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Duration vs.

Work different approaches to scheduling: As you all know the default in duration in Microsoft Project is 1 day or 1 day ! if you are using Project "###. $n %y e&perience in helping people e&ploit the potential of the tool $ have encountered several instances where people were looking to schedule activities 'ased upon the work or effort rather than duration! in effect the duration of their tasks is entered as the esti%ated work value and resources are assigned full ti%e to the tasks in the plan. (ro% %y own personal e&perience and fro% using Microsoft Project for a considera'le period of ti%e $ have grown %ore co%forta'le with the concept of scheduling 'y duration. As always there is not a right or wrong answer in the project arena! just different approaches to the pro'le% arising fro% culture! o'jectives and previous e&perience. Whilst there is nothing wrong in scheduling using work and assigning resources full ti%e to each and every task $ have several reservations a'out this approach to scheduling: 1. )very task %ust happen in line with the schedule to avoid significant slippage. *his in effect %eans that there is no +'uilt in, slack-float or fle&i'ility. ". .esources %ust 'e availa'le e&actly when tasks are scheduled and should 'e availa'le e&clusively to work on the scheduled task without disruption. /. )sti%ates of work effort need to 'e accurate to ensure a %eaningful schedule is created. 0. *ask durations and scheduled 1tart 2 (inish ti%es can end up 'eing very precise for e&a%ple a task is scheduled with a duration of 3.4 hours and is scheduled to start at 1#:0/ on *uesday and finish at 11:1/ on Wednesday courtesy of its predecessors deter%ining the e&act start ti%e for the task. Presenting such an +accurate, schedule to people %ay 'e a recipe for so%e people to kick against the project culture or at least 'e highly suspicious of the schedule they are e&pected to work to. 4. 1o%ewhere an allowance for contingency needs to 'e factored into the schedule as no plan can 'e assu%ed to proceed e&actly according to schedule. *he danger of identifying such contingency as a part of the schedule is that de%anding or ine&perienced %anagers %ay regard it as 'eing superfluous and assu%e that 'y re%oving it they can achieve an earlier co%pletion date. 5ooking at this list you %ight conclude that these re6uire%ents are all essential to achieve targets in any project so what is the pro'le% $n an environ%ent where resources are dedicated full ti%e to individual projects and have no other responsi'ilities or de%ands upon their ti%e then this approach can have its %erits. $n reality it is unlikely that any of the ite%s a'ove will 'e accurate all the ti%e so what chance is there of the% all 'eing accurate all of the ti%e (or a lot of project7oriented 'usinesses their resources %ay 'e re6uired to work across several concurrently running projects. *he scenario of %ulti7tasking resources working

across a range of projects is where Microsoft Project can really start to show how change i%pacts upon people and their workload. *o %y %ind a project plan is an indication of what you want to see happen in your project. $t is a tool! which gives %anagers a vision over their plans! and which illustrates the i%pact of change 'oth on schedules and resources when change is introduced! the upshot 'eing that %anagers can work in a pro7active not reactive fashion. $t can also provide %anagers with the %eans to fend of +change for changes sake, 'y dyna%ically illustrating the conse6uence of a change whenever it is suggested. 8istorically Project Managers have warned of the conse6uences of rando% change 'ut without the 'enefit of a powerful scheduling tool have not 'een in a position to argue their forecasts fro% a position of strength. As a result change has 'een i%posed 'ecause of the position and authority of the proponent of change only for the Project Manager to 'e proven right! or nearly right! in the final analysis. 9eing a'le to i%%ediately illustrate the i%pact of a proposed change can in so%e instances dissuade senior %anagers fro% %aking changes. *he project plan is a guide rather than a strict ti%eta'le dictating e&actly when people are re6uired to work on tasks. $t can provide %anage%ent at varying levels with a view as to the current state of play and the i%plications of change. $ prefer to think of durations for tasks as an agreed delivery period for an input 'y a resource or group of resources working on a project. As long as the delivera'le is provided 'y the agreed task end date and is of the re6uisite 6uality 7 how the resource %anages their workload is their own responsi'ility. Most people when pressed to indicate how long a task will take will invaria'ly 6uote duration! which is distinct fro% the actual effort to 'e e&pended on the task. *o illustrate the su'tle distinction 'etween duration and effort i%agine a situation in which a resource! already fully assigned a weeks work is approached 'y a senior %anager re6uesting a report on a particular specialist su'ject. *he resource receiving the re6uest is pro'a'ly aware of the need to acco%%odate the senior %anager 'ut 'y the sa%e token is una'le to drop everything to respond to the re6uest i%%ediately. After consideration of the likely effort on the re6uested task and taking account of other de%ands on their ti%e the resource %ay say so%ething like +$ can let you have it 'y (riday lunchti%e, in effect 6uoting a delivery date and duration for the report. $f the senior %anager accepts this all is well. 8owever whilst the report %ay take a few days to 'e put together it is unlikely that this is continuous effort 'y the resource. *hey have allowed the%selves a window of ti%e in which to produce the report and have in affect allocated a proportion of their work capacity in that duration to delivering the report. Working with durations and allowing +reasona'le, windows of ti%e for tasks allows realistic and fle&i'le schedules to 'e created. $ try to schedule durations of 'etween 1 day and 1 week as a nor%! $ a% deeply suspicious of anything that takes longer than a week! if so%eone co%es to %e saying a task will take / weeks $ a% likely to ask why and get

