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Using Microsoft Project Views to Gauge How Realistic a Project Plan Is

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Introduction

One of the key ingredients to managing a successful project is to start off with a Microsoft Project plan that is complete and optimized. An “optimized” plan is one in which:

  • Everything that is known is put into a plan that meets the overall project objectives and
  • The project delivers on the objectives of on-time, on-budget, with high quality, and a satisfied client.

It can be somewhat subjective to determine whether your plan is optimized but the minimum requisites ar as follows:

  1. All phases, tasks, and milestones required to meet the project objective are loaded into the work plan.
  2. All resources are assigned to the tasks they will perform.
  3. Reliable work or duration estimates are assigned to each resource assignment.
  4. The resources can realistically perform the work assigned according to the current estimated task start and finish dates, and all tasks can be completed by the target finish date and budget for the project .

Typically you will have to trade off some factors that go into leveling a project load in order to arrive at the “best” schedule for a project.  This means that you will have to check and adjust information across multiple views.

The goal of this article is to show how to best use several of the most useful views offered in Microsoft Project in order to comprehensively gauge how realistic your plan is.  See our post on optimizing your project plan to learn how to use this information to make simple adjustments to the plan to help optimize it.

Gantt Chart

Most managers are familiar with the Gantt Chart view, since it is the default view for most projects. The Gantt Chart is useful for getting a high-level view of the project schedule and for drilling into the detail of a particular task. It shows some limited resource information, as shown in Figure 1:

Figure 1:

It is not suitable for resource assignment entry, but it does summarize whether there may be a problem (via the overallocated icon in the indicator column), what resources are assigned and, of course, the task schedule.

If you go to the View:Split View tab and select the Details option, you get the split screen, where the bottom half shows extra detail of the task that is selected in the top half. Next to the Details check box you just ticked, there is a drop-down list. From here, you can choose the view that is displayed in the bottom half.

By right-clicking in the bottom half of the screen, you can choose different variants of the Task Form, as seen in Figure 2.

Figure 2:

As displayed, the Task Form is very useful for entering and changing task assignments. It allows you to enter multiple resource assignments for a task with detail about either Units or Work.

Resource Usage View

The Resource Usage view is extremely useful once resources have been assigned to tasks. To get to it, you must first untick the Details box if it is still selected.  Then, go to View:Resource Views and click Resource Usage.

This display lists the resource and, underneath each of them, the tasks to which they have been assigned. The left-hand side of the screen lists the Resources and the Task Names together with columns of total information for the resource or assignment. The right-hand side shows a time-phased view. If you right-click on this side, you can select what rows of data you would like to see in the time-phased section (see: Figure 3). As with all time-phased views, you can zoom-in or zoom-out to get a more or less detailed timescale:

Figure 3:

The table helps identify the resources that are overallocated and where the overallocation takes place in the project. The overallocated resources are highlighted in red and have an exclamatory icon in the indicator column. In the time-phased section, the red totals indicate which periods have a Total Workload for that resource across all assignments that exceeds the Maximum units for that resource.

The test for overallocation applies at the daily level. When you zoom-out to a weekly or monthly level of time-phased detail, the total for the period would show as red if any day within that period showed an overallocation.

As with other views, you can select the Details option (under the View:Split Views tab on the ribbon) to display information in a split screen. For the Resource Usage view, the default for the lower pane is the Resource Form (which can have several formats), but you can select others from the Details drop-down, as seen below:

Figure 4:

Resource Allocation View

There’s a shortcut to a particular example of the Resource Usage split screen, the Resource Allocation view. In the View:Resource Views tab, go to Other Views:More Views. Select “Resource Allocation” from the list, as seen in Figure 5:

Figure 5:

As you can see, this is similar to the split screen for the Resource Usage view, except that the lower pane shows the Leveling Gantt view. The Leveling Gantt view is particularly helpful for visualizing where task slack is and, therefore, which tasks may be adjusted without impacting the project critical path.

Figure 6:

See our post on resource leveling to learn about the usefulness of this view.

Team Planner

The Team Planner is a new view in MS Project that shows a Gantt Chart-like view of assignments per resource. There are two ways to go to the view. You can get there through the Repair Options in the Task Indicator, which we cover in this post. In general usage, though, it’s found in the Resource:View tab on the ribbon.

Figure 7 shows an example project in this view:

Figure 7:

Each resource has next to them the tasks to which they are assigned, displayed along their scheduled time periods. For example: Bill is assigned to “A third task” from the middle of the week of October 28th until Monday the 4th, at which point he starts work on “A fourth task.” As wtih the Resource Sheet and Resource Usage views, the names of resources that are overallocated are shown in red. The assignment bars for the periods when the resources are overallocated are also outlined in red.

The Team Planner is designed so that assignment bars can be dragged on the screen. In this way, you can drag a bar from one resource to another–which changes the assigned resource–and/or you can move them from one time period to another–which will set a date constraint. The display of task assignments obeys the rules applied when the schedule is calculated. For instance, if we reschedule “Another task” by dragging it after “A second overlap,” “A fourth task” also gets rescheduled because it is dependent.

Figure 8:

Conclusion

Optimal Resource management requires application of every piece of information that is known. A crucial extension of that is becoming familiar with each of the most prominent views in Microsoft Project so that you can be equipped to use each of their unique contributions. This gives you the ability to effectively gauge the viability of your project plan. In our next post, we will cover some simple ways to make adjustments to the plan in order to optimize it.

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