The main reason for people starting to use Microsoft Project is probably the Gantt chart, but this is also a common source for annoyance. So, here are some tips on how to customize the chart,
First, we start by introducing the term View. When you look at Microsoft Project, you have a view activated. Which one can you see by activating the View menu. All the options under the first three parts are views. The reason for the division line is that the views are connected to a certain type of data: Task views and Resource views. We’re still working with Task views so keep to these for now. We’ll get into the other concepts later.
You can just start by flipping through the different options. As you can see, they display different information. Then, flip back to the Gantt chart.
Before you start customizing, you can create your own copy of the Gantt chart. By doing so, you can flip back later. You can also have a number of Gantt charts so you can easily flip between different settings.
To create your own copy of the Gantt chart, select View—>More views. Select Gantt Chart in the list and click Copy.
Type in a name and confirm with OK. Observe that if you unselect Show in menu, you will have to go to More views dialog box to select your view.
We’ll leave the table for now and get to the actual chart. You’ve probably noticed the butcons for zooming in and zooming out in the time scale, but if you want to change this to what you want, double click the time scale or select Format—>Time scale.
Start by selecting Timescale Options. Here you specify how many rows the time scale will have: 1-3. Then you can move on to the tabs to specify each row. You then specify unit, label, count, etc for each tab. In Sweden, we’re really into week numbers so here we often change the week labels to 1,2…52. This means week numbers.
If you want to increase the space between the different items (in this case week days), increase Size.
Confirm with OK.
You can now double click in the space of the chart (outside a bar) or select Format—>Bar Styles.
Here you can select each row in the top list and in the bottom part of the dialog box specify how the type is to be visualized. Observe that you can change in the upper part which criteria are to be met and which columns are to be used for visualizing. Here you can for example see and change Milestones, which are always displayed on Start Date, even if they have duration. Another tip is that if you add a * before the name, which you also can change to what ever term you use, Style names starting with * will not be added to the label specification on print outs.
Also, remember to activate the tab Text in the bottom part. Here you can for each row in the top part specify which text is to be displayed next to the bar type. In this example, you can see that the content of the column Resource Names is displayed on the Right side of normal tasks. Many change this to Resource Initials. Confirm with OK.
If you double click a bar in the chart you can make the changes to that specific bar:
You can also change the gridlines. Select Format—>Grid lines. Select on the left side which line type you want to change and make the changes on the right side. If you want some Excel look and feeling: change to dotted line types for Gantt Rows and Bottom Tier Column. This will create a grid. This is for example good if the bottom tier shows different weeks. Then you can see which tasks occur during the different weeks of the project.
If you add grid lines, the links between the bars can make the diagram hard to read. To hide these, select Format—>Layout. Here you can for example hide the links and change the date format in the diagram.
In my project, I often have one Gantt chart with grid lines and without Links and one Gantt chart with the links but without the gridlines.
If you think these options are too hard to grasp, select Format—>Gantt Chart Wizard instead. Here you can follow a guide which can include everything from five to 50 steps depending on how complicated you want to make it.
When I as a consultant was called in to help a project manager getting their Microsoft Project file under control again, the first thing I did was watch the indicator field in the Gantt chart. That is the field to the most left in the table. If every row had this symbol:
In the case below, only one row has the icon (the bottom row):
I know that this would not be solved in one session.
What is that symbol? How do I get rid of it and why did it stick there in the first place?
Well, the most common way for people getting that thing there is by dragging the bars in the Gantt chart during the horizontal line. That is when they drag them forward in time. If you drag a bar to another bar, you link them (covered in chapter 3, Linking tasks) but by dragging the bar just forward or backward, you link the task in time instead. If you see that icon in your Gantt chart, move the cursor over the icon and you’ll see a tool tip. Don’t get frightened, just look at it. It will probably read something like this:
“Task start no earlier than 2009-10-01”
You get the same effect if you place the cursor in the Start field. Print in a date and confirm. Again you get that symbol and you have linked the task to that date.
