Maybe it’s because I’ve been swamped this week while the sun’s been shining here in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, but I’ve been doing some thinking about buffer, downtime, and productivity. I don’t think it’s a secret that projects have a tendency to come in late sometimes. Things come up, bad stuff happens, tasks are delayed…not uncommon. So how do you deal with it? You schedule in some buffer time to help offset the impact of changes to your project schedule. This isn’t rocket science, but is it the right approach?
First let’s talk about productivity. I was reading through Twitter the other day, and David Allen, who you may know as the “Getting Things Done” guy (@gtdguy), had replied to someone else about letting go/relaxing as a prerequisite for productive intensity. This got my attention. A lot of times we don’t think about buffer in terms of enhancing productivity and encouraging teams to get things done on time. Instead, we focus on buffer as one part of a realistic approach to scheduling. Well of course we do, because that’s what it is. But I think it’s important to also remember that A) there are actual *people* working on your projects, B) people tend to be more productive when they feel relaxed, and C) if a project has buffer scheduled in, the people working on that project are bound to feel less stressed than if the project had no buffer. That’s all I’m saying…you do the math.
So there’s the productivity aspect, but what else? Well after I replied to @gtdguy’s tweet, another fellow Twitter-er replied to me, suggesting that maybe some PMs aren’t doing proper risk response planning. Instead, they’re including buffers, with risk as the justification. Interesting idea. On the one hand, hey, at least they’re including buffer, but on the other hand, it’s important to remember that risk management isn’t just some kind of lightweight throwaway work. I mean, PMI’s got an entire certification for Risk Management Professionals. This is serious business. It also could be the reverse…that some organizations have full-on risk management happening, but it’s happening outside of the project schedule, so buffer in the plan itself is being overlooked. And then we’re back to that productivity discussion again. It seems to me that the right answer is a combination of both. Risk management *includes* scheduling buffer. With both in place, you’ve really got a handle on those what-if scenarios, and your team feels supported because you’ve recognized the reality of schedules slipping for one reason or another.
I’m wondering what the reality is out there. Do you include buffer in your project plans? Where, as separate line items, or as padded work estimates? If you don’t include buffer, why not? How do you implement risk management in your project schedules?
Looking for some resources on this subject? Try these: Use schedule buffers to manage change Manage project change with Microsoft Office Project 2007 Security Risk Management Guide View and edit project issues and risks Goals: Identify and plan for risks, Identify new risks, and Control project risks Risk management templates on Office Online Know Your Enemy: Introduction to Risk Management
We've recently published a new application that integrates with Project to support exporting your project plan in a format compliant with UN (United Nations)/CEFACT standard, a worldwide standard for cost and schedule project information.
What's Earned Value?
A project management/reporting standard that integrates measurements of project scope, schedule and cost. See more here.
What is the DCMA and UN/CEFACT?
DCMA (Defense Contract Management Agency) is the agency responsible for tracking earned value figures for U.S. Department of Defense and its contractors. DCMA requires the use of the United Nations (UN) Centre for the Facilitation of the Administration, Commerce and Transport (CEFACT) standard, a worldwide standard for cost and schedule project information.
How does it affect me?
Earned value can be a powerful tool for managing any project, and the UN/CEFACT standard is an important emerging global standard for earned value reporting. For many projects in the in the Defense industry, this standard is mandated as described above.
How does this tool fit in?
It guides users through exporting data from Microsoft Project 2007, captures additional user-specified details, and then translates this data into an output format consistent with the UN/CEFACT standards. By automating this process, this application will generate cost savings for DoD agencies and contractors by reducing the time and resources required to gather, analyze and format the data. Co-developed with our partner QuantumPM, the application is built on Microsoft Project's XML format.
How do I get it?
It's free, just go to http://uncefactexporttool.codeplex.com/. CodePlex is Microsoft's open-source hosting site. Making this tool available through CodePlex makes it easy for others to enhance the tool and adapt to any future updates to the standard.
