Using MS Project Server for Resource Management

One of the consistent struggles of working in a “standalone” project management environment is the fact that you do not have visibility of the “total picture” associated with resources. Resource loading in MS Project provides visibility of resource utilization vs. capacity on your project – not across all resource commitments (e.g., other projects and operational activities). You can utilize the “max units %” to reflect that a resource is something less than 100% available to the project, but this information is only relevant if it is regularly reviewed and updated.

In my opinion, the most significant benefit associated with Enterprise Project Management tools such as MS Project Server, is providing enterprise wide visibility of planned resource utilization vs. capacity. As a by-product of maintaining resource loaded project and operational schedules within MS Project Server, up-to-date resource utilization information is available in a very flexible and easy to access and consume manner.

 

5 Benefits of Using MS Project Server for Resource Management

1. Consistent definition of resources – Maintaining the Global Resource Pool in MS Project Server ensures that resources are defined in a consistent manner across all projects. Without consistency it is difficult to efficiently roll-up resource utilization information from multiple projects. Key elements maintained in the Global Resource Pool are:

  • Resource Name – It is important to establish a standard format for resource names (e.g., first name, last name).
  • Role – The role field provides the ability to view groupings of resources that perform a similar function across projects (e.g., Business Analyst, SharePoint Developer).
  • Base Calendar – The calendar field establishes the appropriate calendar for the resource (e.g., non-working days, working hours).
  • Generic Resources – The generic resource flag provides the ability to create generic resources that are utilized for resource loading purposes prior to assigning a named resource to the project.
  • RBS / Team Name / Department – MS Project Server provides a lot of flexibility to define the attributes/hierarchy specific to your organization (RBS, departments, and teams).
  • Booking Type – This field is utilized to establish the default booking type for the resource assignment. “Committed” represents a firm commitment/assignment to the project, and “proposed” represents a future/planned assignment.
  • Current Max Units % – Max units represents the % resources are available for work that is scheduled in MS Project Server. This field is utilized to calculate the resource capacity displayed on the resource availability charts.
  • Rate – The rate fields establish the standard and overtime rates utilized for costing / billing purposes.

Below is a summary view of the Global Resource Pool. Views can be tailored to meet the needs of your organization in the same manner that views are created in SharePoint.

 

Below are screen shots of the details captured for each resource.

 

 

2. Understanding resource availability across multiple projects – The Resource Availability feature in MS Project Server provides very useful views of planned resource utilization vs. capacity. These views display resource utilization for specified periods (days, weeks, months) for each of the schedules maintained in MS Project Server. The views are available in both chart and table format (depicted below). In addition, you have the ability to view utilization for a single resource or a group of resources.

3. Visibility of Firm vs. Planned Resource Commitments – Within the “build team” function, you have the ability to specify whether resources are loaded into the schedule as firm commitments (committed) or planned future assignments (proposed). The proposed booking type is utilized for planning resource utilization at a high level for future projects/periods.

 

The chart below depicts including proposed hours (in addition to committed hours) in the resource availability view.

 

4. Ability View Availability for Resource Groups – MS Project Server provides the ability to select groups of resources to view total resource utilization vs. capacity for a specific role (e.g., business analysts). This feature is particularly helpful when you have resources that are interchangeable across projects.

The chart below depicts resource utilization vs. capacity by resource for the selected periods (days, weeks, months).

5. Ability to “Drill Down” to View Resource Utilization – From the resource availability views MS Project Server provides the ability to “drill down” to view the detail task assignments for a specific resource or group of resources. The resource assignment details provide resource and project managers with the information required to resolve specific “peaks” or “valleys” in resource utilization.

 

3 Critical Success Factors for Effective Resource Management

The following are 3 factors that are critical to realize the benefits of using MS Project Server for resource management within your project environment.

1. Resource Pool – Data captured in the resource pool must be defined and captured based upon the resource management needs of your organization. This success factor includes standard naming convention for resources, logical structure of the organization and team hierarchy, and meaningful definition of the project roles. These decisions drive how data is displayed within many of the resource management views.

2. Resource Capacity – The capacity line is driven from the Max Units % maintained for each resource. This percent must reflect the availability of the resource to be scheduled on the projects and operational activities maintained within the MS Project Server implementation. For example, if MS Project Server implementation does not include system support activities, then the Max Unit % should be reduced to reflect the time allocated to these activities for each resource. A process should be established for reviewing and updating this information on a regular basis (I recommend monthly or quarterly).

3. Resource Loaded Projects – The information associated with planned resource utilization on projects and operational activities is only as good as the accuracy and completeness of the resource loading within the individual project schedules. This is a very obvious statement, but I have seen many Enterprise Project Management implementations fail because the resource data within project schedules did not reflect reality. Coaching and mentoring of individual project managers is often required to ensure that project schedules are resource loaded and updated accurately throughout the project life cycle.

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Using MS Project to Improve Project Performance

People often ask me what I find to be the most useful tool to perform my job as a project manager. I pause when responding to this question, because I prepare my share of presentations in MS PowerPoint, create many project deliverables in MS Word, manage my budget using Excel, and I have expressed in many blogs how to improve your project environment using SharePoint. However, because I view the project schedule to be at the core of good project management (my bias as a Time Management instructor shines through), I generally respond that MS Project is the tool that I rely on the most to do my job as a project manager.

