Thrilled to be part of the upcoming Project Virtual Conference 2015!

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Project Virtual Conference 2015


The first-ever online conference that is dedicated to Microsoft Project, Project Server and Project Online, that runs for a continuous 24 hours.


Why should you attend this conference?


For starters, its free! You do not pay anything to be part of this conference. Register here!


It is a Virtual Conference, so you can attend this from wherever you choose to, without having to leave the comfy of your home or work or coffee shop!


• It is a unique event in that it runs for a full 24 hours. So, you can attend any sessions that happen during the time convenient to you. In addition all session recordings will be available on-demand for later viewing (subject to presenter’s authorization).


No dilution of content! This conference is completely focused on MS Project, Project Server and Project Online, with a lot of support from the Microsoft Project Community. So you get pure, unadulterated content about using the technology for your business problems.


What is the conference is actually about?


Technology is great! We all love it! But, what use is it, if it does not enable your business process?


Which is why, this will be a conference that focuses more on the ‘business’ value of the usage of MS Project, Project Online and Project Server.


The goal is to make sure that this conference provides a value to all the audience in a way other conferences have not been able to in the past.


24 hours of MS Project goodness. More than 50 awesome sessions. Speakers from 19 different countries. Attendees and like-minded people eager to learn world wide. It all adds up to an inspiring and functional conference experience.


Who will be speaking at the conference?


Some of the best speakers and experts on Microsoft Project, Project Server and Project Online including our own Tim Runcie, Microsoft Project MVP. Check out the speakers here.


How can I register?


By clicking here!  No payment needed, it’s free – remember?


Can’t wait to virtually “see” you there!

How to Reverse Engineer a Microsoft Project Schedule

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In this post, I will be covering the approach of starting your project planning with a finish date first and then reverse engineering your schedule backwards to a start date. 

While this may seem common place we find that people struggle with the scheduling tools and relationship connectors to do this correctly.


My name is Tim Runcie and I manage a Project, Program and Portfolio management methodology and technology training and consulting company called Advisicon. Our whole focus is to help organizations optimize and leverage both PPM methodologies and great tools to automate and streamline productivity.


In my day job, I get to review and look at all types of different tools and approaches to solve business problems.  My passion is to help our community of practice, leverage low hanging fruit that will readily empower you to go further and faster by the blend of technology and best practice methodologies. If you or your organization has a question, feel free to reach out to me at


Now, on to reverse engineering a Microsoft Project Schedule.


Starting with the End in Mind:


Steven Covey had a brilliant book on the “7 habits of Highly Effective People”, where he outlined 7 key steps.  One of those steps was to start your day with the end in mind.  In project management, this is a very familiar scenario, where senior management has given a target or a goal with the end date, and in some cases the budget laid out.  Now the project manager has to figure out how to deliver this.


So let’s get started.  There are a few key ingredients needed to make this work.  I’m going to demonstrate today’s choice with MS Project, the most common scheduling tool used world-wide (30+ million users), but many of these principles are similar in other scheduling tools.


  1. First step is to have the end date. You will need this in order to begin planning
  2. Have MS Project Standard or MS Project Professional (now you can even use the Streaming version of Project Pro for Office 365)
  3. This will work with any version of MS Project (from Project 98 forwards)
  4. Have a list of key activities or engage your solution team(s) to help map out key linked steps

With these, you just need a little knowledge and you are on your way!


Common Issues to Avoid:


It is very common for project managers and schedulers to start with a schedule and wrestle through some of the obvious scheduling choices, but if you want the fewest amount of clicks avoid this common mistake in schedule creation.


In the following diagram, you can see that I am showing the Task Entry view, where the Gantt Chart, the Task Sheet and the Task form are all close together and I have circled 3 key areas.


These are the Predecessor relationships (there are certainly many more ways to edit this), but essentially we are showing a link (and the type of link) between task #1 and Task #2.


Updating Task Depenencies


Either typing, clicking or double clicking any of these areas will allow you to drill down and select a different type of relationship.


Typically in creating a schedule we want to link activities together.  And by clicking, typing or double clicking, you are presented with several choices for establishing a relationship.  In this next diagram, you will see a relationship type called Start to Finish.


Setting task relationship and lag and lead time

This can be used for Reverse engineering, but it doesn’t allow your schedule to be easily managed in a forward progressing one, so avoid this.


The idea is that the Start of a Task will trigger the finish of another task.  If you were building your schedule, you would be listing the Finish Date as Row #1, then linking the next to the last Task as the second row in our schedule.


