Early Warning Signs in your Project Plan


PLANNING UPDATE

Friday May 6th, 2011

In this edition of the Planning Update, we take a look at adding traffic light symbols into your project plan so you can see ahead of time if the project is in trouble.

The project plan should be a useful tool for you to manage your workload and future activity, it should help you to foresee potential roadblocks and risks in advance and it should also help you to communicate effectively.


Traffic-Light_thumbPLAN SIGNALS

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Rather than data, it is symbols and signals in our daily life that we more readily recognize and can respond to. When driving your car you know that red means stop and green means go.

As long as the logic that was used behind the symbol development is commonly understood, then symbols such as traffic lights can be readily used to represent large volumes of data at a summary level and therefore enable faster decision-making by using predetermined statistical measures.

For most large ERP implementations the project plan can be quite lengthy and the dependencies and predecessors very complex. Knowing what impact you are having on the plan by changing one task is quite difficult to visualize using standard tools.

For example we know logically that the chart of accounts mapping must be completed before you can build your financial reports. In the project plan however the chart of accounts mapping activity and the reports building activity may be in very different places and managed by completely different people. If the completion of the chart of accounts mapping slips by a week it may not be immediately apparent what downstream effects that slippage has had.

The following article describes some of the key indicators that a project manager needs to understand and then looks at how to implement these graphically in a Microsoft project plan. This should enable you as a project manager to understand where you need to focus your attention and your resources.

CRITICAL MEASURES

There are several measures that we should put in a project plan to help us understand the health of our tasks. Later in the process we will add all these 10 columns to our Microsoft Project.

1. Late” is a good indicator to show quickly those tasks that have passed their finish date. This allows for quick scanning of the project plan to highlight the areas that need urgent attention.

2. Close Horizon” is the number of weeks into the future that is task will close.
For example if the finish date of a task is at the end of next week and today is Monday, then this measure will show “2”. Conversely, late tasks will show a negative close horizon in weeks.

3. IMO Lag (Weeks)”. This indicator shows the number of weeks extension of the finish date past the baseline date. Ideally, the baseline dates have been communicated to the IMO (Independent Management Office) and it is against these dates that one must report one’s progress.

4. Work Extension”. This measure is a calculation that shows when a task has exceeded, by a certain percentage, the work baselined.

5. Duration Extension”. This measure is a calculation that shows when a task has exceeded, by a certain percentage, the duration baselined.

6. Start Delay” is an indicator that shows when a task has moved by a certain percentage, it’s start date. Predecessor tasks that move their completion dates will of course impact the start date of successor tasks and therefore is this indicator that will quickly highlight movements in start dates.

7. Finish Delay” is an indicator that shows when a task has moved by a certain percentage, it’s finish date. Predecessor tasks that move their completion dates will of course impact the start date of successor tasks and therefore is this indicator that will quickly highlight movements in finish dates also. In addition, an extension of the task duration will also impact the finish date. Therefore a task may start on time, however if it is taking longer than estimated the duration will extend and therefore the finish date will experience a delay.

8. Work Compression” is an indicator that shows the remaining work as a ratio of the remaining duration. I.e. is it possible to complete the work on a task within the remaining time until the finish date? This shows, to what degree, is it realistic that the work can be completed in the remaining time.

9. Duration Compression”. Similar to the “work compression” measurement the duration compression measurement looks at the current percentage complete, today’s date and the remaining duration to work out a risk score of the work being completed within the remaining time available.

10. Finish Move Indicator”. Quite simply, this indicator shows if the finish variance is greater than 0. I.e. if the finish date is now greater than the baseline finish date. I.e. we will not be able to deliver this task on-time.

CONFIGURE MICROSOFT PROJECT

The next step in the process is understanding how we can configure Microsoft Project to enable these helpful indicators.

It is important to understand that in Microsoft Project you cannot create new columns. You can only select columns that already exist in the Microsoft Project database and customize them for your needs.

I have chosen to use text columns for all columns. However, as most of the results are numeric you can choose number columns if you wish. Microsoft Project has 30 text fields that can be customized. If you are using a project plan developed by somebody else you should check with them first to make sure that they are not already using some of these text columns for other purposes.

Another important thing to remember is that by adding columns to a view every time the plan is opened and that view is selected your columns will be visible. Before we begin we will create a new view and new table so that existing views and tables are not impacted.

Please follow the instructions below that will step you through the setup;

Step 1

Microsoft Project smallFrom the “View” main menu, choose the table submenu and then choose “more tables”.

The pop-up box should look something similar to this;

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By default, Microsoft Project shows you the “Entry” table in the Gantt chart view. A good place to start is to copy the “Entry” table to a new custom table.

Microsoft Project smallSelect the “Entry” table from the list and click “Copy“.

After pressing “Copy“, change the name of your new table to something similar to:
! Early Warning View“. The reason for the exclamation mark is so that you can easily identify your own views versus the standard views provided by Microsoft Project. There is no need to change anything at this time, as we will customize the layout later.