The problem with this method if you’re building a plan is that you link tasks to dates and if you have changes in your plan, you have to move all the tasks. If you instead link them, changes ripple through your project and you can see the effect.
But how do you get rid of those icons and how are you supposed to use them?
If you select a task with a constraint and click the following butcon: the Task Information dialog box is opened (you can also double click a task to open this dialog box, but the butcon works with several tasks at the same time). Activate the Advanced tab and there you have a label for constraints. If the task has the icon, the contraint type is not Start as soon as possible, but instead it looks something like this:
If you change the constraint type to Start as soon as possible and confirms the icon disappears and the task is probably moved in time (remember, you should use linking as much as possible to show gaps, links, etc).
But if you look at the drop down, you can see that there are multiple choices. This is how they are used:
- Start as soon as possible
Means that the task starts as soon as it’s possible due to predecessors.
- End as late as possible
Means that the task ends as late as it’s possible without delaying the project.
- Start no earlier than
The first possible date is [date]. Used when for example resources cannot start working before a fixed date, etc.
- End no earlier than
The first possible end date is [date]. Used when for example a contract states how long an activity should continue.
- Must start on
Fixed start date to [date]. Used for example meetings or tasks which cannot move forward or backwards. If this criteria is set, the icon becomes red.
- Must end on
Fixed end date to [date]. Used for example meetings or tasks which cannot move forward or backwards. If this criteria is set, the icon becomes red.
If you look closely at these statements, none is a deadline and non of these should be used for deadlines. Instead you have a separate field for this, also on the Advanced tab in the Task Information dialog box (selected field on image).
If a task has a deadline, it gets a different icon BUT in the Gantt chart part of the Gantt chart view (third task on image):
Deadlines work nicely and if you re schedule and the deadlines cannot be met, you get warnings and those tasks get red icons in the icon field.
e now move on to Milestones. If you set the duration of a task to 0, the task becomes a milestone (first task on image). As you can see, the icon changes in the chart:
You can also set a longer task as a milestone. Get back to the Advanced tab on Task information and set Mark task as milestone:
You should do this with care. As you can see from the example below, milestones are per default visible on the task start date which looks odd in this case where the second task is a milestone ranging five days. In this case, I would instead create a new task, link the five day task to the new task and mark the new one as a milestone.
Finally, before the lesson is complete, we need to link the project to dates. This you do by selecting Project—>Project Information. Here you can set project start date and the calculated end date.
If you change the Schedule from to Project End date, you will instead be able to set a finish date and the start date is calculated. This is accomplished by the default task constraint type changes to End as late as possible. This can be really interesting during the planning phase, but remember to switch back when the project actually starts. Then you set the correct start date. Otherwise, your delays will say that a certain task should have started a week ago…
In my previous posts, I’ve covered the term Duration and if you’re using Fixed Work as the task type, duration is calculated automatically when you add resources and set their focus factor (units). But sometimes you set the Duration and sometimes tasks have a fixed length and no resources.
We’ll start by adding a number of tasks to our Gantt chart table:
You can see that they all have a ? after their length. That just says that you haven’t entered it manually so you can remove it and nothing is affected.
You can also change the value of Duration. If you just enter a number in the field, the metric used is Days (this is a setting so you can change the default metric to weeks, minutes, months, etc.) If you want to enter another metric you need to type in the number followed by the metric (min, h, d, w, mon – observe that the names of the metrics depends on the cultural settings of the application so if you’re not using a English version you need to check the names in your environment).
You can also enter an e (which letter is also a cultural setting) before the name of the metric:
Can you see that the tasks get different lengths in the diagram part? Why is that? Well, if I use the ordinary metrics, the tasks need to be performed during working time and working days. If I enter the e, which stands for elapsed, the tasks can be performed independent of working time. Example of that type of tasks can be concrete drying or if you for example give users “two weeks to test”.
