3 problems tracking operations in Project – Part 2

In part 1, we outlined the problems that many customers encounter managing operational work in Project. We need to capture this information for higher fidelity resource capacity. However, previous methods required more work on the part of Resource Managers than desired.

In this article, you’ll see how to set up an operational project plan template that enables you to treat each week as a distinct unit. You’ll also see how to set up the project in Project Professional and how to configure an Operational Project Enterprise Project Type.

Part 3 will also show how to set up the project using PWA only. The requirement is to enable the Resource Manager to manage the project easily via Project Web App. You’ll also be taken through how to use this setup in a day to day fashion and will see timesheet and approval configuration. Lastly, you’ll see how this information appears via Power BI reporting.

If you have comments or questions, please leave them below in the comments field.

 

3 problems tracking operations in Project, and how to fix them.

Many organizations struggle to manage resource capacity. If they are following the OPRA Resource Capacity model, the need to track recurring operations work immediately becomes necessary. This article is based on real world experiences while managing large Project Implementations. Current tracking methods will be examined and some suggested approaches will be presented.

The old way of tracking Operations has issues.

In the past, the primary method used to track recurring operations work is to create a project that contains a yearlong task with all members of a support team. The theory is you can track all operations easily for the fiscal year, which many companies use as boundaries.

However, this approach makes three core assumptions, which causes numerous headaches for the operations manager.

  • Operations work is just like Project work
  • You will always use the same amount of operations work every week
  • No one will join or leave your operations team during the year

Myth #1: Operations work is like Project work

Project work is scheduled for a given week, team members do the work and status is reported. This is where the similarities between Project and Operations work ends.

If you do less work than scheduled in true Project, the incomplete work is typically moved forward into the following week. If you do more work than scheduled, the finish date should come in.

Operations work, however, is about reserving resource capacity for a type of activity. Thus, the difference in how we treat time variation is where the treatment of Project work and Operations work diverges.

If you go over or under time on a given week for an Operations task, it has no impact on the future of the task. You don’t move unutilized operations time forward as you don’t get that unutilized capacity back. You don’t move the end date in if you use more than planned. You simply record what was used, usually for a given week.

Therefore, each reporting period for Operations work should be treated as discrete tracking entities that have no forward schedule impact and preferably, can be closed.

Myth #2: Level of effort never varies

The reality is that the level of operations work varies week to week, sometimes greatly. There are times during the year where you know there’s more operations time. For example, a year end close process might be extremely taxing for the Finance support team. The ability to capture this seasonality would improve the ability to manage capacity for project work tremendously.

Also, if you are using planned hours on Operations work faster than originally planned, using the one long task will result in support calls. You may enter October with no remaining time left, resulting in the task disappearing from timesheets.

This again points to a need for discrete tracking entities that can be managed individually for a given time frame.

Myth #3: Teams never change

The year long task has a serious user management issue when it comes to tracking team composition. Adding and subtracting team members to the task requires Project Pro and a fair bit of Project knowledge to do properly.

When Heather joins the team in August and the operations task started in January, how easy is it to add Heather in a way that doesn’t mess up the current team tracking? The same is true if Sanjay leaves the team in April. How do you easily remove his remaining time?

This process is typically beyond the training of most Operations Managers. They shouldn’t need to be a tool expert to simply manage their team as this creates a situation that detracts value from the data.

The one long task also doesn’t lend itself to adjusting operations assignments so that you can easily reflect greater project demands in key weeks.

All of these usability questions lead us to a requirement that the solution should be usable by a user in Project Web App and doesn’t require a PMP to execute.

Requirements synopsis

Our desired Operations management solution should be:

  • Discretely managed, such that variances in time entered do not impact the overall timeline
  • Ability to individually adjust the time and team composition of tracking periods
  • Straightforward to manage, using only PWA

In our next post, a suggested solution that meets these three requirements will be presented. You’ll also see examples how it can be used in real-world settings. If you have a question or comment, feel free to post it below.

Project Dashboards in One Day using Power BI

Learn how to use Microsoft Power BI to unlock your Project Online / Project Server data to create Project Dashboards and more.

Project management depends on great data. It’s the lifeblood of your team for making decisions and taking action. You need data for decisions.

