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Tried-and-true techniques for


shortening projects

Microsoft Office Project 2007 Inside Out


By Teresa S. Stover

Teresa S. Stover is a project management expert who has consulted with the
Microsoft Office Project Team since version 4. She is an instructional designer and
award-winning author with more than two decades of technical communication
experience. Teresa is the author of countless user manuals, tutorials, and help
systems plus more than a dozen computer books, including Microsoft Office
Project 2003 Inside Out and Microsoft Project Version 2002 Inside Out.

To learn more about other books on the 2007 Microsoft Office system, visit
Microsoft Press.

In this article
View finish dates and the critical path
Check your schedule assumptions
Project management practices: duration compression

A time-constrained project is one in which the project finish date is the most
important factor in your project plan. Although you still need to balance budget
constraints and satisfy the project scope, the finish date reigns supreme as the
primary priority. If your project plan calculates that your finish date will go beyond
your all-important target finish date, focus on the critical path. Shorten the critical
path and you bring in the finish date.

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View finish dates and the critical path


Before you analyze the critical path, you just need to see your bottom line: Whats
the project finish date? Follow these steps:

1. On the Project menu, click Project Information.

2. In the Project Information dialog box, click the Statistics button.

The Project Statistics dialog box appears. The current, or scheduled, finish date
appears in the Finish column (see Figure 1).

Figure 1 The Project Statistics dialog box shows overall project information: project start date, project finish date, total duration, total
work, and total cost.

Another way to keep your eye on the project finish date at all times is to add the
project summary task row to your project plan, as follows:

1. On the Tools menu, click Options and then click the View tab.

2. Select the Show Project Summary Task check box.

The project summary task appears at the top of any task sheet view, including the
Gantt Chart (see Figure 2). Task information is rolled up for the entire project and
its summary total is displayed in the project summary row. Specifically, the Finish
field in the project summary row shows the latest finish date in the project.

Figure 2 The Project Summary row rolls up task information to display the totals for the entire project.

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To see the critical path, click Tracking Gantt on the View menu. By viewing the
finish date or the critical path, you can easily see whether youre hitting your target
finish date. If you need to bring in the finish date, you might want to focus on the
critical tasks. You can filter your task sheet to show only critical tasks by clicking the
Project menu, pointing to Filtered For, and then clicking Critical. To show all tasks
again, on the Project menu, point to Filtered For and then click All Tasks.

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Check your schedule assumptions


If youve determined that you need to bring in the finish date, look first at the
schedule itself. Make sure that all the scheduling controls you put into place are
accurate and required. The fewer controls you impose, the more flexibility
Microsoft Office Project 2007 can have with scheduling, and that added flexibility
can give you an earlier finish date. In the Gantt Chart or other task sheet, review
and update the following:

Date constraints

Task dependencies

Durations

Task calendars

You can look at all tasks in the project, but to affect the finish date, you need only
make adjustments to critical tasks. If you shorten the sequence of critical path tasks
to the point at which a different sequence is now the critical path, check to see if
that path finishes before your target finish date. If it does, switch your focus to that
new critical path until you achieve the planned project finish date you need.

In fact, as you make adjustments to tasks and enter actual progress information for
tasks, the critical path is likely to change several times throughout the span of the
project. Keep a close eye on the critical path as part of your monitoring activities.
Its a good idea to apply the Schedule table or show the Total Slack and Free Slack
fields in your favorite everyday table. This way you can see how close tasks are to
becoming critical.

NOTE: If you change aspects of your schedule to bring in the finish date, the good news is that you
probably wont adversely affect your project triangle. That is, adjusting your schedule to meet your
schedule requirements affects only the schedule side of the triangle. Costs and scope will probably
stay as they are.

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Check and adjust date constraints


First, look at any date constraints youve set in your schedule, particularly for your
critical tasks. This is where you can potentially make a significant impact on your
finish date. To look at the constraints youve applied, follow these steps:

1. Display the Gantt Chart or other task sheet.

2. On the View menu, point to Table and then click More Tables.

3. In the More Tables dialog box, click Constraint Dates and then click Apply.
The table shows the constraint type and constraint dates for all tasks.

If you have the tasks sorted by Task ID that is, in their outline sequence you
can review constraints for each task within the context of its surrounding tasks. If
you like, you can sort the tasks by constraint type, as follows:

1. Apply the Constraint Dates table to the Gantt Chart or other task sheet.

2. On the Project menu, point to Sort and then click Sort By.

3. In the Sort By dialog box, click Constraint Type and then click Sort. The tasks
are sorted by constraint type, so you can see where you might have applied a
Must Finish On or Start No Later Than constraint, for example. You can also
see their associated dates.

To see only the constraints for critical tasks, follow these steps:

1. Apply the Constraint Dates table to the Gantt Chart or other task sheet.

2. On the Project menu, point to Filtered For and then click Critical. Only critical
tasks are shown. When you want to see all tasks again, on the Project menu,
point to Filtered For and then click All Tasks.

