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.
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.
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, analyzers, exporters) 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.
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.
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:
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.
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!
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!
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
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!
We are officially one week out from the Integrated Program Management Workshop 2018 in Washington D.C! We’re so excited to showcase our newest product, Project Exporter (for both UN/CEFACT and IPMR2), as well as recent developments of our other products, Project Viewer and Project Analyzer. Stay tuned for more information later this week about our presentation at IPMW, and in the meanwhile, take a peek at this goofy video we made:
If you’re attending IPMW 2018, we hope you stop by our presentation! Our talk, “Unlock the Secrets in Your Software,” will take place on Tuesday, November 13th at 1:30-2:15 pm in Room 307 of the GW Marvin Center.
Modern education places a heavy emphasis on STEM subjects: science, technology, engineering, and math. However, a project at Google set out to determine the value of so-called “soft skills” in their workplace.
Google initially set out to hire computer science students with top grades from the best science colleges upon its conception in 1998. But in 2013, they tested hiring, firing, and promotion data and found that STEM qualities actually ended up last on the list of the eight most important attributes as an employee at Google. The top seven were soft skills: the ability to be empathetic, excellent communication skills, critical thinking and problem solving, to name a few. Their findings led the company to reconfigure their hiring process and expand their focus beyond technology-based fields of study to humanities majors and MBAs.
Even at a company as technical as Google, studies continue to show the value of soft skills. The article states:
“the company’s most important and productive new ideas came from B-teams comprised of employees who don’t always have to be the smartest people in the room.”
And that begs the question, what is smart anyway? We tend to think of people who excel in technical subjects such as math and science as the smart ones, without the same regard for those who are excellent writers or can paint a masterpiece.
Furthermore, these “soft skills” cited in the article go beyond academic subjects we learned in school. Studies noted that emotional safety, generosity, and curiosity were qualities that aren’t taught to us by teachers, but rather by peers. This shows that our socialization plays an equally important role in our contributions at work, not just our academic excellence.
As a software company, we’re focused on our technology and using fantastic software engineers to build our products to the best of our ability. But we also work to recognize that being a great team member goes beyond coding. We strive for personal and professional betterment, which makes our office a prime space to excel. As important as technology is in our set of skills, it’s equally vital not to overlook the soft skills as well.
Happy Friday everyone! Today, we’re discussing human productivity and the efficiency of an experimental four-day work week.
Earlier this year, a firm in New Zealand ran an experiment where it let its employees work four days a week while being paid for five. Employees chose which day of the week to take off, and the experiment resulted in more well-rested employees, better work-life balance, and limited distractions, with no change in productivity despite the shorter work hours.
The article begs the question as to the efficiency of a 40-hour work week. Of course, everyone is different, but this experiment showed that people were able to recognize inefficiencies and correct them to work smarter, not necessarily harder.
It’s vital for us as employees to recognize times that we’re doing quality work and times when we’re not. It’s difficult (maybe even impossible) to be 100% productive, all day, every day; and it’s also essential for us to take breaks. So what’s the perfect balance?
Honestly, there isn’t one universal answer. Everyone works differently, and this experiment ran well because employees had the ability to choose which extra day they took off, allowing them to optimize their time in the office and take well-deserved breaks when they needed it. But besides being bored or feeling sluggish, how do we know when we’re not productive?
Some may be familiar with the term “flow”: in other words, it’s the state of being in the zone, when one is fully immersed in an activity and has full focus and enjoyment in the process. There are, of course, varying stages between boredom and flow, and we often don’t work at a flow state for eight hours a day. But achieving a flow rhythm might reduce the time it takes to complete a task; for example, a task that might take four hours in a non-flow state might take two in flow.
There’s no real answer to achieving flow since everyone works differently. But the experiment of a four-day work week and the results it produced imply that individuals are able to deduce their own inefficiencies and make themselves better. At Steelray, we continually strive for personal betterment, in and out of the workplace, because we believe that the drive to learn and excel is what makes us remarkable people with really cool software.
Do you think you’d excel with a four-day work week? What day would you take off? How can we measure our productivity to know if we’re getting better or worse?
We are excited to announce the availability of Steelray Project Analyzer 2018.5, a major release of Analyzer! This is the biggest release of Analyzer in many years.
What’s new in 2018.5?
DoD DCMA EVAS Metrics
Analyzer 2018.5 includes support for all of the latest schedule metrics that DCMA is using on their EVAS schedule assessments.