In the enterprise project management space, MS Project Server has a lot of competition, but in the project management tool space it is my opinion that MS Project is by far best in terms of features, flexibility, and ease of use. The focus of this blog is how project management tools, specifically MS Project, can be used to improve your ability to manage project performance, from the perspective of becoming both more efficient and effective as a project manager.

Common Myths about using MS Project and Other Project Management Tools

  • I am too busy managing the project to deal with maintaining a project schedule – My response to this myth is that you are too busy managing a project to NOT create and maintain a project schedule. I have seen plenty of situations where the team has invested time and effort in a very extensive project schedule, and then they do nothing with it once they start progressing through project execution. This generally happens because the project manager does not know how to use MS Project to effectively progress and update the project schedule. The time required to create and maintain the project schedule pays for itself over and over throughout the project life cycle with the information required to understand and communicate what needs to be done when, and by whom.
  • It is just as effective and much easier to use Excel to manage the project schedule – I will admit that if you are creating a list of activities/tasks and assignments, Excel does the trick just fine. However, once you need to sequence that tasks, estimate durations and work, and load resource requirements, you quickly get beyond the capabilities of Excel. The time to required to set-up these capabilities in Excel would be much better invested in leveraging the robust out-of-the-box scheduling features of MS Project.
  • Non-project managers cannot understand MS Project – I agree that most non-project managers have a hard time relating to the details maintained within MS Project. Predecessors, durations, WBS are foreign terms to most non-project managers. However, MS Project provides the ability to tailor views of the schedule in ways that non-project management stakeholders find easy to understand and use. From my perspective, it is much more productive to create useful views in MS Project (one time), than spend the time to reenter schedule information into other tools for presentation purposes.
  • Does not work with iterative delivery approaches, only waterfall – Having been the project manager on plenty of Agile projects, I understand that there are additional tools utilized heavily to manage scope and measure progress (the product backlog and burn down charts). However, as a project manager you still need a project schedule to establish and manage overall timing related expectations. The schedule will not contain the details of the sprint, but it is utilized to put the sprints in the context of the other project related activities (e.g., product releases, training, and knowledge transfer).
  • MS Project has a mind of its own – I was mentoring a project manager one time who told me, “his tool had been compromised”. Admittedly, a certain level of complexity is a by-product of the features and flexibility of MS Project. Therefore if you are not familiar with how to create a schedule that can be easily progressed and updated throughout project execution, the project schedule becomes an enigma rather than an enabler. If you are not well versed in MS Project and/or the construct of your project schedule, the impact of updates to the schedule become difficult to understand and communicate. The simple answer to this myth is to get the training and mentoring required to be proficient using MS Project.

6 Ways MS Project Helps Manage Project Performance

1. Breaking down the work: MS Project provides the ability to easily capture and organize the WBS (Work Breakdown Structure). The use of indentation makes it easy to decompose the work from the highest level (project phases) to the lowest levels (tasks) of the project. In addition, the ability to collapse specific sections of the schedule allows you to focus on specific areas of the work breakdown. Some project teams prefer a graphical representation of the work breakdown. The tasks can be easily be imported/exported from MS Project to tools like Visio to support the desire to review a graphical depiction of the WBS.

2. Sequencing Activities: Dependency relationships are utilized to link two tasks in the most logical manner possible. The default in MS Project is Finish-to-Start (FS), but this may not be the relationship that most accurately defines the linkage between two tasks. This relationship may represent a “hard” dependency (this must happen in a certain manner), or a “soft” dependency (a relationship set up to establish a logical flow of the project activities). In addition to establishing the relationship, predecessors and successors can be utilized to create leads (acceleration or overlap) and lags (delays or gaps) between schedule activities. MS Project provides a lot of flexibility to ensure the Project Manager has the ability to sequence the work in a manner that reflects the way the work will be executed.

3. Creating the timeline: After the project activities, durations and dependencies are loaded, the schedule is starting to take on some shape and form. The Gantt view is one of the most effective tools for communicating the timeline associated with key summary tasks and milestones. Use the MS project filters to limit the tasks to those that convey the appropriate message.

4. Managing resource loading / utilization: The mechanics of loading resources into the project schedule is very straightforward. MS Project provides the ability to either load effort based upon estimated hours to complete or percent the resource is allocated to the tasks. In addition, the resource utilization view displays the effort planned for each team member and the ability to make the appropriate adjustments to “level” the resource utilization.

5. Progressing the project: Maintaining the project schedule throughout project execution is referred to in project manager speak as “progressing the schedule”. In MS Project the project manager has the ability to update the % complete, estimated to complete, and the actual effort worked. In addition, the project manager will make updates to duration & work estimates, dependencies, and tasks to ensure the schedule continues to reflect the way planned work will be completed.

6. Understanding project impacts: Upon completion of the planning process, a baseline “snapshot” of the project schedule is saved in MS Project. This baseline provides the ability to measure current schedule performance against the original plan to understand and communicate actual and planned impacts to the project schedule. These impacts are reflected in the schedule as variances that are captured for the start and finish dates of individual activities, summary tasks (i.e., project phases), and project milestones.