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Microsoft Project smallClick “OK” to accept the new table.

The next step is to create a view based on this new table.

Step 2

Microsoft Project smallFrom the “View” main menu, choose the “More Views” submenu.

The pop-up box should look something similar to this;

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Microsoft Project small

Click “New…” and you should be presented with the new view definition box below;

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Microsoft Project smallIn another Planning Update we will discuss combination views, however, this time simply select “Single view“.

Fill-in the view definition as per the example below;

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Microsoft Project smallClick “OK” and then “Apply” to accept the new View.

The table that we created and the view that we created that relies on the table are now presented on the main screen for us to customize.

Microsoft Project smallSpend some time to remove the columns that you don’t want and reorder the columns that remain to create a view with basic information. From this point we can now add our traffic lights ignore columns to the right.

In my basic view, I have the following columns. Percent complete, Critical, Task Name, Work, Duration, Start and Finish. This will be enough to build on.

6-05-2011 5.55.19 PM

Step 3

Now that we have created a framework for the view of the project we can now begin to insert our custom traffic light columns. To do this we go back to the table definition and add our custom columns.

Microsoft Project smallFrom the “View” main menu, choose the table submenu and then choose “more tables”. This time select the table that we created previously “!Early Warning View” and press “Edit…

The table definition will look like this;

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Microsoft Project small

Scroll to the bottom, to a blank row to add our new custom columns.

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Add the column definitions as per the following screenshot;

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Do this for all 10 columns. Once this is complete, click “OK” to go back to the main screen.

Step 4

You now have an additional 10 columns shown on the right-hand side of your basic view. At the moment these columns will be blank. This step shows you how to configure each of these columns to display the data required.

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Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the first heading “Late” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

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We can now begin to add our custom logic to “Text1”. The important thing to notice here is that the “Custom attributes” and the “Calculation for task and a group summary rows” both use formula. This is the key to ensuring that each row and its associated summary row show the correct data.

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Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

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IIf(now()>[Finish] And [% Complete]<95,”Late”,IIf(now()>[Finish] And [% Complete]>=95 And [% Complete]<100,”Warning”,””))

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show the word “Late” whenever we have passed the finish date and the percent complete is not 100. In addition, if the existing percent complete is 95 then this column will show the word “Warning”.

Step 5

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the second heading “Horizon (Weeks)” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

The “Custom attributes” and the “Calculation for task and a group summary rows” both use formula.

Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf([% Complete]=100,””,round(round([Finish]-now())/7))

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show the number of rounded whole weeks between now and the finish date as long as the percent complete is not 100.

Step 6

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the third heading “IMO Lag (Weeks)” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

The “Custom attributes” and the “Calculation for task and a group summary rows” both use formula.

Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf([Priority]=1,IIf([Finish]-[Baseline Finish]>0,round((((ProjDateDiff([Baseline Finish],[Finish],”Standard”))/(8*60))/7)),””),””)

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show the number of rounded whole weeks between the current finish date and the baseline finish date using the “Standard” calendar. In addition I have used the standard “Priority” column to indicate whether this task is reportable to the IMO or not. Therefore, this formula requires “Priority” to be equal to 1 in order to display a value. If you do not use this priority column then use the formula below;

IIf([Finish]-[Baseline Finish]>0,round((((ProjDateDiff([Baseline Finish],[Finish],”Standard”))/(8*60))/7)),””)

Step 7

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the fourth heading “Work Extension” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

The work extension column is a little different in that we would like to represent the data graphically with a traffic light rather than text. Also, we are only interested in detail tasks not summary tasks that are extending. The “Custom attributes” will use a formula, however the summary rows will not. You will also notice that this time that the “Values to display” is the type “Graphical Indicators…

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Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf([Baseline Work]>0 And [Baseline Work]-[Work]<0 And [% Complete]<>100 And [Text26]<>”Late”,(([Work]-[Baseline Work])/[Baseline Work])*100,”0″)

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog.

Microsoft Project small

Click “Graphical Indicators…” to setup the traffic lights as shown below.

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Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show a traffic light dependent on the value returned from the formula above. This basically shows, where a task is not complete or late, the increase of work over the baseline.

Step 8

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the fifth heading “Duration Extension” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

We are only interested in detail tasks not summary tasks that are extending. The “Custom attributes” will use a formula, however the summary rows will not. The “Values to display” is the type “Graphical Indicators…

Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf([Baseline Duration]>0 And [Baseline Duration]-[Duration]<0 And [% Complete]<>100 And [Text26]<>”Late”,(([Duration]-[Baseline Duration])/[Baseline Duration])*100,”0″)

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog.

Microsoft Project small

Click “Graphical Indicators…” to setup the traffic lights as shown below.

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Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show a traffic light dependent on the value returned from the formula above. This basically shows, where a task is not complete or late, the increase of duration over the baseline.

