Microsoft Project 2010
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Budgeting with Inactive Tasks

Budgeting with Inactive Tasks

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A very common problem people have when building their schedules is they have more work to do than they have budget for. We hit this problem all the time on the Project team when we are doing feature work (we just have so many good ideas for features thanks to all of your feedback). In the past when building budgets, we’d create multiple plans or even, aak, use Excel. Thanks to Inactive Tasks in Project 2010 Professional, we can now easily do this in Project.

Before I get into the details, let me give you a little background. When we are doing budgeting, we don’t look at dates, we just look at how many dev hours are required for a feature and then work to get the rollup number to match our budget. So our initial schedules will often look like this:

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We’ll schedule all the tasks, once we’ve decided which features and tasks we’re going to do for the coding milestone. Yes, the feature and task names were changed to protect the innocent.

Step 1 – Turn on the Project Summary Task. This allows you to see the rollups for your project. You can do this by going to the Format tab and checking Show Project Summary Task.

Step 2 – Insert the Work field since this is really what I care about. After doing this, I can see it would take 1,793 hours to complete all of these features. Unfortunately I don’t have that much time. I only have 1,370 hours so I need to do some cutting.

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Step 3 – Working with my co-workers, I determine the priority of each feature. We track this in a text custom field, Feature Priority. I’ve collapsed the view to Outline Level 1 since right now we only care about features.

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Step 4 – Inactivate the lowest priority features by clicking Inactivate on the Task Tab - Schedule group.

Before:

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After: image

Notice how Work is now reduced to 1,385hrs. The original values are preserved for the inactivated tasks, they just don’t affect the rollups anymore.

Step 5 – more cutting since I’m still over my budget of 1,370hrs by 15 hours. I could ask for an exception but I want to see if anything else stands out at this point. I’m going to expand the Medium priority features to get more details.

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Under feature 2, I see some pri 2 UI work that we could ship without so I’ll cut that.

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And we are now 1 hour under our budget – yay. At this point, our next steps would be to get the correct devs assigned to the tasks and the work scheduled out.

Now clearly I simplified this from the real world experience to make the example fit the blog article but I hope this article shows that you can easily use Project when you are trying to hit an hour or cost budget. If your project is more date driven, you can still use inactive tasks, you’ll just have to adjust your predecessors along the way. From experience the hard part is not using Project, it is getting everyone to agree on the priorities of the various features and agreeing to the cuts.

Click here for more info on Inactive Tasks.