You’ve got to ensure you have the right data…now to answer questions like:

  • Which projects are behind?
  • What projects haven’t been updated in recent memory?
  • Can we staff this new project?
  • What active issues do we have to resolve?
  • Where did all of our time go?
  • And did you actually fill out your time sheet this week?!?

You need the right BI tool to get immediate access to your data. The tool flexible enough that allows you to answer the questions of today and of tomorrow.

Why you should take this course

To save time and money, in a nutshell.

According to Forrester, half of a department’s annual reporting needs are ad hoc, which works out to be about 50 reports a year. They also added that the fully loaded cost of an individual report is $3200-$6100 per report. Each report can eat up up to 32 hours of time to develop and test. That’s hundreds of thousands of dollars spent in throwaway report investment.

Learn a faster, cheaper way to explore your Project data. Power BI is well suited to enable quick ad hoc reporting where you spend the majority of the time developing the data set, rather than the individual report. This helps you save money and reduces the cost of developing ad hoc reports.

Who should take this course

If your company uses Project Online and you are a:

  • Manager
  • Business Analyst
  • Power User
  • Project Server/Online Administrator
  • SharePoint Administrator
  • Consultant

You need this class if you are expected to use data from Microsoft Project to do your job effectively. The class assumes no prior knowledge of Power BI and Data Concepts

What is required for this class

  • Access to your Microsoft Project Online instance
  • Install Microsoft Power BI Desktop
  • If you don’t have Project Online yet, don’t worry. We have one you can use, for this class.

What you will learn

In this training course you will learn how to create Project Dashboards using Power BI, from Project Server data.

You will learn how to use Power BI in a multitude of situations, including ad hoc analysis and the creation of formal dashboard. You will learn about the Power BI components: Power BI Desktop, PowerBI.com, Power BI mobile applications and how they can be used with Microsoft Project Server/Online.

You’ll also receive an introduction into the core functions of Power BI; Data extraction, loading and transformation using Power Query Formula Language (“M”) and DAX. You’ll receive some guidelines on how to extract Project data in fast manner.

You will discover some data modeling practices that will ensure you have maximum flexibility in analysis. You’ll also learn some visualization best practices to ensure you can tell your digital story effectively.

You’ll learn best practices for maintaining content with your organization. This course provides an end to end view of Power BI for Project reporting, so that you are able to use Power BI immediately for your needs.

What you will get

You’ll get the tools to immediately get started on your design. You’ll receive:

  • Design spec that prompts the asking of the right questions
  • PowerPoint-based layout templates for dashboard paper prototyping
  • Tried and true BI design approach
  • Data dictionary of the Microsoft Project data store
  • Relationship diagrams for all Microsoft Project entities

5 critical value-adds you will take back to your company

  • You’ll have a jump start on a standard BI development approach
  • You’ll deliver new insights into your data.
  • You’ll have a great understanding of how Power BI can be used and implemented
  • You’ll learn techniques to make your dashboards perform well with project data
  • You’ll gain insight into how others are leveraging Power BI within their companies.

How will the class be conducted?

The class will be conducted live in an 8 hour session over Skype for Business, from 8 AM – 12 PM and 1 PM to 5 PM Pacific Time, with a lunch break from 12 PM -1 PM and other breaks during the day.

The sessions will occur on Tuesday, August 9, 2016.

This class will be recorded and made available, in case you miss part of the class or are unable to attend live.

What’s the cost?

Only $129 to learn how to unlock the power of your Project data.

Questions?

Contact us directly at info@tumbleroad.com.

Curriculum

  • Introduction to Power BI
  • Getting Data from Project
  • Using Power Query M for Data Retrieval and Transformation
  • Data Modeling with DAX
  • Data Visualization Techniques
  • Content Administration and Deployment
  • Licensing and Planning Considerations

Use metadata to drive Microsoft Project reporting logic

The need to extract Microsoft Project Task level data in an efficient manner is growing as many Project Server and Project Online clients are creating Power BI models over this data. Unfortunately, many did not account for this BI need when creating their project template structures. This leads to Project template designs that make it difficult or impossible to extract usable data from the Project Server/Online data store.

Microsoft Project Task names should not drive meaning outside of the project team

One common issue is making the task names in your project template meaningful to needs outside of the project team. You might have standard task names for Finance or for the PMO for example.

