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November 28, 2006

Microsoft Project Tips: Hiding Resource Percentages

Once in a while the resource percentage showing on the task bar becomes too much. If you are wondering what I mean, take a look at this screen shot:


See how each resource has the percentage shown after it? That happens whenever the resource is not assigned at exactly 100% to the task. When you update your schedule with actual work it is very likely that the resource will not longer be at a perfect 100%. The simple answer is to change the barstyle so that the text shown is the Resource Initials rather than the resource name. To do this, go to the format menu and select barstyles. Select the bar you want to edit and click on the Text tab in the bottom half. Change resource names to resource initials. Now, there is one more thing to do. Go to the resource sheet. Make sure it shows the resource intials column. Select the resource name column, then choose "copy" or CTRL+C. then select the resource initials column and paste CTRL+V the information into that column.

November 27, 2006

Taking the PMP Exam - Part 4 - Customer Satisfaction

No word yet from PMI on fixing my login/connection problems, but then there was a long weekend...

To entertain you all in the meantime I have a random search that brought someone here. It is perhaps my bad habit to let my imagination run loose on search results (check here for what I pulled out of a series of search results from an AOL user).

In this case someone, somewhere (in Virginia) was searching hard from their PDA to get background on the phrase: 'pmp project manager useless hated'.

I'll leave it to your imagination if this is a good or bad thing. Was it mutiny? Or a PMP trying to gain self-enlightenment?

November 22, 2006

Taking the PMP Exam - Part 3 - If you know the extension of the party

Still no progress on online PMI membership so I sent an email and got this response:

Thank you for contacting the PMI Global Operations Center in Newtown Square, Pennsylvania, USA. A Customer Care Associate will review your request and contact you within five business days.
If you require a more immediate response you can contact your local service center by phone or by email:
PMI Global Operations Center (Newtown Square, PA. USA):
Tel: +610-356-4600 (8:00am - 8:00pm US Eastern time (EST), Monday-Friday)
For Customer Care, select option 8 at the prompt.
Fax: +610-356-4647

Five days? For faster service send an email? Isn't that what I just did? Well, not to confuse things I'll just wait to hear back from them. For an organization that is proud of the way they have made things available on line, this sort of behavior is a bit unexpected.

November 21, 2006

Taking the PMP Exam - Part 2 - Joining PMI

Some basic math:

PMP Exam - PMI Member = $405
PMP Exam - Nonmember = $555
PMP Membership = $119 + $10 first time fee
$555 > $405 + $119 + $10

This teaches us that the first step in the process is to join PMI if you are not already a member. Who says it is not about captive revenue streams? Oh well, it is only money and the benefits last forever, don't they? Or at least until next year.

The one little problem is that their on-line membership application is broken and won't go past the second page. Guess that is it until I can find another computer to see if another browser won't choke on their app. Maybe tonight...

Taking the PMP Exam - Part 1 - Getting Started

The starting point for this journey is the PMI's site. You can get there by going to From there it is a short hop to the PMP credential page. PMI is a bit paranoid about their materials, so I can't give you a direct link to the "Certification Handbook" (current version is a pdf file titled: PDC_PMPHandbook.pdf) that you can open or download. This e-book is divided into 5 sections; Eligibility, Examination Information, Policies and Procedures, Credential Terms of Use and finally a section with Credential Application Forms. The last section is optional as the forms are also available through PMI's online credentialing system

The credential process and requirements changed not too long ago, so if you have downloaded this in the past and have an old copy on your disk or in a folder, get rid of it and get yourself a new copy.

Going to take some time to read the e-book and figure out what the next step is, but will be back soon...

Taking the PMP Exam N*ked - Part 0

I've been a critic of the PMI's PMP exam for nearly as long as it existed. (You can read past writings here) but I see a world where people actually take it seriously, so in the spirit of "if you can't beat them up, join them", and to give myself additional credibility for future criticism, I am planning to take the PMP exam.

