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March 2, 2012

Shutting down automatic site creation in Project Server 2007 and 2010

There are a couple of times you want to turn off the automatic site provisioning in Project Server and it is pretty easy to do by going to Server Settings / Project Site Provisioning and turning selecting the Allow users to manually create project sites in Project Server option. This is a good option when you have a program or large project with a number of sub projects, or when you have a large number of small projects which don't require worksites. In a typical case you would have a PMO admin or someone who has the right to create workspaces who would create workspaces when needed for Project Managers.

Creating the settings as above will stop automatic provisioning, but it only goes part way - and more importantly it creates an annoying notification whenever people publish a project. This is annoying to users, but it is also annoying when you are trying to publish a number of projects programmatically because there is no way in VBA to dismiss that message.

But there is a solution to making this notification go away.

For the group (the Project Managers in our scenario) that you do not want to see this notification, deselect the global security setting for Manage SharePoint Foundation. This will disable the notification for the members in that group.

One thing to be careful about is changing the group permissions during working hours. If you have a large number of users, changing group permissions can take a while to work its way through the system and you might find that some users lose access to the system while that is happening, so plan to do this when you don't have many active users.

July 27, 2011

Free from a good home


A neighbor left this bike (a 1974 Raleigh LTD 3 Three Speed) out on the curb for dead a while back. With good reason. The tires were flat and rotted, the seat was covered in black tape, wheel bearings were completely out of adjustment and it was pretty dusty and dirty. But I cleaned it up a bit, put on new tires, brake cables and pads, and fixed the springy seat. Now it's just the thing for riding around town. It is the only bike I have with a kickstand and is still too ugly for anyone to bother stealing.

Raleigh built versions of this bike for decades and sold them around the world. This one was actually built in their factory in Malaysia, and is near to the end of the line for this sort of bike. The ten speed craze knocked the three speed to its knees in the 70's and then mountain bikes buried the three speed a decade or so later. However, there does seem to be a trend towards a bit more diversity in bicycle types lately, so the three speed may rise again despite the obvious lack of carbon fiber and aluminum alloy.

June 28, 2011

Top Ten Reasons to Install Microsoft Project 2010 Service Pack 1

The Microsoft Project and Project Server 2010 Service Pack 1 were released today. You can read about it here: announcing-the-release-of-service-pack-1-sp1-for-microsoft-project-and-project-server-2010 To entice you to read the article and get yourself up to date (after a reasonable testing period of course) I present my list of the top ten reasons to install SP1. Without out it you face these potential problems:
  1. Saving a file in the Project 2007 format can corrupt the file.
  2. Project is very slow to respond when you sychronize with a SharePoint Tasks list.
  3. After you set up a new baseline, the "Baseline Work" and "Work" values do not match.
  4. When you remove leveling, pinned tasks that have actuals are moved.
  5. You are editing a project plan that is stored on a remote computer when the remote computer becomes disconnected. You are prompted to save the file locally, and you click OK. If you cancel the save process, any future saves will cause a crash.
  6. When the Team Planner view is opened, Project stops responding.
  7. When you have more than one project open and connected to the server and you save a baselines in one of the plans, the timephased baseline data in the other plan is changed.
  8. Text fields are not visible for a project that is saved in Project 2007 format in Project 2010 and then opened in Project 2007.
  9. Project does not refresh earned values (such as BCWS) when you click F9.
  10. Data corruption occurs for custom number fields.
Seems reason enough

5 Good Reasons to use Earned Value and 5 Reasons not to

  1. You are getting paid based on it - when your work is tied to a schedule of payments for a set of measureable work it is just a short step away to set up earned value, and it offers a great way of knowing if you are profitable and on schedule.
  2. You are getting paid to do it. This usually means that you are a professional and it shouldn't be too difficult for you. The organization values your efforts.
  3. You are cash constrained - while earned value does have schedule performance indexes and is intimately tied to a schedule, the primary purpose is to know how you are perfoming against your budget. The timescaled aspects of it primarily help you understand if your burn rate is reasonable or not.
  4. You are resource constrained - ok, I lied just above. You can also use earned value to see if you have enough resources to achieve your goals. Adding cost loaded resources to your plan and seeing if you have enough resources to complete the work in time will give you an excellent idea of whether you are fine or finished before you start.
  5. Your management insists on it - what more to say about this?