If you have told your PMs that they cannot rename or add tasks to their plans, you have this issue. You have encoded information into the structure of the project plan. The issue is that this way of encoding makes it very difficult to extract data easily using tools like SSRS and Power BI.

We’ve seen this before, when Content Management Systems were new

This was a common problem early on in file systems and SharePoint implementations in the 90s and 00s. A few of you may remember when we had to adhere to these arcane file naming conventions so that we could find the “right” file.

For example, you had to name your meeting notes document using a naming convention like the following. Client X – Meeting Notes – 20010405 – Online.doc. If you accidentally added a space or misspelled something, everything broke.

Metadata, a better approach

With the advent of search, we were able to separate the data from the metadata. This encoding of metadata into the file name data structure went by the wayside. Instead, we now use metadata to describe the file by tagging it with consistent keywords. Search uses the tags to locate the appropriate content. We also do this today for nearly all Internet related content in hopes that Google and Bing will find it.

If we reimagine Project Business Intelligence as a specialized form of search, you see that the metadata approach works to ensure the right information can be found without encoding data into the project plan structure. There are many benefits to using this approach.

Example: Phase 1 tasks encoding before

For example, today I might have the following situation, where the phase information is encoded into the structure.

image

Example: Phase 1 tasks encoding after

The metadata approach would yield the following structure instead.

image

Metadata benefits

The biggest benefit is agility. If your business needs change, you can your data tagging strategy quickly without requiring restructuring all of the projects. You can roll out a new tagging strategy and the PMs can re-tag their plans in less than a day.

Another benefit is consistency. Using Phase and TaskID, I can extract the Phase 1 tasks consistently from across multiple projects. This also has the side effect of reducing the PMO’s auditing effots.

You can better serve the collaboration needs of the project team while still meeting the demands of external parties. Project plans are simply the notes of the latest state of the conversation between members of the project team. It is intended for servicing their communication and collaboration needs. The PM is now free to structure the plan to serve the needs of their project team. They simply have to tag the tasks accordingly, which is a minimal effort. These tags can be used to denote external data elements such as billable milestones, phase end dates, etc.

Lastly, the plan structure makes better sense to the team and is easier for them to maintain. Top level tasks become the things that they are delivering instead of some abstract process step. The task roll-up provides the health of and progress toward a specific deliverable.

How do I implement project metadata in Microsoft Project?

It requires three steps in Project Server/Online.

  1. Create a metadata value lookup table
  2. Create a task custom field (you may need more than one eventually, but start simple)
  3. Add this metadata field to your Gantt views for the PM to see and use

Note: Don’t use multi-value selection for this need as this creates complexities in the BI solution.

Below is an example of a lookup table created to support this metadata use. One use of it was to support a visualization of all implementation milestones for the next month across the portfolio. The query looked for all milestones with a Reporting Purpose equal to “Milestone.Implementation” to extract the appropriate milestones.

To create a task custom field and lookup table, please refer to this link for the details. Note, you can use the same approach in Microsoft Project desktop using Outline codes.

Metadata Lookup Table

The Reporting Purposes lookup table supports two levels of values. This enables multiple classes of tags, such as milestones and phases. This exercise focuses on the Milestone.Implementation value.

clip_image002

Metadata Custom Field

Create the Reporting Purpose task custom field and attach it to the Reporting Purposes lookup table. Specify that Only allow codes with no subordinate values is selected. This prevents the user from selecting Milestones without selecting a more specific purpose.

clip_image004

I hope you find this article useful. Please post questions and comments below.

Controlling Chaos: Calculating Your Project Contingency Budget

I was sitting in my graduate level statistics class when it hit me, Expected Value calculations could be used to solve my project contingency budget problem!

My Quandary

Earlier that same day, I was sitting in a project review with my senior management. The project team had identified a number of risks with the project. I included a contingency budget task in the schedule based on that qualitative risk assessment. The management challenged me on this inclusion and said the team was artificially inflating the estimates.

The project itself involved a lot of moving pieces, with external vendors, timed deliveries of equipment and geographically dispersed personnel. The project ran nine months, ending in October. We had factored in things like vendor delays, employee sick time, etc. I thought the risk analysis was a reasonable precaution. However, management said “Prove it!”