If you change the working time, the duration of tasks without the e in the metric will be affected. You can see this very easy if you add a non working day to you schedule. Select Tools—>Change Working time. Select a day in the calendar and select Non Working time. Confirm with OK:
You can see that the new non working day has been marked as grey and that the duration of the task without the e in duration has become longer:
So, don’t forget to add your holidays and use elapsed for tasks which are independent of holidays!
Before I leave you for a while with Project, I’m going to introduce a new concept: linking tasks. Don’t worry, I’ll get back to MS Project, but not for a while. This is not a blog on MS Project and beginners need to test the stuff I’ve covered. But I can’t leave without discussing links.
Most beginners just drag the bars in the Gantt chart. This connects the tasks to specific dates and this is sometimes good, but it does not help you if you need to reschedule a project. Instead, you should try working with links. I’ll get back to specifying dates like deadlines later. But now, we’re talking about links.
Below, you can see unlinked tasks. They are not related.
If you want to link two tasks you can drag the bar of the task which affects another task to the affected task. You can also select them in the table and click on the butcon Link Tasks. Linked tasks look like this:
You can also see on the picture above that the links are stored in two columns on the Gantt chart: Predecessors and Successors. In the former field, you can see which tasks are directly affected by the task and in the Successor field, you can see which tasks the current task directly depend on. The number in the field is the ID of the task. So, another way of linking tasks is printing the ID in the right field. (To insert a column, right click another column and select Insert Field. Select the appropriate column)
If you double click the link between two tasks (in the diagram part of the Gantt chart) you can see that there are a number of options on a link. First you can delete the link by clicking that button. (You can also use a butcon in the toolbar or delete the ID in the table).
Then you can change Lag. Lag is if the link is not on the second. If you don’t add a Lag, a task can start the very second the previous task has been completed. You can add positive or negative values to Lag. For example:
- +1 d means that a task can start one day after the previous has been completed
- -1 d means that a task can start one day before the previous task has been completed (overlapping tasks)
Observe that you can also print values in percent: a lag of –50% means that you can start with a task when the other task has been 50% completed.
When you enter Lag you must also specify the type of Link, which you can see on the picture below:
There are four types of links, in the table identified by their initials:
- Finish-to-Start (FS)
The default link type. When one task has been completed, the predecessor can start.
- Start-to-Start (SS)
The second most common link type. When one task has started, the predecessor can also start.
- Finish-to Finish (FF)
When a task has finished, the predecessor can also finish.
- Start-to-Finish (SF)
When a task has started, the predecessor can finish.
Below, you can see some example of tasks which are linked using the different types of links:
- We cannot stop testing until we’ve finished developing.
- We cannot stop using the old system until the new one is operational.
- When we’ve started planning, we can also start developing.
As you might realize, combining link types with lag can get kind of complixated. For example, 1SS+50% is the same as 1FS-50%.
In my previous post, I discussed the concepts Work, Duration and Units but for you planning geniuses out there: why should I calculate on a focus factor of 100%? Do you remember?
Work=Duration * Units
8h = 1d (*8h) *100%
The best project managers or planning person does not plan for people working 8h hours a day on tasks. They know that they can rely on much less, perhaps 60% or 6 hours a day. In agile, we call that the focus factor. And yes, it’s also individual. Some does not work full time, some are off on other projects and some have other tasks. So, how do we change that 8 hours a day settings. Buckle up, because we’re going on a ride. This is not a simple task.
First, you select Tools—>Options and activate the Calendar tab:
First, you change the Default Start time and Default end time. All tasks starts on a minute of the day and if you don’t change this setting, they will start at 08:00 and end at 17:00. The problem is that if you change the focus factor to 6 hours per day and keep the default settings of Start and End time, you will be able to complete more than one day’s of work during one working day (two hours to be exact). I guess this makes sense in some cases, but I’ve still not found that moment. Please get back to me if you know of such an occasion.