But since I know that many people struggle through this process and can use help, and I'm nothing if not helpful, I'll be documenting progress along the way. Look for future posts to cover the application process, studying, reference material and the test itself. The "naked" in the title refers both to exposing the process and also for my strategy of eschewing prep courses and PMP "Tips and Tricks" books and sticking to just what is in my head and in the PMBOK. I may pick out and highlight any other free resources I come across. If you have any that you are aware of, just leave a comment on this post and I'll compile them into a master list at the end.

So stay tuned. I hope to run though this process as quickly as possible and will be keeping track of time along this way.


- there goes the virtual starting gun. Gotta get running!

November 17, 2006

MS Project 2007 Change Highlighting and the Interim Plan

Microsoft Project 2007 has a new feature called "Change Highlighting". It shows how a change to one task affects others which have dependencies on it. For example, the screenshot below shows how changing Task A from one day to two days affects the start and finish dates for all the other tasks:


The blue highlighting shows the fields which have changed due to the first change. This is certainly very useful, but it is missing a few things.

  • First, we don't know whether the change was a good change or a bad change.
  • Second, as soon as we make another change, the highlighting will change to tasks affected by the second change.
  • Third, we don't know the magnitude of the change. This is a very simple project and all the changes are one for one, but in some cases a major change to one task may change another by only a very small amount. Perhaps an insignificant amount. But we have no way of knowing from this feature.

Fortunately Project has had the ability to show the effects of changes in a robust and persistant way. That is through the use of an Interim Plan. An interim plan is really a very simple baseline. It stores the start and finish dates of tasks into the user defined start and finish fields (Start1-Start10 and Finish1-Finish10). If you add a couple barstyles to your view you can easily see all changes that were made in an editing session.

The first step is to save an interim plan. To do this go to the Tools menu, select Tracking, then Set Baseline. The following dialog box should appear:


In this example we are using Start1 and Finish1 to store the dates. When you are done click OK. Next we need to set up the barstyles to show three things. Formatting the barstyles is done by going to the Format menu and selecting Format Barstyles

  • First we show the interim plan. For this we are using a "silver" colored bar drawn from Start1 to Finish1. It represents the original task.
  • Next we create a bar to show if tasks have slipped later than originally planned. We use a red bar for this and set it to draw from Start1 to Start. Project will only draw this bar if the second date is later than the first date.
  • Then we create a bar to show if tasks have pulled in. We use a green bar for this and set it to draw from Finish1 to Finish.

When you are done, the barstyle dialog box should show the three bars as below. Note that order is important. The bars are drawn in list order, so if you put the silver bar last it will hide the red and green ones.


When this is set up, go and make some changes in your plan. Here I have made two changes. See if you can figure out what was changed. (hint: originally all durations were 1 day)


By saving this view and using it whenever you are editing your file you will have a much better indication of what you are doing to your file than you will get from the "Highlight Changes" feature in Project 2007. Not only that, but this technique can be used in Project 98, 2000, 2002 and 2003. I hope you will find it useful. Just remember to reset the interim plan at the start of your editing session.

November 13, 2006

Microsoft Project 2007 VBA Help now Available Online

Microsoft Project 2007 (and the rest of Office 2007) were released over the weekend (Nov. 12, 2006) and while it will take until early next year to make it through the retail channels you can at least get started with perusing the help files. The last version of Office started a trend towards on-line help which I feel is somewhat inconvenient when you are not working on a network, but at least it allows them to keep the help up to date. And as a side benefit, it is available to all, even if you don't have the program. This used to be a sore spot for the VBA help as it only got installed through a custom install, something some corporate IT departments overlooked.

For example to access the help files for Microsoft Project 2007 VBA you can go to this URL:

The lcid=1033 at the end notes that the language is English. Change that to 1041 for Japanese. I'm not sure if any of the content is up for other languages, but you can poke around and see for yourself.

The regular help for Project 2007 itself can be found here:

From here it is a simple matter to look around at the rest of the online help for office. Check these entries for Excel and Word:
Excel Help:
Excel VBA Help:
Word Help:

Just extend the pattern and you can find help on any Office 2007 product. This is a great resource so take advantage of it and have fun!!

UPDATE: Looking a bit deeper, this approach also appears to allow the help writers an excuse on their deadlines since they can always "post it tomorrow" and in the case of some new objects like workweek, it looks like that is what they are going to do...:-(

October 26, 2006

Project Scheduling with Excel

For the "I Hate Microsoft Project" crowd some new hope glittered today with a couple of posts on making Project schedules and charts in Excel. The secret is using an xy chart with error bars (my version uses formulas and conditional formatting and can do resource profiling but doesn't look nearly as clean. The post and example files are at Process Trends

Then Dick Kusleika chimed in and added progress lines. His example is here Daily Dose of Excel. A couple other approaches are referenced in his comments as well.

Excel is immensely useful... but it isn't a substitute for a real scheduling tool. Sorry Project haters.

Going Square

Presentation Zen is slowly dropping the rounded corners on all the images. Now it is safe for me to read again! You should give it a try too if you have any sort of presentation to make... ever. Garr Reynold's most recent post is about how there is more to presentation than logic, reason and facts. I have to agree. Project is mostly fact, reason and logic free, but you still come here to read it don't you?

Now what sort of appeal do I need to make to get you to tell your friends to come here too? Laughter?

October 25, 2006

Project Management by Microsoft

At the 2006 PMI Global Conference a few days ago, Microsoft announced three new Microsoft Project 2007 Certifications. The details are a bit hazy as Project 2007 won't be released until next year, but the basic idea is that:

Three new certifications will be introduced to address the needs of people using the Microsoft Office Project 2007 desktop and the EPM solution. The credentials are designed to be incorporated into training programs that provide a progressive career path and promote high standards. These certifications also align with Microsoft’s support for the People-Ready business, the company’s commitment to prepare users with critical skills and competencies that lead to successful project outcomes and greater efficiencies. Microsoft’s Certified Partners for Learning Solutions can now participate in the opportunity of preparing users to migrate to the advanced functionality of Office Project 2007 EPM.

According to the press release (read it here) PMI's PMBOK was used as a foundation on which this certification was built. I can understand that. It is always nice to have something already existing to build upon, but a few quotes from Microsoft Learning GM Lutz Ziob leave me worrying a bit about the whole thing. This quote for example:

"The complexity of project management is driving the need for a more educated practitioner," says Ziob. "Microsoft is committed to advancing the project management profession. This is especially important as project management evolves from a desktop application to an increasingly strategic enterprise level business solution."

UPDATE: An un-named mole assures me that I'm the one who is misunderstanding this quote and the intentions of Microsoft. This is good to hear... I think.

Since when has project management been a desktop application? Don't get me wrong. Project Information Systems such as Microsoft's EPM solution are very good and useful, but they are just tools, tools which help you achieve SOME of the goals of Project Managers. I can't remember who was giving the talk, but I've heard project scheduling and tracking described as being closer to accounting functions rather than management functions. I agree with that to a certain degree. Just as a financial system gives managers information to manage their projects, a schedule/resource/tracking system gives managers information to manage their projects. Most managers don't run the financial systems though, and they aren't expected to understand many of the tools used. Why should Project Information Systems (PIS's) be any different? Shouldn't a group of project analysts or project "accountants" handle that part? If not, why not? I'm just worried that someone, somewhere is confusing information with management.

Of course, I have no idea what the certification will look like. It may be completely different than I expect, but if it focuses on teaching managers the ins and outs of Project Server then I think that the resulting "Certified Managers" are not really managers at all.

Project Managing the World

In someways it appears that the US administration is starting to treat the situation in Iraq as a "PROJECT". They are talking about setting up mutually agreed upon milestones for achieving "security" (forgive me for the "quotes". I just use them when way a word is being used by someone else doesn't match the way I would use it)

But it is curious to me that it has taken this long to get to the point where scope is being defined. As far as I can tell from comments made this morning, there is not agreement on what the milestones will be and there is still work to be done to flesh them out. Assuming that the US is taking the role of Project Manager/Owner's Representative, there will be some negotiation following that. To me this is the birth of the plan. From there, evaluating tactics and available resources to craft some set of workable assignments and sub-goals would be next. These of course would have some idea of the time required. Time can not be dismissed as it is a critical resource.