I Need Days, Not Rankings

Every risk assessment article I had seen at the time involved the use of a qualitative risk ranking (High, Medium, and Low). This qualitative assessment didn’t meet my needs to prove that the amount of contingency was correct.

What I needed was a way to quantify the risk in days, so that I could create a task of X days to track the contingency. It was also the first time this organization had seen this type of risk analysis so the analysis needed to be effective but not overly complex.

Let’s Get Statistical

Back in my 3½ hour statistics class, we also reviewed the Pareto principle in that 80% of your outcome impacts are likely the result of 20% of your events. We also discussed Expected Value calculations and Normal Distribution and how all of these techniques could be used together.

Normal Distribution, which you may know as the “Bell Curve”, occurs in many settings and charts the probability distribution for a given scenario. All points on the curve has an associated Z-Score, which can be used to create an Expected Value result for a specific occurrence.

The Idea

My epiphany was that by identifying a small number of project risks and calculating the Expected Value of each risk in days, the sum of the Expected Value outcomes could be used as the duration for my contingency task. It should be big enough of a sample to cover most of the potential project variance.

Risks are a way of trying to quantify variance in your schedule. Each task finish date can be thought of as a little bell curve and the sum of those individual task finish variances decides where your final project finish date occurs.

The idea seemed to have merit. I did some reading to validate my idea and found that the disaster recovery planners do a similar calculation for assessing risk. They also add an expiration date for a given event and a number of potential occurrences for a given time frame. Expiration dates are needed, for example, if you have a risk that a vendor will not deliver some equipment on time. Once delivered, the risk expires as it is no longer needed.

Implementation Challenges

Imagine my dilemma. How the heck am I going to explain this concept to my team without it sounding like a lot of work?

Another consideration is that most people don’t think of probability in terms of a number. They use language like:

  • Very Unlikely
  • Unlikely
  • Possible
  • Likely
  • Very Likely.

You may be familiar with the word Sigma, as in Six Sigma. Sigma is a measure of variance around a mean. 97+% of all outcomes will occur between -2 Sigma and 2 Sigma. Anything beyond +/- 2 Sigma is exceptionally unlikely. Each Sigma point had a corresponding Z-Score that is the probability of an event happening at that point on the curve.

To make this user friendly, I mapped the language terms above to the Z-Scores at the corresponding -2, -1, 0, 1, and 2 Sigma points.

My core calculation is [Expected impact in days if risk occurs] * [Likelihood it will occur, Z-Score] * [the number of possible occurrences in time period] assuming that the expiration date had not passed. I needed to capture this in a spreadsheet at the time and I needed it to be easily understandable to the user.

The Tool

The resulting spreadsheet captured the Risk, the impact as measured in days, expiration date and a dropdown for likelihood that the risk will occur. We formulated a risk list of ten items and found our calculations added two days of exposure to our original estimate of contingency. Ten items seemed like a sufficient sample without creating a lot of additional work to formulate the list.

For example, one of our vendors was in Miami and had a key deliverable in late August. I grew up on the Gulf Coast and knew this was peak hurricane season. If a hurricane hit the area, they would have a week of downtime.

Originally, we were thinking this was an unlikely event. One of the team members pointed out that the National Weather Service was predicting a higher than normal number of hurricanes for the season. The team then upgraded the Risk rating to Possible. The risk was then documented as shown in the table below. We did this for each of the risks and the sum of the values was the duration of the contingency task.

Risks Screenshot

The Result

The new analysis was introduced in the next management meeting. They were dubious but they allowed us to use it in our project. As risks occurred, we kept track of them and used days from the contingency budget. We encountered a number of issues along the way, some anticipated and a number that were not.

We ended the project only one day over our contingency budget date. Considering we had 28 days of contingency, the management reaction to a 1 day slip was much more muted than communicating a 29 day slip. We also knew why we consumed 28 days of contingency, which gave management confidence that the situation was being actively managed.

Summary

I’ve used this basic technique successfully on other projects where we were able to increase project on-time rates from 35% to 70% on-time. This technique also gets your team in the right mindset as the analysis is reviewed every status meeting and gets them thinking about how to address risks proactively.

This post is part of the Chaos and the Cubicle Hero series. Other posts can be found here, here and here,

 

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