Then you can change the actual settings of how much man hours makes one day’s work. And here you have to change both Hours per day and hours per week. Again, if you don’t change both settings, you might get very funny effects. So, don’t do that if you’re not absolutely sure of what you are doing.
Confirm the settings by hitting OK (also, observe that many of the settings on the Tools—>Options dialog box has a Set As Default option if you want to have the same settings on your other, new project files).
The example above is great for a focus factor of 6 hours per day.
But we are not done. We also have to change the default calendar, again not to enable that you can complete more than one day of work during a working day.
So, select Tools—>Change Working time.
In the top drop down you can select which calendar you’re working with. The Standard is the one resources and tasks use if you don’t change that setting but each resource have their own calendar, which you also can change, for example if a resource works part time.
You can in the actual calendar select individual days or all days of a week day (like I’ve done on the picture) by selecting the name of the week day. You can then change the setting of the selected day(s) on the dialog box right side. On the example, I’ve shown the settings of a focus factor of 7 hours a day but remember that your settings should match the ones you made in Tools—>Options. This is also the reason for you finding a button for activating those settings in this dialog box.
Also observe that no holidays have been entered, so you can also set these as Non working time.
For resources working part time, select their calendars in the drop down menu and make the settings like you did for the Standard calendar. You can also create templates for this (the new button in the dialog box) but leave this for when you’ve learnt more about the application.
Before you even think about using Microsoft Project for your planning, you must grasp the concepts Work, Duration and Units. The reason for this is if you don’t understand this, you will probably use the program the wrong way.
- Work = Number of manhours needed to complete a task
- Duration = Length in calender time needed to complete a task
- Units = Part of resource’s time needed to complete a task
Much about completing tasks, wouldn’t you say? And yes, these concepts are connected:
Work = Duration * Unit
In other words, the number of man hours needed is the result of the time spent times the focus factor of the resources. So if a resource works a normal 8 hours day, this can be an example:
16h =2d *8*1
(If you work two days full time on a task, you will spend 16 hours.
But how do I find this in Project?
Well, first, you need to make some settings changes. Start Microsoft Project and select Tools—>Options. Select the Schedule tab. Change the default task type to Fixed Work:
Confirm with OK.
Next is changing the column settings. Make sure that you view the Gantt Chart view (menu View and Gantt chart should be selected).
Then select the Start column and select Insert—>Column (you can also right click a column and select Insert).
The dialog box below should be visible. In the top menu, you can select which column you want to insert. If you haven’t realized this before, you might now understand that Project is a complex application with loads of fields. Scroll down in the menu and select the field Work:
Confirm with OK.
Your table part of the view should now look something like this:
So, now you can see duration and you can see work, but where is unit?
In the toolbar, you’ll find a butcon with two faces. Click this:
The dialog box below becomes visible. You can enter the name of a resource and confirm with Enter. You now have one resource in your project.
Select the Task field on the first row in the Gantt chart view table and enter the name of the first task. Confirm with Enter. Complete a short list, for example:
As you can see, when entering the names of tasks, they are given an unique ID (left column) and a duration. The question mark just visualize that you haven’t changed the value manual, but you can do that.
To get the equation working, we need a resource. So what you do is that you select a row in the Gantt chart view table and you select a row in the Assign resources dialog and click Assign:
When you’ve clicked Assign you can see the assignment, work has been calculated and units has been set: (8h=1d*8*1)
Observe that if you select another row in the Gantt chart, the resource is not longer marked as assigned.
Now, we come to the fun part. This is an equation, so how about we go changing the values. Start with changing the value of Units:
What happened was that Duration changed, but the equation is still valid. But what happens if we change Duration?
Hm, Units seems to change. So, what have we learnt? We have learnt that if you change duration, units is also changed and the opposite also applies. But why does not work change? The reason for this was the first setting we made: we set the task type to Fixed Work. This means that work only changes manually.
This is not the default setting, but it really should be. In most projects I’ve been involved in, this is the most common case. I’ll get back to the other cases later. But for now, just have fun with your equations and also try adding resources: