Exporter Now Supports IPMDAR

We are pleased to announce the release of Steelray Project Exporter for IPMDAR, version 2018.10.8.  Steelray Project Exporter for IPMDAR allows you to convert any Microsoft Project schedule to AAP’s IPMDAR (Integrated Program Management Data and Analysis Report). Exporter supports the new specification.

To see how to export your first project schedule using exporter, click on the video below.
 

 

Grammarly Premium Rocks

I know this is a free plug, but whatever. I’ve been using Grammarly’s free version for a while now, and I made two changes recently. First, I started doing my writing inside of their web application. Second, I upgraded to their premium version. I figured I’d give it a month and see for myself whether it was worth it. In hindsight, I sabotaged that plan quickly by purchasing the annual subscription.

It turns out that it was the right thing to do. The premium version catches the standard spelling and grammar issues, but it goes further than I had anticipated by finding things like passive voice and shows you feedback in real-time on things like clarity and engagement. I wouldn’t think of writing without a spell-checker, and I have now promoted Grammarly to that level.

In Microsoft Project, Summary Tasks are Misnamed

Microsoft Project has a feature called summary tasks. In Microsoft’s world, you take a bottom-up approach to creating your schedule. You create a list of tasks, and when you realize one can be broken up into smaller activities, you create those smaller tasks and indent them (making them subtasks), and your original task becomes a summary task. Microsoft writes:

In Project, an indented task becomes a subtask of the task above it, which becomes a summary task. A summary task is made up of subtasks, and it shows their combined information.

https://support.office.com/en-us/article/create-and-work-with-subtasks-and-summary-tasks-b3ff64ce-b121-42cc-905b-cb9b8ce0255f

The naming convention (“summary task”) is unfortunate because your original task isn’t a task at all — it’s more like an outline header. Complicating matters, Microsoft Project allows you to edit the data (or cells) in a summary task. You can assign a start date and a resource to it. You can assign predecessors. Do this, and your summary task is technically no longer a summary of the indented information below it.

In other words, a summary task is frequently neither. But by calling it a “task”, Microsoft inadvertently promotes a bad scheduling practice. Worse, changing the “task’s” data interferes with the correct calculation of the critical path. It’s like pouring sugar into the gas tank of a car. Not advisable for the operation of the engine. Our project schedule analyzer checks to make sure that summary tasks haven’t been used improperly, helping the critical path “engine” do its job.

Oracle Primavera, on the other hand, takes a top-down approach. Early in the creation of a schedule, you create a WBS (work breakdown structure). This is a more sensible way to build your schedule. You start with the highest level items (for example, deliverables) and then keep breaking them down until you’re ready to start creating activities. The WBS items and the activities are seen as two completely separate entities in Primavera.

I will point out that it is possible to create a schedule in Microsoft Project using a top-down approach. This is what we recommend. Change your mental model of summary tasks — they are not tasks in any way, shape, or form, and they should be left alone to report (summarize) the tasks that belong to them.

A Must Have Software Utility

I’m kind of obsessed with productivity tools, and they generally fall into one of two categories: the ones everyone should use and the rest.

It’s our company mission to make must-have tools (viewers, analyzersexporters) for people who are writing, updating or reviewing project schedules.  We live in a niche; we design and deliver productivity software products for a specific group of people.

Some tools have a much broader range.  One tool that everyone should use is a text snippet insertion utility.  I use TextExpander, and while I don’t know if it’s the best or the worse, I know that I love what it does and how it does it.  It works well for me.

The purpose of these tools is pretty simple:  you type abbreviations or shorthand, like “fyi”, and the tool will insert a longer set of words, like “for your information”.  I set up “b@s” to be my email address — using the first letter of each side of the @ sign.  I have dozens of abbreviations now, and for me, it’s like typing in fast motion. Filling out forms is almost fun.

Almost.

Occasionally, it expands when I don’t want it to, which means I chose an abbreviation that occurs “naturally in the wild,” so to speak.  Good abbreviations require creativity and practicality.  I tend to use the same three letters in a row like three s’s for Steelray.  (You can bet I didn’t type out the entire “Steelray” just then)

You know you love a tool when you miss it the minute you start using a computer without it installed.  The tool can be habit-forming, but in this case, it’s a good habit.  A tiny little superpower.

There are others in my “must-have” category, and most of them are like TextExpander, in that they do a very specific thing in a very useful way.  If you’re not using one, I recommend you take a week and give it a try.  It takes a little practice, but it’s worth it.

Comparing Schedule Snapshots

I like when people post old photos on social media, but especially the “then and now” pictures.  My favorite then-and-now pictures are when the people in the current picture wear similar clothes or attempt to strike the same pose as they did in the past. It’s fun to compare the images, noticing what’s different and what’s the same.