Step 9

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the sixth heading “Start Delay” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

We are only interested in detail tasks not summary tasks that are extending. The “Custom attributes” will use a formula, however the summary rows will not. The “Values to display” is the type “Graphical Indicators…

Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf(((ProjDateDiff([Baseline Start],[Start],”Standard”))/(8*60))>0 And [% Complete]<>100 And [Text26]<>”Late”,((((ProjDateDiff([Baseline Start],[Start],”Standard”))/(8*60)))/([Duration]/(8*60)))*100,”0″)

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog.

Microsoft Project small

Click “Graphical Indicators…” to setup the traffic lights as shown below.

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Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show a traffic light dependent on the value returned from the formula above. This basically shows, if the task start date has increased past the baseline start date and the task is not complete or late, the percentage increase of the change in start date over the duration of the task.

Step 10

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the seventh heading “Finish Delay” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

We are only interested in detail tasks not summary tasks that are extending. The “Custom attributes” will use a formula, however the summary rows will not. The “Values to display” is the type “Graphical Indicators…

Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf(((ProjDateDiff([Baseline Finish],[Finish],”Standard”))/(8*60))>0 And [% Complete]<>100 And [Text26]<>”Late”,((((ProjDateDiff([Baseline Finish],[Finish],”Standard”))/(8*60)))/([Duration]/(8*60)))*100,”0″)

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog.

Microsoft Project small

Click “Graphical Indicators…” to setup the traffic lights as shown below.

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Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show a traffic light dependent on the value returned from the formula above. This basically shows, if the task finish date has increased past the baseline finish date and the task is not complete or late, the percentage increase of the change in finish date over the duration of the task.

Step 11

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the eighth heading “Work Compression” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

We are only interested in detail tasks not summary tasks that are being compressed. The “Custom attributes” will use a formula, however the summary rows will not. The “Values to display” is the type “Graphical Indicators…

Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf([Work]<>0 And [Duration]>0,IIf([Remaining Work]>0 And [Text26]<>”Late” And [Duration]>0,([Remaining Work]/(ProjDateDiff(now(),[Finish],”Standard”)))*100,”0″),IIf([Duration]=0,””,-1))

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog.

Microsoft Project small

Click “Graphical Indicators…” to setup the traffic lights as shown below.

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Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show a traffic light dependent on the value returned from the formula above. This basically shows, if the task is not complete, it is not a milestone and it is not late, the remaining work as a percentage of the remaining duration. I.e. this will show us if the remaining work to be done can fit within the remaining duration of task during a normal working day.

Step 12

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the ninth heading “Duration Compression” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

We are only interested in detail tasks not summary tasks that are being compressed. The “Custom attributes” will use a formula, however the summary rows will not. The “Values to display” is the type “Graphical Indicators…

Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf([Remaining Duration]>0 And [Text26]<>”Late”,(([Remaining Duration])/(ProjDateDiff(now(),[Finish],”Standard”)))*100,”0″)

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog.

Microsoft Project small

Click “Graphical Indicators…” to setup the traffic lights as shown below.

image

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Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show a traffic light dependent on the value returned from the formula above. This basically shows, if the task is not complete, it is not a milestone and it is not late, the remaining duration as a percentage of the time between now and the finish date. I.e. this will show us if the duration actually exists.

In addition I have put in additional indicator at 25% to show a white flag if the remaining duration is more than 25% of the time available.

Step 13

Microsoft Project smallSimply right click on the tenth heading “Finish Moved” and select “Customize Fields…” from the menu.

We are only interested in detail tasks not summary tasks that are being compressed. The “Custom attributes” will use a formula, however the summary rows will not. The “Values to display” is the type “Data

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Microsoft Project small

Click “Formula…” to enter the formula as shown below.

IIf([% Complete]<>100 And [Finish Variance]>0,”MOVED”,””)

Microsoft Project small

Click “OK” to return back to the “Custom Fields” dialog and click “OK” again to return to the view.

So now this column will show the word “MOVED” if the task is not complete and the finish date is now greater than the baseline finish date.


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By following these instructions, you should now be able to graphically represent some of the key warning signs in a project plan. By baselining in the plan, the extension and delay indicators will be reset. The compression and late indicators will always remain as they look at the current state of the active tasks.

As long as the project team continued to provide up-to-date information on their tasks in the plan, these traffic lights will be a valuable tool to the project management.

As you can see in the example below, this chart of accounts mapping activity has multiple issues.

There are no late tasks and everything finishes in the future, however , many of the tasks have extended the work required as well as the duration.

Overall the start dates have not moved however, almost all tasks now finished later than planned.

Work is compressed in some of the key areas, making it unlikely that these tasks will finish on time. Almost all tasks have duration compression issues. This can mean either an accurate percent complete is not reflected all work is falling behind schedule.

Almost all tasks have moved from the original baseline.

Just by looking at these key indicators we can see that this area is in trouble, will be unlikely to finish on time and may need additional resources.

By using this key indicators. You will be able to see trouble approaching before you end up in this situation.


Andrew Ogura | Tokyo, Japan
Friday May 6th, 2011 – 22:52 JST