Build a Better Microsoft Project Schedule with Steelray Project Analyzer

How do you ensure you’ve built a quality Microsoft Project Schedule?

Over time, we develop our own set of criteria for what makes a “good schedule” by combining real-world practice with project scheduling theory.  One challenge with assessing project schedule quality is subjective nature of the evaluation as it always isn’t consistent across a project portfolio, department or company.  A project manager may feel comfortable managing a high level schedule and another project manager may want the schedule defined in greater granularity (40-80 hours).  Organizations need consistent advice and guidance based on best practices.  Even if your organization has the old sage resident expert or a innovative PMO wunderkind, a coach can only review a fixed number of schedules at a given time.

I recently started working with a tool eliminates the bottleneck and not only analyzes your project schedule for quality but also provides coaching guidance on how to improve the project schedule.  Steelray’s Project Analyzer is a powerful tool that can analyze a project schedule and provide detailed evaluation reports in seconds.  The tool provides over 40 formulas and rules to assess the quality of your project schedule with literally one click of a button (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Steelray Project Analyzer

Using a traffic light status scorecard, Project Analyzer easily identifies problem areas in your schedule ranging from common schedule mistakes to complex quality assessments.  Common scheduling errors like missing baseline data or missing assigned resources are visually flagged along with complex quality errors such as excessive slack durations, out of sequence tasks or poorly formed dependencies.  The scorecard is customizable so you can quickly assess a schedule based on your organization’s schedule quality needs (Figure 2).

Figure 2 -Steel Ray Project Analyzer

Figure 2 – Project Scorecard

Figure 2 – Scorecard

The tool also filter’s the Microsoft Project schedule to identify the problem tasks for faster resolution.  I’ve previously written about how to customize Microsoft Project to use custom filters to identify late tasks, but SteelRay Project Analyzer takes this concept to an entirely new level.  The ability to quickly assess problems in a project schedule saves project managers time and reduces the administrative burden incurred during project execution.

Project Analyzer also provides coaching advice for each of the problem areas.  By clicking on the whistle icon, the coaching panel appears and explains each schedule quality rule.  More importantly, it tells the project manager what to do next to fix the problems in the project schedule (Figure 3).

Figure 3 - Steel Ray Project Analyzer

Figure 3 – Project Analyzer Advice

I really like how the tool provides an objective assessment of the schedule, quickly identifies the tasks that need to be fixed and provides guidance on next steps to fix problem areas. It is even more impressive that all this analysis can be done in less than a minute. The project manager still needs to consider the context of the project and the subjective influences in the project schedule. In one example, the tool evaluates the project schedule for earned value management. If your organization hasn’t adopted earned value, then this rule will not have much value to you. You can customize the scorecard to use the rules that apply to your organization. I also like how it assess criteria such as schedule performance index (SPI) and cost performance index (CPI) as it provides project managers with goals to achieve.

How can a PM, PMO or a solution provide use the tool?

The obvious application is to apply Project Analyzer to your own project schedules. As much as I pride myself on being able to schedule effectively in Microsoft Project, I found several problem areas within my schedules within seconds.  You may think you’ve thought of everything when building a schedule and the tool provides a sanity check.  The coaching feature also helps explain the rationale and future pitfalls if the scheduling issues are not resolved.

If you are a PMO manager responsible for provide coaching and counseling on project management processes, techniques and standards, this is a must have tool.  A PMO team in a large organization can easily support hundreds of projects each year.  Each PMO member may have their own interpretation and personal best practices on how to effectively develop and manage a project schedule.  SteelRay’s Schedule Analyzer provides a consistent set of criteria across the entire organization and standardizes the guidance provided by PMO coaches.

If you manage projects that use 3rd party suppliers or offshore portions of the project to other teams, Project Analyzer will help you quickly assess the quality of the supplier schedules.  Even if the project has fixed price deliverables with an outsourced supplier, conducting a quality assessment on the integrated schedule with both supplier and client tasks provides value to the project and supports risk management.

As a self-admitted IT geek, I love software tools that help you do work better.  Finding useful and practical project management tools that help project managers plan and manage schedules better is encouraging for the project management profession.   We need more tools like SteelRay that help us become better project managers not just through theory but through actual application.   No single tool is a silver bullet for successful project management.  You still need to apply your own rationale and logic to problems in your schedule.  Download a free trial of SteelRay Project Analyzer and apply it to your own Microsoft project schedule.

About Andrew Makar

Professional Cat Herder and an Agile Enthusiast with a keen interest in putting PM theory into actual practice.
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