This would leave you with the Finish of your Project Schedule in Row #1 with the following rows evolving to the beginning of your schedule which may be Row #279.  As you can see with this next diagram, it is NOT the easiest to manage a schedule with going forward, let alone follow and progress.


Reverse Engineering a Project Schedule


OK, now that we have identified a common pitfall, let’s look at how to get this working correctly!


Scheduling from the End Date:


First thing, we need that project end date. With this end date or go-live date, we can start planning backwards.


Follow along with these steps:

  1. Click on the Project Tab (on the Ribbon) and select the Project Information button


Reverse Engineering Project from the Ribbon

  1. Once in the Project Information Dialog box, choose the Schedule From Drop down choice and choose the Project Finish Date. This will allow you to Enter your End Date directly into the Finish Date field (which was greyed out before).


Microsoft Project Reverse Engineering with Backwards and Forwards Scheduling


  1. Now start building your Project Schedule normally, however you are going to want to try this approach.
    1. Enter the Finish date into Row #1.
    2. Then insert a new row above Row #1, forcing the End Date Milestone or Activity to move to row #2. Essentially allowing you to plan backwards, but to layout the schedule as if you had typed it from the start first.
    3. With each successive task you add, you will link and create the relationships normally that you would, but as you enter durations and link activities, watch your Project Start date continue to move backwards.
    4. This is showcasing the process of where your schedule is moving the start date because it is fixed and allowing you to reverse engineer your schedule from a fixed end dateIn the diagram below, I used the exact same tasks as we saw in the reverse engineered schedule above, however adding them in this order created a Start Task at Row #1 with my Project Complete task at the end of the schedule, as seen below.

Forward Project Scheduling



Let’s add some final touches here.


  1. With the End date, you should put a Deadline as you will most likely be moving or shortening the schedule so you are so tightly pressed in managing the schedule.
  2. Double Click on the last Task or Milestone (Project Complete) and click on the Advanced Tab
  3. Then Choose the End Date Deadline. This will set a monitoring point that will help you later when you flip your schedule around that your tasks are moving beyond the end date of the project.  You can see this in the next picture.

Setting Deadlines in Microsoft Project


  1. Once you have that chosen, click on the OK Button
  2. In the screenshot below, you can see the end Date now has a Deadline Icon on it. This will stay there as you move the project start date back and it will help you identify slippage with an alert.


Managing Deadlines in Microsoft Project


Flipping the Schedule for Forwards / Dynamic Planning:


OK, now if you started managing your project schedule, you would find that every time you typed a new duration, you project schedule would continue to push the start date back.


What we need to do is tell Project what the new Start Date of the Project is and to start scheduling from the start and moving the end dates out.


Remember how we setup the reverse engineering scheduling mode earlier?  We are going to follow these steps again, but by choosing to schedule from the Start date.


  1. Click on the Project Tab and select the Project Information button on the ribbon


Forward and Backward Scheduling settings in Microsoft Project

  1. Now select the Project Start Date from the Schedule From drop down box. Make sure to choose the Project Start Date.  As you won’t be able to enter one until you choose this and you can choose a more realistic start date.
  2. Click the OK Button and you will now be able to manage your schedule normally, with the durations moving out the end date vs. the start date.


Setting Project Schedule to Schedule from Start Date

  1. As you make changes in your schedule, your deadline will help show when you will be moving over the set finish date


I hope this has helped give you an edge to quickly start and launch a project schedule by starting with the end date and working backwards.


Remember, the key steps in this planning technique is to not forget to flip the schedule back around to get the benefits of both backwards planning and forward dynamic scheduling.


You are now ready to do reverse engineering quickly and effectively.  Good luck with your scheduling and feel free to reach out to me at for questions.  Happy PM’ing!

~Tim Runcie, PMP, MCT, MCTS, P-TSP, MVP

Creating Master Projects & Subprojects

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One of the key skills that we hear about in Project to Portfolio management is having a handle on multiple projects and viewing the integration between projects. Yet this can be a pain point for project managers who don’t have access to an enterprise system like Project Server or Project Online, but want to create views, reports, snapshots or to link project files together (essentially tying tasks from one project to another file).


I find that the best way to create integrated activities as well as a snapshot report of work over time is to leverage the Master Project in MS Project.


In this article, I’m going to give you a few best practices around creating a Master Project. And in case you were wondering, this will definitely scale if you need; my company and I have managed programs and portfolios of $500,000,000 and upwards using this technique.


Benefits of a Master Project:

So why use a Master Project?

