New Video: How the Critical Path is Calculated

In scheduling tools like Microsoft Project and Primavera P6, it’s too easy to do things that interfere with the calculation of the true critical path.  To understand how this interference can occur and avoid making these mistakes, you should first understand how the critical path is calculated.

In under four minutes, we can show you.  Watch the video below.

Our 20th Birthday

Today is Steelray’s 20th birthday, which is old age for a software company. As I reflect on that fact, one question comes to mind:  

How?

How on earth did we make it 20 years? In between all of the mistakes and false assumptions and questionable decisions, we must have been doing something right to get here. After some thought, I came up with a list of “pillars” that have supported our health and longevity.

  • Financial Health.  Just as people need water, food, and oxygen to survive, a business only survives with cash. Not running out of money has always been top-of-list!

  • Happy Customers.  You don’t achieve and maintain financial health without customers. Having happy customers who like us and our products has been the difference-maker. We are so grateful to you and know that we need to continue delivering exceptional products, service, and value to you.

  • A Mission That Matters to Us. Our mission is to make the finest software for project schedule visualization and analysis.
    • By “finest,” we mean the most useful and most usable software products in the market.
    • We make the best tools for the best practitioners. For 20 years now, we’ve applied our team’s expertise in project management and building software products to build and offer solutions that provide great value to you.
    • We realized that great schedules come from great schedulers, so making better schedulers through our software is part of our mission.

  • What We Do and Where Matters. At some point, I realized that how you spend your workdays is as essential as any of the other pillars. 
    • We want to work on cool stuff.
    • We want to be an excellent place to work.

  • ‘A’ Players. As cliché as it sounds, the single biggest thing I’ve done to make it 20 years is to hire and develop a team of ‘A’ players. I am eternally grateful for the team we’ve built. Nothing else I’ve done has mattered more to our journey. Because when the project management landscape undergoes change, and a whole new set of skills is required, I’d rather have a team who have the brains, skills, and mostly attitude to embrace change and pivot quickly to the new reality. The alternative is firing and hiring, and who wants to work for a company like that?

As I write this, we are self-quarantined and have replaced working in the same office with online meetings, webcams, and screen sharing. The conferences we planned on going to have all been canceled, so we’re not able to see our customers in-person. I am missing the office and the conferences and look forward to the day when it’s safe to come out and play again.

Mostly I want to say these two things: 

  • Thank you, Steelray customers. Let’s celebrate our 40th together too.  
  • And thank you, Steelray team. You are the best!

Go ahead and treat yourself to a slice of cake today!

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.
 

 

I Hate Marketing Emails

Because I’ve had my email address for almost 20 years, I get a lot of marketing emails spam.  A LOT of spam.  Gmail filters out a nice chunk, and I use an Apple Mail add-in called Spam Sieve to filter out another sizeable percentage of it.  Despite that fact, a lot of unwanted email still reaches my inbox.

For the past week, I’ve deliberately been clicking on the unsubscribe link at the bottom of each email to take me off of that particular list.  Some of them make it very easy, and some of them try to throw up roadblocks.  This one from Responsify is particularly, uh, “challenging:”

email with tiny unsubscribe text

Yes, a link in that microscopic text at the bottom is how you’re supposed to unsubscribe. They’re betting that most people won’t bother to navigate the obstacles required to get off of their email list.  I scaled the email to be larger and (with my nose about two inches from the screen)  I found the unsubscribe link.

After a week, it’s too soon to know whether I’ve made a dent in the unwanted emails.  I’m wondering if they will reach a critical mass and if the time I’m spending unsubscribing would be better spent hitting the delete key.  Will email as we know it become unusable because of spam?  

We make software products that help our customers visualize and analyze their project schedules, and we’ve used email marketing campaigns from time to time.  In my mind, it’s like we’re one person in a stadium of 80,000 shouting at the top of our lungs, trying to be heard above everyone else.  I’m not saying that email campaigns are pointless, but we’ve found other marketing channels that work better for us.  Five personal emails might be more effective than 500 “eBlast” emails.

I’m curious to know what you think.  Email me?  😉

New August Analyzer Release

We’re excited to announce a new version of Analyzer: 2019.08.37 (or the August version). There are a few excellent improvements, so we highly recommend upgrading.

Easier Report Output Formats
Some of our users who have been running Analyzer for years have been unaware that you can create scorecards directly in Excel, PowerPoint, Word, and HTML (Web). We blame ourselves; that feature should have been easier to discover. The August release corrects that issue.

When you add a new Scorecard report, we’ve moved the output options to the top of the settings:

A Much Better Excel Report
The August release gets a significant upgrade with our newly redesigned Excel report. The report includes a summary sheet with hyperlinks that take you to detail tabs:

The output is crisper and easier to read:

Download It
Download the new version on the Analyzer Product Page.

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.