the% to 'reak the task down in to its co%ponent parts! re%e%'er if you cannot %easure so%ething you cannot control it. Allowing durations which e&ceed the ti%e the actual work will take introduces an ele%ent of tolerance in to schedules which can 'e very useful for a'sor'ing the inevita'le changes and crises that will 'e e&perienced in any organisation over the lifecycle of a project. $n a previous article $ covered task types and 'anged the dru% for (i&ed :nits not )ffort Driven. :sing this task type you can set the duration for a task and in the assign resource dialogue 'o& enter a work value whereupon Microsoft Project calculates the ; allocation of the resource. $n %aking this calculation Microsoft Project assu%es a +(lat, work contour! very crudely the work is spread evenly across the duration. *his is an easy way of dealing with the associated work for a co%puter 'ut not how hu%ans actually operate. 1o%e people when given a task will deal with it straight away! others <the eternal students= will just get it done 'y the target co%pletion date whilst %ost will work on the task as and when they can. Working in this fashion and using +reasona'le, durations for tasks as a result of detailed work or task 'reakdown resources can 'e assigned work to tasks using proportions of their capacity. *his can result in a de%and profile for a resource where there are peaks and troughs in workload. (or %ost of us this will 'e a fact of life and if you are typical of so%eone suffering the cult of presenteeis% the peaks will easily outweigh the troughs. 8opefully the peaks and troughs will 'e undulating within an accepta'le range rather than fluctuating wildly fro% under utilisation to %assive overload. 9y working in this %anner you are also surreptitiously including an ele%ent of fle&i'ility in to your schedule in that if there is a crisis you can turn up the heat on certain tasks to achieve earlier co%pletion 'y re6uesting resources to turn the tasks around 6uicker. $n circu%stances where the duration reflects the work the resource is already scheduled to work flat out! how can they i%prove on the scheduled perfor%ance .esource leveling as a tool atte%pts to re%ove peaks fro% the de%and profile for a resource. Whilst this is ad%ira'le! trying to achieve a perfectly flat de%and profile for a resource can 'e a full ti%e activity. $t is this ai% that people fre6uently 6uote when looking to schedule projects using work. *hey are looking to avoid overloads for resources 'y accurately planning workload. .eading 'etween the lines this i%plies that their projects go according to plan! that all esti%ates are 1##; accurate and that they have dedicated staff working on their projects and nothing else. Whilst this article %akes use of one of the settings in the resource leveling dialogue 'o& it is not an e&planation of resource leveling! so%ething $ will return to in a future article. *he danger of scheduling using work is that in a %ulti7project environ%ent even the slightest overlap of tasks can lead to horrendous de%and profiles for resources. $ have seen resource graphs where a person is re6uired at >##; on *uesday! not at all Wednesday and then at 0##; on *hursday and (riday. 9eing so e&act in your scheduling