  • Master projects give you the ability to create a permanent collection of projects that can be viewed at any time.
  • When viewing your project list, a Master Project will enable you to view the master project and subprojects all at one time in a list.
  • It allows you to create consolidated project reporting.
  • It is a way to link different project files together, meaning you can link different tasks between project through the Master Project
  • You can establish snapshots (non-linked schedules) so you can historically review progress over time vs. trying to have multiple columns of dates and times within a single file.

Getting Started:

Before you begin creating your master project you will need to determine if you want each subproject’s SharePoint site to be available in the master project SharePoint site. If yes, then do not publish the subproject until the master project is published. Once the subprojects have been saved, checked in and closed – but not published – you are ready to create your master project.


Step #1: Using Project Pro, create a new blank project and select the sub project tab


Step #2: Navigate to your first subproject and click on it one time only. Then click the circle next to the appropriate mode and select insert.




To add additional subprojects, select a new blank row within the master project and repeat steps above.


Step #3:  Once you have selected all the subprojects you want to include in the master project, click the file tab to save your master project and any changes to the subprojects as needed.


Step #4: The dialogue box below will pop-up and you can name and save your master project.


Step #5: The dialogue box below will pop-up; Select “No to all” if you inserted your subprojects as read only.





Now you are ready to publish or save your master project & create the SharePoint Site



Step #6: Select the File tab from Projects Ribbon






















Step #7: Click “Publish” if you are connected to Project Online or Project Server. If you are working on a local file, select Save As and save the master project file into a local directory. Note that your subproject files also need to be accessible from the file that you are using as a Master, meaning that you should save them in a directory where you also have access to them.




If you are connected to an Enteprise version of Project, you will Publish the changes. NOTE that you may choose to not save any changes to local files that were inserted.





Step #8: The dialogue box below will pop-up; Select “No to all” if you inserted your subprojects as read only, or Yes to all if you want to update your local files if you made changes.


One of the nice parts about saving and publishing files into an Enterprise version of Project is that you can have Project Server or Project Online automatically create an entire SharePoint site for you connected to your project.


That way if you decide to link files, documents, deliverables, issues and risks, you can have them connected and available for viewing or assigning them to the actual tasks in Project.


Step #9: The dialogue box below will pop-up; select “Publish” if you are connected to the Enterprise version of Project, or it will present a Save As dialog box for all local files seen in picture #2 all the files that you have inserted.






















Once publish is complete you can close and check master project in. Now you are ready to publish the subprojects (you will need the URL information from Step 8).


Step #10: Open subproject and then click check out → File & Publish (choose File Save As for saving local version of MS Project).




Step #11: The dialogue box below will pop-up; select Publish.

Then close and check project in.  Repeat steps for all subprojects.















Then close and check project in.  Repeat steps for all subprojects.


Creating Snapshots of Projects:

One way that you can create historical snapshots of single and multple projects is to use the Master Project, but instead of having linked files, choose not to link them.


This is an excellent way to not only take snapshots, but in Project 2007 or higher, you have the ability to compare project files against each other to see where there are differences.


Here is an example:

Step #1:  Click on the Project Tab and Select Subproject











Step #2:  Once you have selected this, it will bring up the insert Project dialogue box, ensure that you turn off the check box for “link to project”




With the Link to Project turned off, any and all projects will simply be inserted as regular tasks with a Summary task for the top level row of the project.









Notice the standard Project file icon is not there.


Each of these files are embedded as if you had copied and pasted them and are not linked to the original file.


If you ever want to compare one version of a Project file to another, simply use the Compare Projects button found on the ribbon.

  • If you are in MS Project 2010, it will be found on the Projects Tab
  • If you are in MS Project 2013, you will find it on the Reports Tab










This screenshot is of 2013.


And there you have it. The ability to connect and view multiple files, do resource assignments, link tasks and also to create snapshots all with the same function of a “Master Project”. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to me or anyone at our office at


Happy Project Management!


~Tim Runcie, PMP, MCT, MCTS, P-TSP, MVP


Creating Graphical Indicators Based on Formulas with MS Project

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This topic is one of the more common requests I hear in regards to MS Project schedules needing dashboards or key metrics for reporting. In many cases, executives or senior stakeholders roll their eyes at the sea of text that comes with scheduling tools or the massive amounts of information presented in a Gantt chart.


What we want to do is to help anyone using a schedule to quickly find and present the issues through stop light reporting or some kind of graphical indicator.


In this article, I am going to leverage MS Project 2013 for my screenshots and steps, but you can do this with any version of Project from 2003 or higher.


Creating Graphical Indicators Based on Formulas

To create a graphical indicator based on a formula we’ll use the following scenario:


We have a Project Baseline for a sample project that we are tracking the progress of. If the Actual Task Costs are aligned with the Baseline Costs then we want to see a Green Light in the Gantt Chart View (Entry Table).