How does it work?
See below for some screen shots, showing the tool's simple wizard interface.
See here for more details. Check it out at http://uncefactexporttool.codeplex.com/and let us know what you think!
There is an issue with Office Server SP2 where a product expiration date is improperly activated. This means SharePoint will expire as though it was a trial 180 days after SP2 was deployed. This will not affect the normal function of SharePoint up until the expiration date passes. See Brian Smith's blog for more details and a workaround.
Addtionally, see the SharePoint Team blog for more information.
On Office Online, we’ve got this one article, currently called, “Hide or show a column (remove or add a column).” It’s a fine article, but, to be frank, the feature can be a bit confusing, so the feedback we typically get on it is pretty bad. Lots of frustrated comments, low ratings, the whole bit. We’ve tried changing the title, adding video content, being as upfront as we think makes sense. But people are still confused and/or frustrated, so I’m going to try to take a different approach here.
First, let’s look at the mechanics of the issue. Project is not Excel. What I mean by that is when you enter information into cells in Excel, that’s basically as far as it goes. The information is there, in the spreadsheet, and that’s that. (Excuse the not-so-great cellphone pics, it’s all I had on me.)
Project is different. When you enter information into columns in a Project view, you’re really entering it into a database. So the columns that appear in your view are really more like a window into the database.
If you remove a column from a view, the information is still sitting back there in the database.
If you want the information removed, you have to actually delete the information from the fields themselves. (Don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything funky with the database, just put the column back in the view, click the column header to select the cells in that column, and then hit CTRL+Delete. Boom, your data is gone.)
Okay, so now with that said, I’m pretty sure I can actually hear some of you out there groaning. “That’s stupid, if I delete a column, I want it gone. Why can’t you just make the thing do what I told it to?” To that, I’d like to respond with the following example.
[Insert drumroll here.]
Let’s say you have a column called Donuts. The company you work for is awesome, and HR does a donut run every Friday, so you use the Donuts column to indicate each resource’s donut preference. (Okay, it’s a bit of a stretch, but I need a break from writing about columns for resources or budgets or other completely logical project-related things.)
Anyway so this Donuts column…it’s a custom text field, and you currently have it displayed in the Resource Sheet view. (On the Insert menu, click Column, then choose a text field, such as Text1, from the Field Name list.)
You’ve gone through and asked every resource in the company what their favorite donut is, and entered it into Project. Amazing work. It took a while to get through all 350 resources, but you did it, and now you’re pretty darn pleased with yourself.
So now let’s say on some Monday, you’re messing around in the view, taking columns out, putting in new ones, and rearranging things, to try to get better organized and make the view a little prettier. You accidentally remove the Donuts column and forget to add it back in. The end of the week comes along, and you’re getting ready to place your donut order. You go into the Resource Sheet view, and OH NO the Donuts column is gone!
I’m going to say it again, because that’s pretty close to the end of the world: OH NO THE DONUTS COLUMN IS GONE!!
Turns out it’s not actually the end of the world. You just have to add the column back into the view, and all of your data is still there. Whew. Crisis averted.
Does that make my case? I mean really, if saving a weekly donut run doesn’t make my case, I’m not sure what would. But seriously…does that help you understand what the reasoning is behind the way that feature works? Or if it doesn’t, what would you suggest?
So here’s how my day typically goes. Wake up, get the kid breakfast, check email, check Facebook, eat some cereal, check Twitter, do some work, check Twitter again, do some more work, check Facebook, back to work…you get the point. Some people might look at this pattern and say, “Hey lady, get to work, check Facebook on your own time.” Fair enough. Except if you look at my list of friends, the majority of them are coworkers, and while learning what my coworkers have going on outside of work isn’t entirely work-related, it’s great for morale and really makes me feel a lot closer to the people I work with. And we all know that understanding the personalities of team members leads to a more functional team, right? (Thanks Myers-Briggs!)