DCMA 14-Point Enhancements
Analyzer’s DCMA 14 Point Assessment is enhanced as well. With the 2018.5 release, all 14 tests are executed without changing the source schedules, including schedules with master and subproject files.
As always, we include two versions of the report: one which runs strictly according to DCMA guidelines and one that can be customized and configured to suit your needs. The custom report is renamed to “Configurable DCMA Assessment” in this version.
Our Entirely New Project Data Extractor for Microsoft Project
With Microsoft Project files, when you click the Analyze button, the longest part of the processing is extracting the necessary data from Project. When the extraction takes a while, the whole analysis takes a while. There are generally two technologies used for this, and both come with technical baggage (i.e. compromises): accuracy and speed.
Speed + Accuracy
We’ve written a new project data extractor optimized for blazing speed with perfect accuracy, giving you the best of both worlds, and Analyzer is our first product to use this technology. The extractor is called Steelray Project Add-In and (as the name implies) it installs as a very lightweight add-In to Microsoft Project. Once installed, Steelray Project Analyzer connects to the add-in to grab the data it needs, in less time than ever before. But that’s not all it does.
Better Error Handling
Because Analyzer and the Project Add-In can talk to each other, we’re better able to detect when something goes wrong with Project. This allows us to better communicate and handle the issue.
Support for Future Products
Future products that Steelray will build may use Steelray Project Add-In as well, reducing their installation footprint.
Improved User Interface
In 2018.5, we addressed dozens of usability items to make for a better user experience.
Settings Where They Belong
In previous versions, some reports would have a sidebar which would allow you to change settings related to the project or the report. You could only access those settings after running the report, which was clunky. We’ve moved those settings out of the report to where they belong: project settings and report settings.
New Project Settings
There’s a stark difference between the old and new project settings. With the new settings, you make changes in one place and the changes apply wherever used in a report. For Microsoft Project files, there is a new link which allows you to open the project file directly from Analyzer.
New Report Settings
Similarly, we’ve taken settings out of the output of some reports and added them to our enhanced report settings.
Direct Editing of Criteria From the Scorecard
The first generation of Analyzer had a feature where you could edit any criteria on a scorecard with one click; a great shortcut that we missed when it went away in the next version.
We’re happy to announce that it’s back in 2018.5! Simply click on the criteria name and you’ll be in the Criteria Manager with the criteria loaded and ready to edit. An example:
Enhanced Project Sets Make Comparing Schedules a Breeze
We’ve greatly enhanced project sets in Analyzer 2018.5 with a new feature called snapshot sets. Before, to select two or more schedules for a comparison report, you had to load and select them individually. You may have had 12 schedules, one for each reporting period, cluttering up your Projects list.
In 2018.5, a project set has a checkbox setting that tells Analyzer that the list of projects in the set are snapshots of the same schedule — a snapshot set. For reports like Schedule Comparison that required you to select all of the projects to be compared, the process is much easier, Select the snapshot set and you’re good.
Enhanced Connection Diagnostics for Microsoft Project Server, Project Online, and Oracle Primavera P6
We’ve added features to make it much easier to diagnose connection problems with Microsoft Project Server, Project Online, and Oracle Primavera P6. For P6, we check to make sure the necessary permissions are correct after the connection.
Recently a recruiter reached out to me about a three-month Scrum Master role. Was I interested? No, I love my job at Steelray. Did I know of anybody? Well, maybe, but…three months?
A Scrum Master’s core objective is to foster highly aligned, high-performing development teams, which takes time?certainly longer than a few months. Here’s why:
The Team Competency Model
I?d invite you to consider that the specific skill sets of teamwork are acquired through the ?Four Stages of Competence? ? a learning model that applies to teams just as much as individuals:
The team doesn?t understand team skills and doesn?t recognize the deficit.
They don’t understand team skills, but know they need them and want to do something about it.
Conscious competence The team is actively acquiring skills, but it takes a lot of attention and intention to apply them.
The team has had so much practice together that?being?a team has become “second nature.”
It?s been my experience that most teams are Stage Two, some are Stage Three, many (too many) are Stage One, and a rare few make it to Stage Four.
How About You?
Considering the huge benefits of great teamwork, it’s worth taking stock to and looking at your own competencies. Where are you on the model? Not just your developers, but sales, marketing and operations? Even senior management?
The litmus test is pretty simple:
To what degree is everyone on the same page with the work?
To what degree is everyone on the same page with how they work together?