Then everybody would start to work the plan.

This approach sounds reasonable... and in this light it is reasonable to wait until the milestones are clear before committing to a schedule. I just wonder why it has taken a few years and more than a few lives just to get to the starting point.

PS: Note to W. When you state that not having (or at least not discussing) a Plan B is what "positive people do" you start to worry me greatly. Successful Project Management is all about mitigating risk. You don't get there by ignoring it.

And now for something completely different

Dr. Nakamats "Inventor of the Floppy Disk":

What I find most interesting is the concept that being 0.5 seconds away from death is the trigger for creativity. He achieves this through submersion in a tank of water.

I find the claim that lack of oxygen in the brain triggers some activity to be somewhat plausible. It fits with my belief that a portion of creativity is synthesis - the joining of two different themes or thoughts - and with the idea that sparking this sort of activity may be facilitated when the brain is operating out of its normal mode. But what really has me wondering is how he knows he is 0.5 seconds from death. What if you are off by a few tenths or linger just a bit too long getting the spark to ignite the tinder? Could it just be hyperbole?

October 19, 2006

Microsoft Project VBA the Rod Gill way

Rod Gill has put out a new book which covers most of what you need for Microsoft Project VBA programming. As far as I know it is the only book about VBA that I know of. The last edition of Tim Pyron's "Using Microsoft Project" was so full that the VBA chapters were moved to an addendum on the web so it is great to see a book dedicated to just VBA. The book moves from the most basic concepts through creating some useful macros and userforms. It even offers an updated version of something very similar to my "Trace" macro. At the end of each chapter there are some example questions/problems which would make this book very useful if you are teaching VBA in a class. In the US the book was localized by Gary Chefetz and Dale Howard of MSProjectExperts and if you are familiar with their Project Server books you will be happy to see that the same high quality is embodied here. Highly recommended for anyone who wants a solid grounding in Microsoft Project VBA. Here is a link to the book at Amazon.

While you are at it check out Gary and Dale's Project Server Books:

Disclaimer: I know these guys and have had dinner with them at least once.

October 11, 2006

Swimming to Cambozola

I swam a bit more than a mile today. Swimming in a pool is among the most boring of activities as the scenery never changes and there is no talking with your head underwater. A mile is about 70 laps of the pool. In a way it is similar to a long project. Of course with every project people develop ways of coping.

Most swimmers I know dream up one scheme or another. For longer sets I calculate the fraction complete to keep my mind occupied. Other people count strokes to build a rhythm, but perhaps the most common strategy is to break the session into various sets. If for example you were going to swim 2000 yards you might start with a 200 yd warm-up, then a set of 5 x100yd freestyle, then a set of 10x100yd im then a couple sprints and a warmdown. Going beyond this, you can add permutations of what time interval the set is on and also have the items in the set progress as you go along (ie: 50, 100, 150, 200 and then back down).

Back to the comparison with a project... each phase of the workout is kept under control by some agreed bundle of effort to be completed. The advantage is that unlike being told to just jump in the pool and swim, a set has a beginning and an end. It is actually something that you can finish before you go insane from monotony, and it is something you get a breather after. You get a chance to lift your head from the water and perhaps talk to the other swimmers. A project can benefit from a similar strategy. Setting milestones and taking some time to celebrate them is one way to do this. Having clear goals for each phase can help remove that feeling of "are we there yet?" which is discouraging when the answer is not really known.

Another lesson from swimming is that streamlining is key. I'm perhaps not much stronger or more fit than other swimmers I see in the pool, but I can gain several yards on them at every turn just by pushing off the wall with my arms stretched over my head and my toes pointed. Avoid the unessential and you will be yards ahead as well. Make every movement count.

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