Anyway my point here is that, for better or worse, social networking is clearly pervasive in my life, blurring the lines between work and home. I’m sure the same can be said for many of you.
One interesting conversation that I saw going on recently on Twitter was around the idea of using these social networking tools for project communication. Frankly, I’ve got some mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, many of us are already tapped into Twitter/Facebook/whatever, so there’s the efficiency factor: if my teammate is tweeting about a dependency slipping, and my kid is tweeting about how much she hates her math homework, I can quickly get caught up on both fronts using a single tool. Sweet. There’s also the camaraderie factor: my teammate updates her Facebook status to indicate her general displeasure with how a vendor relationship is going, and I can comment on that, saying that I totally agree and it totally blows…now we’re communicating at a watercooler level, and we both feel a little better knowing that we’re both in the same boat.
However, the flip side is consideration of privacy. If you’re tweeting about a dependency slipping, A) you’d better be careful not to inject too much emotion, in case the owner of that dependency sees your tweet, and B) you’d better watch what you disclose about your project, in case the rest of the world isn’t supposed to know about Feature X, let alone that it’s slipping.
So while I do see the merit in social networking for work purposes, I’m not sold on social networking for project purposes. Seems like it’s a little too easy to get yourself in hot water unintentionally. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject. Do you use any social networking tools for your projects? What kinds of guidelines do you follow, if any? If you’re not using social networking tools for your projects right now, why not? What’s on that “flip side” for you?
Yes, there is a place in the clouds for Project information.. If you have a number of documents, spreadsheets, notes, proposals, and project files you want to share quickly, Microsoft Office Live Workspace gives you some interesting options.
Microsoft Office Live Workspace enables you to store and share Microsoft Office Project 2007 .mpp files as well as other Microsoft Office program files quickly and easily. All you need is a Windows Live ID and a computer with a connection to the Web.
With Office Live Workspace, you no longer have to worry about exceeding your team members' e-mail storage space or transporting documents using your flash drive. You also don't have to worry about complicated infrastructures to install or maintain. And all your documents are password-protected. When you're on the go toward you vacation destination, you'll always have your project documents close by.
Note You can sign up for Office Live Workspace from the Office Live Workspace sign-up page. To sign in to Office Live Workspace, you must use a Windows Live ID. This e-mail and password combination allows you to sign in to many different Web sites using just one identity.
Step 1: Upload a Project file to Office Live Workspace
1. In Office Live Workspace, on the left navigation bar under My Workspaces, click Documents.
2. On the actions bar, click Add Document.
3. In the drop-down menu, click Single Document or Multiple Documents.
Note The first time that you upload multiple documents to Office Live Workspace, a yellow notification bar appears at the top of your browser asking you to install ActiveX. Click the yellow bar, and in the drop-down menu, click Install ActiveX. In the security warning dialog box, click Install.
4. In the Choose file dialog box, select the file you want to upload, and then click Open.
Note Office Live Workspace does not provide a viewer for Project files. In order to view a Project .mpp file, you need to save the file on your computer and then open it within Project.
Step two: Create a workspace on Office Live Workspace for a Project file
Workspaces behave like folders; they allow you to organize files, lists, and notes. You can either start with a blank workspace that you customize to meet your needs, or you can choose a workspace that already contains helpful documents, notes, lists, and spreadsheets that are all geared for a specific purpose.
1. In Office Live Workspace, on the left navigation bar under My Workspaces, click New Workspace.
2. In the Create a new workspace dialog box, choose Project Workspace.
You can also select other workspaces in which to organize your files, including a blank workspace.
To learn how to make changes to your workspace and arrange documents to meet your needs, see Organize your documents and workspaces.
When you are satisfied with your workspace, you can share it with the people who will find it most valuable. To learn more about sharing workspaces, see Share workspaces and documents using Office Live Workspace.