Carl Chatfield: Top 10 Problems, #7: Don’t distinguish work from duration

Carl here again. ProjHugger is for Microsoft Office Project newbies, enthusiasts, and zealots. I publish new posts every Monday morning, but you can add comments any time. This week’s ProjHugger post continues the “Top 10 problems new (and not so new) Project users have, and what you can do to ease the pain” series, which started like this: #10, #9, and #8. And here’s #7:

Problem #7: Don't distinguish work from duration

Project measures both duration and work values in increments of time, but duration gets a lot more visibility in the Project UI. In fact work only steps into the picture when you assign a resource to a task, and even then you need to dig a little to see work values. When you assign resources in your project plans, you may need to clearly distinguish the amount of work the resources are scheduled to complete from the duration over which the work will be performed. It can be a subtle difference but one you ignore at your peril.

Duration values are pretty prominent in the Project interface. In the default Gantt Chart view, Duration is the column just to the right of the Task Name column. As I said above work isn't even calculated until you assign a resource to a task. When you do, Project calculates work as duration times assignment units. This is the so-called scheduling formula: W=D x U.

What's Your (Task) Type?

At least, that's the scheduling formula for a task of the fixed-units type. Any task (other than a summary task) can be a fixed-units, fixed-duration, or fixed-work type. The default is fixed-units, so we'll stick with that type in this post.

Consider if you will my initial task list:

You can't directly see work values in the Gantt Chart view, but take my word for it that the absence of assigned resources means that there are as-yet no work values associated with these tasks.

After I assign resources, you still can't directly see work in the Gantt Chart view's default Entry table, so we'll switch to the appropriately named Work table:

All Together Now: Work, Duration and Units

The Work table shows us work per task. But being the Project zealots that we are, we really want to see all three variables of the scheduling formula: work, duration and units. Right?

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