.  The fact is they are not easy and Project does them well.

I would like to offer two recommendations right out of the gate.  

First, invest in an upgrade to Microsoft Office Project 2007.  At a minimum, this will provide you with a multi-level undo and is well worth the cost.  All you need is the standard version.  You can download a 60 day trial copy using the following URL:

http://us1.trymicrosoftoffice.com/product.aspx?re_ms=oo&family=projectpro&culture=en-US

Second, pick up a copy of the book "Dynamic Scheduling With Microsoft Office Project 2007", ISBN: 9781932159845.  It is, in my opinion, the very best book available on this topic.  Its also an easy read.

Let me take a closer look at your existing plan.  I want to play with a couple ideas and will follow up with you in a couple days.

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt
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by:bobsegrest
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Hi Jeff,

A couple more questions...

How do you use the information in the Priority column?

Is a priority of 1 more important than priority 12?

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt
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bobsegrest earned 500 total points
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Hi Jeff,

I have attached a zip file with your reworked project.  The file was renamed with a txt extension so it could be posted.  You will need to rename it using a mpp extension before trying to open it.

I make a practice of leaving the standard Microsoft Views and Tables alone when I customize Microsoft Project.  Having a common reference point makes it a lot easier to troubleshoot problems when they occur.

It took a while to work out the best way to reformat several items in your project plan.  The key was to enter a fixed Start Date rather than a Finish Date.  This creates a Start No Earlier Than constraint so that Project can reschedule schedule slips as you enter actual work data.  I did not replicate the small number of complete tasks.

You will find three new views in these project files.  The TR view is my attempt to duplicate the table used in the Gantt chart view in your sample project.  The TR Gantt and TR Tracking views use a somewhat simpler table so that the chart portion of the views is more visible.

Each Project view can be sorted any way you like.  I sorted the TR Gantt and TR views by TR Priority and then TR Number.  The TR Tracking view is sorted by TR Number.  To sort a view, simply select the Project | Sort | Sort by option from the Project menus.

When you add a new TR set the Request Date, the Duration, and the Start Date.  Project will calculate and set a Finish Date which you can then pass back to the requestor.  You should set your default task Type to Fixed Work.  This will cause Project to automatically assign work equal to your duration when you assign a resource to the task.

You should also take a look at the Resource Usage view.  It will show you the details of where each resource has been over allocated.  You will need to re-level your resources to fix this at some point.

You should set the project Status Date each time you update your tasks.  The vertical red progress bar on the TR Gantt and TR Tracking views will then show you which tasks are behind schedule.  When a task is behind schedule, you need to reschedule any remaining work for completion after the project Status Date.  The basic reality is that incomplete work cannot be completed in the past.  If you dont reschedule this work, your plan can not present an accurate picture of your work load.  

I took the liberty of rescheduling the incomplete work in the project using today as the Status Date.  Take a look at the tasks near the bottom of the list in the TR Tracking view.  You will note that Project split several of the tasks when I selected the Reschedule Work button and moved the remaining work for these tasks into the future.

Take a look and let me know if this gets you moving in the right direction.

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt

TRs-by-technician-2---Reschedule.zip
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by:bobsegrest
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Hi Jeff,

A couple of additional thoughts...

When you add a new TR to the project you should also set the Deadline for the TR to equal the Finish Date you sent the requestor.  This will place a small green arrow on the Gantt chart line for this TR to give you a visual indicator of where you are supposed to finish the task.  Project will also start telling you when your schedule slips and a deadline is missed.

If a deadline is missed because the requestor has change the test requirements, this could be considered a change in scope.  Where this is the case, I would add a note to the task to document the change, set a new deadline date and communicate the change to the requestor.

You will notice on the TR Tracking view that each TR line is represented with two bars on the Gantt chart.  The lower gray bar is the Baseline or original schedule.  The upper blue or red bar is the current schedule.

Project does not automatically save baseline data when you add a new task (TR) to the project.  So, when you add a new TR you need to save the baseline information for the new task.  Note that you don't want to save the baseline for the whole project because this will overwrite the 'original' schedule information for all of the other tasks as well.  Instead, select the new task (TR) by clicking the task ID (the task number in the left most column) and then open the Tools | Tracking | Set Baseline dialog.  Be sure to set the For Selected Tasks option and then click the OK button to set the baseline.

Its probably worth mentioning that almost all of the techniques I have mentioned are detailed in the "Dynamic Scheduling" book that I mentioned in an earlier post.