Not as much fun? Comparing snapshots of project schedules. This is a difficult and imperfect process. Why is this?

What You See

A project schedule is typically an extensive dataset. The schedule captures:

  • Performed activities.
  • Logic — how the activities are related to each other, including lags and leads
  • Resources — people, materials, equipment, etc.
  • Calendars — these are composed of the working and non-working days. There can be several calendars in play.
  • Constraints — rules about when activities must start or finish.
  • Expected durations.
  • Calculated dates.

A schedule comparison tool like Oracle Primavera Claimdigger (now a feature in Primavera P6 Visualizer) shows you the differences between schedule snapshots. The first thing you notice: the output is also a massive set of data that must be inspected and analyzed and explained. Your comparison work has just begun.

What You Don’t See

You don’t see what was never recorded. In photographs, you only see physical changes. You don’t see how they are different as a person, what they’ve learned, how they’ve grown, etc.

Similarly, changes in the schedule don’t reflect all of the changes in the project. Sometimes things happen in the project that aren’t indicated in the schedule. Sometimes the schedule is unable to indicate things that occur in the project.

You can see the “what” — the actual change between the snapshots. But you don’t typically see:

  • Who made the change, or when the change was made.
  • Why the change was made.
  • How the change was approved.

Project scheduling tools weren’t designed to record these things. Even if you had a system that recorded this information, your large dataset problem would be significantly larger.

We want to make your work a little easier and less stressful; it’s one of our core values as a company. So we created a schedule analysis tool that offers excellent schedule comparison features, and we’re currently working on new technology that could be a quantum leap forward. So stay tuned and keep an eye out for more details soon!

Before You Perform a Time Impact Analysis . . .

Many organizations, as they are considering the impact of a considered change to a project, perform a Time Impact Analysis (TIA).  A time impact analysis is a scheduling technique that models the change being considered and its impact (cost, time, resources) on the schedule.

Any article you read on performing a TIA stipulates as a requirement that your schedule must have a valid critical path. 

But what does “valid” mean?

In this context, “valid” means high quality.  Are the activities linked together properly?  Are constraints being used properly and only where necessary?  Are relationship types, lags, and leads being used properly?  Is there hidden trouble (e.g. negative float) that isn’t being addressed?  Does the schedule have the proper level of detail?

All of these questions help assess whether the critical path can be trusted.

As the Russian proverb made famous by President Reagan goes, trust but verify.  Large corporations are required to have a system of internal controls for their finances.  At Steelray, we believe that they are needed for project schedules as well.

Does your organization have internal controls for schedules?  Let’s talk!

IPMW 2018 Tools Talk

We are just a few days out from the start of the Integrated Program Management Workshop 2018 in Washington D.C! We are so excited to exhibit our products and demonstrate how they can improve your productivity. We will present our Tools Talk on Tuesday, November 13th from 1:30-2:15 pm in Room 307, so if you’re attending, we’d love for you to stop by our talk. If you aren’t able to make the conference or miss our presentation, continue reading for a summary (and feel free to reach out if you have any more questions about our products!)

Steelray Software Unlocks the Secrets in Your Schedule

If you think about it, a project schedule is really a large set of information that includes planned activities, assignments, and what has happened so far. On large schedules, a lot of key information is sometimes “buried.”

At Steelray, our mission is to help you make sense of your product schedules. At IPMW, we’ll be showing off new products and technologies that help you do just that. 

If you’re new to our suite of products, we’ll introduce our best-in-class suite of tools for project schedule visualization and analysis. If you’re already using our tools, you’ll see features that you probably didn’t know about that will save you a great deal of time.

Steelray Project Viewer is the leading viewer for project schedules.  At IPMW, we’ll be introducing an edition for Primavera P6 and showing how easy it is to navigate through your Primavera schedule.  With features like quick filters and a built-in search engine, we’ll show you how you can save time and make better decisions by using our viewer.

Steelray Project Analyzer is our flagship schedule analysis solution.  We introduced Analyzer at IPMW over ten years ago, and we’ll be demonstrating powerful features that no other competing solution offers.  This year, we completed an overhaul of the product that brings new levels of performance and stability to the product, and we’re excited to show this to you.

Steelray Project Exporter is an add-in for Microsoft Project that now comes in two editions:  a free version that exports to UN/CEFACT XML, and a commercial product that exports to the new IPMR2 Format 6 in JSON.  We’ve significantly improved the product, making it easier to use and more flexible, including self-correcting some common issues that break strict compliance with the standard.

Don’t forget to stop by our booth if you’re attending and keep an eye out for prizes! Looking forward to showing off our software and helping you with your project management!