  • If the Actual Task Costs are exceeding the Baseline Costs up to $1,000, then we want to see a Yellow Light in the Gantt Chart View (Entry Table).
  • If the Actual Task Costs are exceeding the Baseline Costs by more than $1,000 then we want to see a Red Light in the Gantt Chart View (Entry Table)


And the Resources:


One of the key areas of mapping variances in a schedule is to set a baseline to track our planned activities and have a reference point to where your actuals are as you progress your schedule through its lifecycle.


Now on to saving a Baseline:

First select your project tab and then choose the set baseline from the ribbon.



The following “Set Baseline” dialogue box opens



Now let’s apply a cost table from the VIEW tab so we can see the new baseline values.


When we apply the Cost Table we get:



From here we want to create a custom graphical indicator for showing when costs change (this can be applied to work or even the schedule slippage by following similar steps).


Let’s select the PROJECT tab and then select the CUSTOM FIELDS option from the ribbon.


Now, create Custom Field for Graphical indicator:


In the graphic below, we rename the field to make it easier to find and reference in future views, filters and formulas.


After you click OK above you will see the Custom Fields dialogue box. Click on the Formula button and you will see a notice box open. Click OK.  (this is just warning you that you will lose any data that may have been typed into that field before).



Now click the Formula button again, then Click the Field list pick; click Cost and then Actual Cost




Now select the minus (-) sign, then click the Field list pick again; click Cost and then Baseline Cost, then Baseline Cost as shown below:



The result should look like this. Click OK


An alert message will populate, click OK:


Now for the fun part, let’s create a graphical indicator to showcase the variances (both positive and negative).


Setup the Graphical Indicator:



We need to make sure that we address the indicator at the Task or Row level, so select Non-summary Rows.  Later, if you want your summary tasks to also have graphical indicators, you can choose the summary rows as well.


Here you will put in the conditions that will give you the range of values for the indicators to change.


From the drop down list choose the Green Light:



Finish the remaining two rows, then select OK, then select OK again:



Now we will put the Custom Field in the Entry table for easy reference and updating.


Right click on the ALL button to open up the Table View. Select More Tables



Make the following selections as noted:



For the new item, also set the Header Wrapping to “Yes” and the Text Wrapping to “No” then click OK, then Apply.



Now look at the Gantt Chart View and you will see your updates.



Since we did not enter any “Actuals” all tasks show a Green status.


Now set Task 1 as 100% Complete: Highlight the Row and selct the 100% icon on the Task Ribbon.




Since everything went fine with Task 1 the Graphical Indicator remains Green!


Now input 18 hours for Task 2.  We can do this many ways, but here is a great way to do actuals editing from the TASK ribbon.  Click on the Mark on Track option and select Update Tasks.



Enter the increased hours.



The following is displayed



Task 2 has a Baseline Cost: 2 days * 8 hours per day * $200 per hour = $3,200.

Actual cost = 18 hours * $200 per hour = $3,600.


Since Actual Cost – Baseline cost = $3,600 – $ 3,200 = $400, and it is less or equal to $1,000, the Yellow indicator appears!


For Task 3, update the task for a duration of 5 days:


Task 3 has a

Baseline Cost: 3 days * 8 hours per day * $300 per hour = $7,200.

Actual cost = 5 days * 8 hours per day * $300 per hour = $12,600.

Since Actual Cost – Baseline cost = $12,000 – $ 7,200 = $4,800, and it is greater then $1,000, the Red indicator appears!


You can see costs (Baseline, Actual, and Variance) in Cost Table:



Hopefully this gets you on your way to creating strong visuals to help with managing your schedules and communicating effectively to your stakeholders. As always, we are here to help! Comment below with questions, give us a call at: 866.362.3847 or visit us at

Growing a Project Management Culture with Project Server & Team Foundation Server


As many of you know I just recently had a baby girl.  With this bundle of joy, I not only get little to no sleep, but every day it is a new adventure.  Oh the highs and lows of parenthood.  One thing that I am thrilled about is the fact that each day she is learning new things and whether she wants to or not, she is in a constant flux of learning and changing.  Watching her start to see, visualize her curiosity and comprehend that an object is something that she can grasp, then grabbing (and of course putting them right in her mouth), is quite comical.

So how does this have anything to do with Project Management, Project Server or Team Foundation Server you might ask?  Well it struck me, as I was putting Rachel into her car seat for the first time, that not every new experience, tool, safety device or contraption she is coming across is met with excitement or eager anticipation. Read More