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Simple Ways to Optimize Your Project Plan in MS Project

Our last blog post covered how to use the different views in Microsoft Project to gather Resource Workload Information. But in order to optimize the plan, you have to put this information to use. The Task Inspector and Resource Leveling functionalities in MS Project offer two simple ways to accomplish load leveling to make your project plan more realistic.

Load Leveling

Load leveling is the process of ensuring that the resources in your work plan are realistically scheduled. When you level the load for your resources, you may have to balance several factors. These include:

  • The amount of work a resource can do in a time period (e.g. Hours per day)
  • The sequence of tasks in the project based on dependencies
  • The necessary skills to perform particular tasks
  • The expected timeline for the project
  • The utilization rate for the resources.

Typically you will have to trade off some of these factors to arrive at the “best” schedule for your particular project. As we covered in our last post on Resource Workload Information, this means that you will have to check and adjust information across multiple views.

Once you know which resources are out of whack, it’s time to do something about that.

Task Inspector

The combination of information and checks that Project carries out to display task indicators and warnings is quite complex. It takes time and experience for a Microsoft Project user to work out for themselves why each indicator or warning is showing up. In the meantime, there is a shortcut. The Task Inspector option unveils the logic at play and the relevant factors.

On the Task: Tasks tab in the ribbon, select Inspect:

Figure 1:

Inspect dropdown

The first time you do this, there may be a couple of prompts for you to confirm the download of various ActiveX controls. You should now see a left-hand panel that summarizes key characteristics of the highlighted task.

Figure 2:

Task inspector panel

There is a section for repair options. In the case of overallocation, the options are to Reschedule Task or to view the resource in Team Planner.

Resource Leveling

A prominent feature of Microsoft Project is the Resource Leveling function. The logic of this function depends on automatically rescheduling assignments for overallocated resources. Generally, it does this by delaying the lower priority tasks until the resource is available.

Note: It is important to realize that leveling will not adjust the resource units–that is, the number of hours a resource will work on any particular task in any particular day. For example, let’s say you have two tasks, each scheduled at 60% for a resource. Leveling would not schedule them simultaneously because their sum would be greater than 100%. Working on it manually, you might choose to make both assignments at 50%, but this is not an option with automatic leveling.

The Resource Allocation view is convenient when working with leveling functions. You get to this view by going to the View:Resource Views tab in the ribbon and selecting Other Views:More Views, then selecting “Resource Allocation” from the list. Once in this view, select a resource.

Figure 3:

Selecting a resource in Resource Allocation view

Now, click Level Resource under the Resource:Level section in the ribbon. Finally, click Level Now.

Notice the effect of choosing to level just the resource Joe. Figures 3 and 4 serve as “Before and After pictures.” In the example project, “An overlapping task” has been delayed (with a leveling delay of 5.21 days). Also, the dates of both “An overlapping task” and “A third task” have changed, as well as other dependent project tasks.

Figure 4:

Effect of leveling resource

When using automatic leveling, you need to keep a careful eye on the overall project schedule. Particularly if the box for Level only within existing slack (in the Leveling Options dialog box) is unchecked, it is easy for leveling delays to extend the project schedule dramatically. That is why it is so important that you understand the tools you have for viewing and working with Resource Allocation information.

For a comprehensive coverage of all the features and functions of the Microsoft Project suite, our training guide is available to the public on Amazon.