Make sure that the constraint types and dates you have applied are truly necessary.
Wherever you can, change a date constraint to a flexible one such as As Soon As
Possible or As Late As Possible. Even changing an inflexible date constraint such as
Must Start On or Must Finish On to a moderately flexible date constraint such as
Start No Later Than or Finish No Earlier Than can improve your schedule. To
change the constraint, do the following:

1. Apply the Constraint Dates table to the Gantt Chart or other task sheet.

2. Click the Constraint Type field, click the arrow, and then click the constraint
you want in the list.

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NOTE: New to Project 2007 is change highlighting. When you make a change that causes
other fields to be recalculated, the changed cells are temporarily filled with a background
color so you can see the ripple effects of the change youve just made. The highlighting
remains in effect only until you make the next edit that causes a recalculation, or when you
save the project.

Check and adjust task dependencies


The second place to check your schedule for critical pathshortening opportunities
is your task dependencies. Gantt Chart is the best view for reviewing task
dependencies and their impact on your schedule. To see critical tasks highlighted,
view the Tracking Gantt or Detail Gantt. Focusing on the task dependencies of
critical tasks helps you bring in the finish date.

Specifically, examine whether the task dependencies are required. If two tasks dont
really depend on each other, remove the link. Or consider whether two tasks can
begin at the same time. If so, you can change a finish-to-start dependency to a
start-to-start dependency. Change a task dependency as follows:

1. Click the successor task.

2. On the Standard toolbar, click Task Information and click the Predecessors
tab.

3. To change the link type, click in the Type field for the predecessor.

4. Click the arrow and then click the link type you want in the list. To remove the
link entirely, click anywhere in the predecessor row and press the DELETE key.

Check and adjust durations


After adjusting date constraints and task dependencies, if the finish date is still
beyond your target, look at task durations. However, be aware that its risky to be
too optimistic about durations, especially if you used reliable methods such as
expert judgment, past project information, industry metrics, or program evaluation
and review technique (PERT) analysis to calculate your current durations.

You can look at durations in the Gantt Chart or most task sheets. If your tasks are
sorted by Task ID (that is, in their outline sequence), you can review durations for
each task within the context of its surrounding tasks. However, you can also sort
tasks by duration so you can see the longer durations first. These longer durations
might have more buffer built in, so they might be a good place to trim some time.
To sort tasks by duration, follow these steps:

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1. Display the Gantt Chart with the Entry table applied, or display another task
sheet that includes the Duration field.

2. On the Project menu, point to Sort and then click Sort By.The Sort dialog box
appears.

3. In the Sort By list, click Duration and then click Sort. The tasks are sorted by
duration.

4. To see only the durations for critical tasks, on the Project menu, point to
Filtered For and then click Critical. When you want to see all tasks again, on
the Project menu, point to Filtered For and then click All Tasks.

5. To change a duration, simply type the new duration into the tasks Duration
field. The schedule is recalculated with the new duration.

6. To return to the original task order, on the Project menu, point to Sort and
then click By ID.

TIP:In Project 2007, you can now undo multiple edits. To undo recent edits, click Undo on
the Standard toolbar. Each time you click Undo, the previous edit is undone. You can also
click Edit, Undo, or press CTRL+Z to reverse the last edit. The series of operations you can
undo goes back to the last time you saved your project. To redo an edit that youve undone,
click Redo on the Standard toolbar. You can also click Edit, Redo, or press CTRL+Y to redo
undone edits.

Top of Page

Project management practices: duration


compression
In project management, there are two commonly used methods of shortening a
series of tasks without changing the project scope. These two duration
compression methods are as follows:

Crashing the schedule The schedule and associated project costs are
analyzed to determine how a series of tasks (such as the critical path) can be
shortened, or crashed, for the least additional cost.

Fast tracking Tasks normally done in sequence are rescheduled to be done


simultaneously (for example, starting to build a prototype before the
specifications are approved).

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By their nature, both of these methods are risky. Its important to be aware that
these methods can increase cost or increase task rework.

Check task drivers


Along with durations, dependencies, and constraints, a number of other factors
determine the schedule of any given task. A new tool available in Project 2007 is
the Task Drivers pane. The Task Drivers pane lists the specific factors responsible
for setting the start date of the selected task, for example, the project calendar, a
predecessor task, or a constraint date.

To show the Task Drivers pane, follow these steps:

1. Open a task view, such as Gantt Chart or Network Diagram.

2. Select the task whose task drivers you want to review. Task Drivers

3. On the Standard toolbar, click Task Drivers.

The Task Drivers pane appears. You can click the name of a predecessor task
to go to that task in the view and to see the task drivers for that task. You can
click the name of a calendar listed in the Task Drivers pane to open that
calendar in the Change Working Time dialog box.

4. Keep the Task Drivers pane open while you click different tasks and review
their task drivers. When youre finished with the Task Drivers pane, click the X
in the upper-right corner of the pane to close it.

