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 contact@advisicon.com.

 

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 Tim.Runcie@Advisicon.com for questions.  Happy PM’ing!

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

Microsoft Project Online – Where did my reports go?!

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microsoft-project-2013-logo

Understanding the latest update to Project Online reporting structure

In recent discussions with our clients, we understand that the immediacy that software-as-a-service (SaaS) provides is both a benefit and a challenge. It gives you the opportunity to benefit from the latest and greatest features but it imposes a challenge in that you have little or no time to prepare for the delivery of new features.

 

This is the case with the new library-based reporting structure Microsoft is deploying to Project Online. The new structure addresses one of the most common support questions but it comes at a cost in that your PWA’s BI Center sub-site is no longer the default for reports. The links on your homepage have been updated to point to new reporting libraries, a location that’s more easily discoverable by new and inexperienced users.

 

You have two choices to fix your reporting experience:

1.  Continue to use the same location (simplest solution): You will need to revert the changes made to the homepage’s reporting links to point them to the old location. To do this, follow these instructions under “Continue using your existing BI center site” section
2.  Use the new reporting libraries (recommended future proof solution): This is the best approach as it will ensure that you get the latest features and changes from Microsoft. To do this, follow these instructions under “Use the new Reports library” section.
Unless you have a large number of reports and many users and documents linking to them directly, we recommend that you move your reports and use the new reporting libraries. This is the future-proof solution because, all updates and changes to the reporting solution will assume your reports are in the libraries.

 

We are here to help so comment below with questions, give us a call at: 866.362.3847 or visit us at www.advisicon.com

IPM Day 2012: Meet Cindy Lewis, Our New MVP

Cindy Lewis (MVP) on International Project Management Day

Once again, [International Project Management Day](http://internationalpmday.org/about-ipm-day/ “Learn about IPM Day on the official website”) approaches! Since 2004, the first Thursday of every November has been IPM Day: a day to recognize project managers and their teams.

Project management practitioners contribute to the success of their organizations daily. These are the people who help to ensure high quality products and services are delivered. They work to improve productivity. Their methodologies control costs and increase efficiency. And they do all of this while managing scope.

IPM Day celebrates the contributions of these fine individuals to their organizations and to the field of project management itself. Read More

Project 2013 & Project Server 2013 at PMI Willamette Valley

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Today I will be starting the lecture circuit for PMI where I will be showcasing Microsoft Project, Project Server, and SharePoint Business Intelligence for both the current version and for [Project Online](http://go.microsoft.com/fwlink/p/?linkid=257733 “Try the Project Online Preview”) and [Project Server 2013](http://technet.microsoft.com/en-US/evalcenter/hh973403.aspx?wt.mc_id=TEC_120_1_33 “Download Microsoft Project Server 2013 Preview”).

I am super excited about helping people understand the key differences between what the Online presence of [Project Professional 2013](http://technet.microsoft.com/en-US/evalcenter/hh973401.aspx?wt.mc_id=TEC_119_1_33 “Download Microsoft Project Professional 2013 Preview”), [Office 2013](http://blog.advisicon.com/2012/07/20/project-13-and-office-13-out-for-review/ “Project Professional 2013 Preview and Office 13 Out for Review | Advisicon Blog”), [SharePoint 2013](http://sharepoint.microsoft.com/en-us/preview/sharepoint.aspx “Microsoft SharePoint 2013 Preview”), and Project Server 2013 will do.  With the ever increasing demand for better, faster and easier web accessibility to manage projects, programs and portfolios, Project 2013 provides a continued march to a more powerful extension of features in previous versions only in the desktop and now embedded online. Read More