I’ll say this for Monday: somebody in their marketing department is killing it.
This is the first in a series of explainer videos I’m making while under the stay-at-home order. In the video, we answer the burning question: What’s the true purpose of tools like Microsoft Project and Primavera P6?
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:”
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? 😉
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 the new version on the Analyzer Product Page.
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.
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.
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.
Today is January 2, the first workday where we get to practice our New Year’s resolutions. Did you make any? For Steelray, New Year’s resolutions take the form of annual objectives. This year, we’ve made two big resolutions.
First, we resolve that we’re going to do a much better job of communicating with you. That includes sharing news about releases and events we’re attending. Communication is a two-way street, so it also involves listening very carefully to your feedback, ideas, and suggestions. In fact, the listening part is the far more critical part of communication.
Second, we’re going back to our roots and delivering groundbreaking software — this time in the area of schedule delay analysis. I can’t share the details yet, but that day is coming soon. We’ve been in R&D mode for most of last year, working on the technology.
At times, we encountered roadblocks that made us question whether we’d be able to push through. And we pushed through. (If it were easy, it would have been done already.) We’re not there yet, but we’re getting much closer.
And, in keeping with our first resolution, I’m spending time every day speaking with potential users of the software, understanding how it can best help and how it would be used. So, if you’re someone who looks at schedules with the purpose of understanding the impact of changes to the schedule, please reach out to me.
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:
- Performed activities.
- 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.
- Expected durations.
- Calculated dates.
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
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!