NOTE: If you use task calendars in your schedule, examine the tasks and the task calendars
to make sure theyre accurately reflecting reality and not holding up progress. Tasks with task
calendars assigned display a calendar icon in the Indicators column next to the task name.
Place the mouse pointer over the icon to see more information.

Adjust resource settings to bring in the finish date


Another way to bring in the finish date is to adjust your resource settings. You can
check that the resource availability affecting assigned task scheduling is accurate.
You can also add resources to tasks to decrease task duration. Be aware that
increasing resource availability as well as adding resources to tasks usually means
an increase in costs.

Check and adjust resource availability

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The more availability your resources have, the sooner their assigned tasks can be
completed. For example, a 4-day task assigned to a resource who works a regular
5-day week will be completed in 4 days. The same 4-day task assigned to a
resource who works a 2-day week will be completed in 2 weeks. For resources
assigned to critical tasks, review and update the following:

Resource calendars

Maximum (resource) units

Assignment units

The Task Entry view is best for checking these three items. Apply the view, set the
Task Form to show the resource information you need, and filter for critical tasks,
as follows:

1. On the View menu, click More Views.

2. In the More Views dialog box, click Task Entry and then click Apply.

3. To view critical tasks, click in the Gantt Chart (upper) portion of the view. Click
Project, Filtered For, Critical. Only critical tasks are displayed. You can also
click View, Tracking Gantt. Critical tasks are shown in red.

4. Click in the Task Form (lower) portion of the view. On the Format menu, point
to Details and then click Resource Work. The Task Form changes to show
availability information (see Figure 3).

Figure 3 The Task Entry view is now set up to check resource and assignment
availability.

5. Click a critical task in the Gantt Chart portion of the view. The resources
assigned to the selected task are listed in the Task Form portion of the view.

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6. To check the resource calendar for this assigned resource, double-click the
resource name. The Resource Information dialog box appears. On the
General tab, click the Change Working Time button. Check the working
times set for this resource and make sure theyre correct. When finished, close
the Change Working Time dialog box.

7. To check resource units, return to the General tab in the Resource


Information dialog box. Under Resource Availability, check the resource
units and associated dates, if applicable, and make sure theyre correct. Make
any necessary changes and then click OK.

8. To check assignment units, review the Units field next to the resource name in
the Task Form and make sure the setting is correct.

9. To switch the Task Entry combination view to a single-pane view of the Gantt
Chart, on the Window menu, click Remove Split. To show all tasks again, click
the Filter tool on the Formatting toolbar and then click All Tasks.

NOTE: You can check your resources working time calendar, their resource units, and their
assignment units and everything might look correct. A great technique is to scan your
project for any assignment units of less than 100%. Find out if the assigned resources can
provide any more time on these tasks, especially the critical tasks, to help bring in the finish
date. It doesnt hurt to ask, at least.

Add resources to decrease duration

A key method of shortening the critical path and bringing in the project finish date
is to add resources to critical tasks in such a way as to decrease the tasks duration.
For example, two people working together might be able to complete a
development task in half the time it takes either of them individually. For this to be
the case, the tasks must be either fixed-units and effort-driven tasks or fixed-work
tasks. Obviously, they cannot be fixed-duration tasks.

With fixed-units effort-driven scheduling, which is the default, when you assign an
additional resource to a task that already has assigned resources, the amount of
work scheduled for each assigned resource decreases. Likewise, when you remove
a resource from an effort-driven task, the amount of work scheduled for each
assigned resource increases.

The same is true for fixed-work tasks, which are effort-driven by definition. When
you add or remove resources (that is, assignment units) on a fixed-work task,
duration changes but work remains fixed, of course.

To check the task type of an individual task, follow these steps:

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1. In a task sheet, such as the Gantt Chart, double-click the task.

2. In the Task Information dialog box, click the Advanced tab.

3. Review the Task Type list and the Effort Driven check box. Make any
necessary changes.

You can add the task type and effort-driven fields to a task sheet so you can see
the scheduling methods for all tasks at a glance, as follows:

1. Display the task sheet to which you want to add the new columns.

2. Click the column heading to the right of where you want the new column to
be inserted.

3. On the Insert menu, click Column.

4. In the Field Name box, select Type. You can type ty to move quickly to the
Type field in the list.

5. Click OK, and the task types are shown in the task sheet. You can use this
Type field to quickly change task types.

6. Follow steps 15 to add the Effort Driven field to the task sheet. This field
displays Yes or No, indicating whether the task is effort-driven.

When you assign additional resources to your fixed-units and effort-driven or


fixed-work critical tasks, the duration of those critical tasks is reduced, and
therefore the length of the critical path is reduced.

NOTE: Be aware that as you add resources to critical tasks, you run the risk of reduced productivity.
Additional overhead might be associated with bringing on additional resources. More support
might be needed to get those resources up to speed on the tasks, and you might lose whatever
time savings you thought you might gain. Take care to add resources who are experienced enough
to hit the ground running so your efforts dont backfire on you.

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