Last month we added progress data and re-scheduled uncompleted work to re-start from the Status Date, thus seeing one way to use Project to view progress. This month we’ll have a philosophical look at collecting data and how we can make it easier for ourselves.
Once again, open our updated Aircraft A from http://www.mousetrax.com/pub/Aircraft_A_27.zip.
We now need to consider the physical problems involved in getting information from the "workers".
So far we’ve entered progress by changing the % Complete field. Let's think a bit about what information we need to input into our project. Well... we could continue to ask the workers for the percent complete for each task and enter that. However, I maintain that that is the least accurate data format and it can cause unexpected results. Remember, the Project Manager is primarily interested in the future, not the past. He will want to know what he has to do to get from the mess where we are now, to try to meet the original deadline and budget. So, let's concentrate on the future. I suggest we ask the workers to tell us what there is left to be done. All right, I know that they can just subtract the % Complete from 100%, but psychologically, it will require more forward thinking to estimate what's left to be done than what has been done. We're really only interested in the former - what's left to be done, and this will focus the mind into thinking through the detailed work left.
Further to that, estimating percentages is probably more vague that estimating work. So, focussing on how much Work remains to complete a task is more demanding to estimate and thus, hopefully, we'll get a more considered and accurate statement.
As to the input, it is the one and only time I suggest that we let Project drive us! After all, we have to enter the data, so let's get it in a form that makes it easy for us to enter the details into Project, rather than easy for the worker to concoct a figure that’s easy for him to produce. Let's create a form that helps us.
Firstly, though, let's think how we intend to enter the data. We can go to Tools/Tracking/Update tasks…
…and in the Update Tasks form you can enter … well you can read all the options! Suffice it to say that you don’t have to provide all the information. For example, entering % Complete, will cause Project to automatically calculate the remaining data. This would be fine if the Remaining Duration is exactly as planned (an unlikely event generally!) Thus it’s recommended that you enter Actual Duration and Remaining Duration allowing Project to calculate the % Complete. Similarly, if you don’t enter Actual Start or Actual Finish, Project will assume the dates of the original plan. Incidentally, if you enter the Actual Finish date, Project will assume that the task is 100% Complete. However, the choice is yours, but, unfortunately, there’s no way to enter the Work figures.
So, to allow for changes to the original plan, our discussion has led to the need for the worker to provide us with Work data: Actual Start, Actual Work and Remaining Work. The Update Tasks form is thus not much use to us, and in any case, is unlikely to be available to the worker and would be tedious for us to enter more that a few tasks’ details as we lose the form each time we click OK. We need, therefore, to create our own form in which the worker can enter the data and return it to us.
Work Input Table
Let’s create a new table for our purposes. Follow the details in Microsoft Project: 21 – Customizing Tables to create a new Table and call it “Work Input”, to show in the menu, with the appropriate Field Names as indicated in this picture:
In real life, you can of course, have whatever fields you choose (I’ve used Text fields in the example), and you can give the fields a different name to make it more appropriate to you and your organization. You might not want a Notes or comments field, but if you do, change the Width to suit – ditto with Row Heights. Click OK. You should have a table like this:
Now filter for Using Resource… and select Propulsion as shown in Using a Filter in: Microsoft Project: 22 – Using Filters. You should now see only the tasks that are assigned to the Propulsion tradesman. (We could improve this again by changing the timescale of the Gantt Chart to show the particular resource’s calendar: see Resource Gantt Chart section in Microsoft Project: 12 – Working Pattern.)
We have thus produced a form for the Propulsion trades and the foreman has something to fill in. Note that by using the column headings, it directs the foreman and thus the workers towards recording the information you want to receive and not what they would prefer to give you. The comments column is always useful to indicate any problems they might be having.
We need to print out the form and send it to the resource. This can also be tailored. (If you don’t want the Gantt chart to show, just drag the vertical dividing line to the right edge - to recover, move the cursor to the right until you get a left-right arrow and then click and drag to the left.) For exercise purposes, as we want to send out the form in advance, reset in Project/Project Information the Current Date to Monday 16 Jan 06 and the Status Date to Friday 20 Jan 06.
Now select Print Preview (details here: Microsoft Project: 8—Printing Reports and Views) and Page Setup/Legend tab/Alignment Left. You could of course, use the Headers and/or Footers to achieve the same ends. As a suggestion, delete Project: &[Project Title] and Date: &[Date] and type in “Propulsion Input as at 1700 hours on:”
In the General pick list, scroll down and select the Project Status Date…
…and Add. Because we will need more space for this text, change the Width to 10 cm and OK.
I also believe that if we ask the resource to sign the form, we will further improve the quality of the data. As we have 2 more lines available in the legend box, Page Setup/Legend tab/Alignment Left and type in “Signature…………………………………….” And then underneath, the resource’s name “Arthur Smith, Foreman”. We can see the results of our efforts in the preview box above. I’ve used the “A” button to open the font dialog to change the font of the entries (You have to click and drag across the text to highlight it before clicking the “A” button)
Clicking OK will reveal the printed result:
Now we have something to send the resource for him to fill in, sign and return. When we get it back, we can enter the data directly into our Work Input table, with the knowledge that it is about the best progress data we’re likely to get. I’ll leave your imagination to see how you can tailor this approach to meet your individual and company’s need. Remember, the object is to get the best data to allow sensible decisions to be made to get the project back on track.
We’ve considered the problem of getting input from the workers. We’ve made it easy for ourselves by creating a form that the worker can fill in and sign, and on its return, we can enter it directly into our project.
Sorry I didn’t get around to looking at the recovering delays to meet the end date, but I promise to look at this next time with some of the procedures we might be able use to recover schedule creep.
Meanwhile, to get you thinking, here are 3 questions I’d like to you consider:
- How often do I need a data return?
- With what accuracy?
- What am I going to do with the information?