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Simple Ways to Optimize Your Project Plan in MS Project

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The process of ensuring that resources are realistically scheduled in your work plan is referred to as load leveling. When you level the planned load for your resources, you may have to balance several factors. These include:

  • The amount of work a resource can do in a time period (e.g. Hours per day)
  • The sequence of tasks in the project as defined by dependencies
  • The skills required to perform particular tasks
  • The expected timeline for the project
  • The utilization rate for the resources.

Typically you will have to trade off some of these factors to arrive at the “best” schedule for your particular project.  As we covered in our last post on Resource Workload Information, this means that you will have to check and adjust information across multiple views.

A key component of an optimized plan, though, is that everything that is known is put into a plan that meets the overall project objectives, which means that this information needs to be put to use. Microsoft Project has two simple functionalities that facilitate this: the Task Inspector and Resource Leveling.

Task Inspector

The combination of information and checks that Project carries out to display task indicators and warnings is quite complex. It takes time and experience for a Microsoft Project user to work out for themselves why each indicator or warning is showing up. In the meantime, there is a shortcut: the Task Inspector option unveils the logic that is being applied and shows you the factors being tested. On the Task: Tasks tab in the ribbon, select Inspect, as shown below:

Figure 1:

The first time you do this, there may be a couple of prompts for you to confirm the download of various ActiveX controls. You should now see a left-hand panel that summarizes key characteristics of the highlighted task.

Figure 2:

There is a section for repair options. In the case of overallocation, the options are to Reschedule Task or to view the resource in Team Planner. The Reschedule Task option is a specific case of resource leveling that we will cover below.

Resource Leveling

A prominent feature of Microsoft Project is the Resource Leveling function. The logic of this function depends on automatically rescheduling assignments for overallocated resources. Generally, it does this by delaying the lower priority tasks until a time when they do not cause a resource to be overallocated.

Note: It is important to realize that leveling will not adjust the resource units–that is, the number of hours a resource will work on any particular task in any particular day. If you have two tasks, each scheduled at 60% for a resource, leveling would not allow them to be scheduled simultaneously because their sum would be greater than 100%. Working on it manually, you might choose to make both assignments at 50%, but this is not an option with automatic leveling.

The Resource Allocation view is a convenient one when working with leveling functions. You get to this view by going to the View:Resource Views tab in the ribbon and selecting Other Views:More Views, then selecting “Resource Allocation” from the list. Once in this view, select a resource (as Joe is in Figure 3).

Figure 3:

Now, click Level Resource under the Resource:Level section in the ribbon. Finally, click Level Now.

Notice the effect of choosing to level just the resource Joe. Figures 3 and 4 serve as “Before and After pictures.” In the example project, “An overlapping task” has been delayed (with a leveling delay of 5.21 edays); the dates of both “An overlapping task” and “A third task” have changed; and other project tasks dependent on “An overlapping task” have also changed.

Figure 4:

When using automatic leveling, you need to keep a careful eye on the overall project schedule. Particularly if the box for Level only within existing slack (in the Leveling Options dialog box) is unchecked, it is easy for leveling delays to extend the project schedule dramatically. That is why it is so important that you understand the tools you have for viewing and working with Resource Allocation information.

Conclusion

Our last blog post covered how to use the different views in Microsoft Project to gather Resource Workload Information, but this does nothing to optimize a plan unless that information is put to use.  As covered in this post, the Task Inspector and Resource Leveling functionalities in MS Project offer two simple ways to accomplish load leveling to make your project plan more realistic.

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