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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Wow thanks for the help Bob!
I'm going to download the file and look it over, but it sounds like you've hit all the right areas, and it sounds like you know exactly what we're looking for.
1) The priority was something I added just to give my guys an idea of what they should be working on. When an engineer enters a request (Lotus Notes), he puts a priority but every engineer puts a 1 lol so I have to adjust this. There will be several 1's , etc. It's just a guide for the worker and for me to schedule. Lower number is higher priority.
2) Do I need Project 2007 to run your example?
3) I will look for this book.
4) Thanks for the advice. My boss thinks everything can be done directly and automatically from Lotus Notes, which exports a big fat Excel file which I still need to sort and remove LOTS of columns not shown in the project, etc.. he lives in a dream sometimes lol.
5) I think, even though it's manual entry, I can get it to a point where it's just an update once per week or so.

I'll let you know how it goes. Thanks again for the advice and the work! I wish I could give more than 500 points!

Jeff
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by:bobsegrest
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Hi Jeff,

I'm always happy to help people use Project better.  Using Project as a display mechanism for other applications isn't an area I choose to support...

No, you don't have to use Project 2007.  After installing service pack 3 (SP3), Project 2003 can open a Project 2007 file without any great problem.  The only down side is that you would loose any 2007 specific data, and in this case we are not using any.  Here is an article that discusses this point in a bit more detail:

http://pmconnection.spaces.live.com/blog/cns!501C1C457A6A99CA!524.entry?wa=wsignin1.0

You can find the book on Amazon at:

http://www.amazon.com/Dynamic-Scheduling-Microsoft-Office-Project/dp/1932159878/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1223820988&sr=8-1

I'll look forward to your next question.

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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One problem is that I can't control the version of Office that we run here at work. I'm stuck with Office 2003.
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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wonderful!
Just a couple of questions.
How do I set the project status date? Does it automatically move to todays date?
HOw do I create new views?
Looks like I might be stuck with Project 2003 as I think I have SP3 already, but I'll find out more this week.
I've got alot of reading to do lol..

Thanks again for your help Bob!
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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I am wondering if I might start grouping these by Technician, since he has to perform these tests in some order.
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by:bobsegrest
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Hi Jeff,

Let me know if you can't open the file.  It shouldn't be a problem, but I will post a 2003 version if needed.

You can certainly resort a view any way you want.  Play with Project | Sort | Sort By...

There is something called Group in Project. But I don't think its what you are looking for.

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt

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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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Everything was fine until I started entering new data and/or modifying dates. I just have trouble understanding the % work thing. If I try to make one person spend %22 of his time on a task, I get error messages saying it can't be done blah blah..
Anyway.. sorry to whine.. I haven't purchased the book yet so hopefully that will come soon.

Jeff
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by:bobsegrest
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Hi Jeff,

You need to be a bit more specific...

What data did you enter and in what order?  

What does the error message say?

Bob Segrest, PMP
MCITP, Microsoft Project Blackbelt
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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Hi Bob,
Sorry for this, I'll try to be more clear.
I will attach my Excel sheet that I get my information from and also my project so you can see what's happening.
In the Excel sheet I've bolded the columns that I will bring into Project. (I receive the data in Excel so I want to manually enter it into Project).
The "Desired" column in Excel is what I am using for the "Request" date in Project because that's when the engineer would like his test to be completed.
The "Start" column in Excel matches the "Start" column in Project. It's an estimate of when I think I'll start
The "Estimated" column in Excel matches the "Finish" column in Project. It's the estimated completion date.
The rest of the columns pretty much line up.

I want to maintain this all in Project but I want to get the correct dates in.
If you look at the first task,  they wanted it on the 19th of September, we won't start it until the 20th of November, and expect to finish by the 27th of November, even though it will only take 3 days of work, it will be stretched out over the week due to his other tasks.
Not sure if this makes sense.

When I started with your first project it worked great until I started changing dates, then I messed it up.
I've attached both my modified project and the excel spreadsheet.

Should I open a new question so that you can get points? This might get hairy.

Thanks again.
Jeff



Jeff
Copy-of-TRs--Rescheduled-all-mpp.zip
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by:bobsegrest
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Hi Jeff,

Starting another question would be better form and appreciated.

I have downloaded your sample and will take a look in the morning.

Bob
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by:jeffrey_m_scharpf
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Thanks Bob,
I have no problem starting a new question.
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