can lead to these apparently a'nor%al de%and profiles arising! which in turn can alar% so%e people and confuse others. When looking at a resource sheet any resources with scheduled work causing the% to 'e over7allocated will %ean the resource shows in red. *rying to avoid resources showing in red is worthy 'ut pro'a'ly futile given the potential for change in any project. $f overloads cannot 'e avoided what is a reasona'le level of overload Project will show a resource in red even if it is only over7allocated for just 1 %inute so%ewhere in your project! the red status of the resource is not the issue? it is whether you get the @.esolve using .esource 5eveling@ icon displayed in the indicators colu%n when looking at the resource sheet that should concern you. *o e&plain further: $%agine a resource working 3 hours per day and 0# hours per week. *hey have " tasks scheduled on the sa%e day! *ask A scheduled to take a day with the resource working at "4; capacity and *ask 9 a %eeting scheduled fro% 1#A% and lasting for " hours where the sa%e resource has to attend full ti%e! 1##;.

$f you check the resource sheet you will see their na%e appear in .ed! however if you have the default settings for .esource leveling <Day 'y Day= there will 'e no warning $con in the indicators colu%n. $f you look at the .esource 1heet and switch to the 1u%%ary *a'le you will see the resource doing 0 hours work and with a peak of 1"4; <$ always insert the indicators colu%n in to this ta'le for analysis=. Put si%ply during the second " hours of the day the resource is e&pected to do " tasks si%ultaneously <1##; A "4;=! attend the %eeting and do so%e work on *ask A. Bnce the %eeting is out of the way the resource peak units drop to "4; for the re%ainder of *ask A 7 you can check this 'y going to the resource graph and Coo%ing in to show a day 'roken down in to " hour seg%ents of ti%e. Peak :nits is at 'est a %isleading %easure as it tells you the worst7case scenario 'ut not how long it lasts for. Peak :nits can also throw up an ano%aly as shown in the following e&a%ple how can a resource with a peak of 133; not have a warning icon when so%eone at a peak of 1D4; does

$n the resource graph switch fro% showing peak units to ; allocation or work and the picture is nowhere near as drastic as peak units would have you 'elieve.

.ather than try to eli%inate the red status of a resource using resource leveling why not use the resource usage view and show 'oth work and re%aining availa'ility per ti%e period. $f you see a resource with work showing in red 'ut with re%aining availa'ility they pro'a'ly have an overlap si%ilar to the situation descri'ed a'ove. $f you use the Eo *o Fe&t Bver7allocation 'utton fro% the .esource Manage%ent tool'ar you can very 6uickly scan a project to see where the pro'le%s are and how 'ad they are.

$n the e&a%ple shown here each resource shows up in red 'ut there are no warning signs in the indicator colu%n. (or each ti%e period shown against the ti%escale where there is an indicated over7allocation there is also a re%aining availa'ility! the warning icon will only appear it there is no re%aining availa'ility in any 4 day window of ti%e. $f you are taken to a cell where there is work shown in red and no re%aining availa'ility you can e&pand the resource assign%ents to see e&actly what is causing the pro'le%! who it affects and how long it persists for. Eiven the dyna%ic nature of projects this level of analysis is useful for the short ter% 'ut possi'ly irrelevant when looking to tasks scheduled several weeks or %onths in to the future as circu%stances %ay change in the interi%. As a rule $ like to look at the i%%ediate future workload for resources to identify potential pro'le%s on a rolling 'asis over the life7cycle of the project so that it 'eco%es a part of the routine %anage%ent of any project. *o reduce the incidence of resource leveling icons you should set the resource leveling @Eranularity@ to week 'y week. With the 'est will in the world it will 'e difficult to avoid the occasional over7allocation! however as long as you are not severely overloading resources on a regular 'asis $ would suggest that you accept the occasional over7allocation. After all Project is %erely a guide as to what you would like to see happen in your projects! in all pro'a'ility things will never go e&actly as you planned across the entire duration of your project.