Now 5 reasons not to:

  1. You just don't care - I've worked at a number of places where it just doesn't matter. The cost of the work being scheduled was inconsequential to the overall value of the project. Doubling or tripling the development cost moved the IRR or NPV of the project by a miniscule amount. In environments like that the goal is to complete the work as quickly as possible and the challenge is focusing the team on completion. EV advocates (hey I'm one of them) will state that without knowing your rate of progress you can't know how far you are from the finish, but as financial advisors are legally bound to advise, past performance is no guarantee of future performance. EV is not particularly powerful at focusing the mind on innovative ways of achieving the goals. Driving the team to delivery should be the primary goal.
  2. You don't trust the data - THere are a number of reasons not to trust the information provided by an Earned Value schedule. The initial estimates and budgets may have a very wide confidence interval - which of course should be maintained through out all of your calculations based on it and actions taken based on those calculations. If you are taking (potentially expensive) corrective actions based on a 5 or 10% threshold and your estimates are only accurate to +/- 20% then you may be over-reacting and causing wasteful churn. The flip side of budgets and forecasts is Actual data. How accurate are your measurements? Do you trust your current schedules and forecasts? Do you have inspectors of one sort or another verifying work in place? Is progress measurable?
  3. You aren't getting paid to do it - maybe there are more important things to do? WHen it comes to payback on a system that requires involvement of your team, and EV can have a fairly high involvement, there is an opportunity cost associated with any initiative. everything takes time and money and steals attention. Are the problems solved by using EV your most serious? Is the time of your valuable team members best used caring for and feeding an EV system rather than working on issues and risks and just getting work done? Does it make sense to take the attention of your organization for this? What payback will you see which can't be delivered by a simpler or less intensive system?
  4. You can't do it - Earned Value is fundamentally simple, but it becomes complex when there are a large number of people involved and where a number of different systems need to be brought together to produce the calculations. It becomes more difficult when the types of work to be modeled are diverse across the organizations involved. When people are involved they sometimes need to change and change does not come easy. Not to mention managing change on the project. EV demands good change controls in order to give meaningful results. Do you have change control handled now? If not, manage that first. Do you have the political power and technical expertise to put a large EV system into play? What are your inputs to the system? How timely are they? Do you have a way to capture all of the actuals expended? If you capture costs in one system can they be mapped to your scheduling sytem? What will your people put up with? Are your people ready for it?
  5. Your management insists on it - if they are insisting without a fundamental understanding of the costs, benefits and probability of getting good actionable data out of it, you should definitely be afraid that it might not be possible to meet those undefined expectations. Better to explain why and what and move away from insistance and toward informed consent.
Project Management systems and techniques are like plants. You need to take a close look at the soil conditions and weather before you sow the seeds and hope to reap a good harvest.

April 28, 2011

Setting Microsoft Project Level Custom fields using VBA

I was recently trying to set a number of different project level custom fields using VBA and got tired of finding and editing all the parameters so I wrote a small wrapper function that you may find useful:

Private Function setPField(ByVal field As String, ByVal newValue As String, ByRef proj As Project)
pfield = FieldNameToFieldConstant(field, pjProject)
proj.ProjectSummaryTask.SetField FieldID:=pfield, value:=newValue
End Function

It does two things. First it converts the field name into the field constant. This way you can supply the name of the field. Then it uses that field and sets the text value. It might not seem like much but it does make it easier for me to reuse this function, than having to search through a longer statement and find out what I need to set. To use it just supply the field name, the value and the project like this:

setPField field:="My Custom Field", newValue:="foo", proj:=ActiveProject

January 4, 2011

Happy New Year

Just a bit of snow on the first day of the year somewhere near the deep end of Lake Tahoe.

December 26, 2010

A math problem

If I multiply 51,249,876 by 3 (thus using all the nine digits once, and once only), I get 153,749,628 (which again contains all the nine digits once). Similarly, if I multiply 16,583,742 by 9 the Pg 16result is 149,253,678, where in each case all the nine digits are used. Now, take 6 as your multiplier and try to arrange the remaining eight digits so as to produce by multiplication a number containing all nine once, and once only. You will find it far from easy, but it can be done.

Select here to see solution
If we multiply 32547891 by 6, we get the product, 195287346. In both cases all the nine digits are used once and once only.
end selection.

Puzzle by Henry Ernest Dudeney, 1917

November 29, 2010

Project Server 2010 Timeline Issue

Some people have found that only a certain number of tasks can be put into the timeline view.
Fortunately Heather has posted a workaround"

To fix this issue you’ll have to re-create your timeline view, to do this:

1.Take a screenshot of your timeline view so you can remember how you had the tasks arranged.
2.Remove the timeline view from the current view by going to the View tab, Split View group, and un-checking timeline.
3.Go to File – Organizer and delete Timeline from the right side (the box that says the name of your project)
4.Go to the View tab, Split View group, and check Timeline.

Your timeline view should be working again and you will now be able to add tasks to it.

We have fixed this issue in the Project 2010 June Cumulative Update. You can install that from here This update won’t fix any corrupted timeline’s but it will prevent future ones from getting corrupted.

I'm posting this here so I can find it again!

November 16, 2010

VBA returns in Excel 2011 for Mac

One of the things that I missed in the last version of Excel for the Apple Mac was that VBA was dropped. If you read this blog you will know how useful VBA can be for automating a bunch of different things. So when I loaded up Excel 2011 the first thing I did was test out the VBA. Yep, it works.

The rest of the application looks like it got polished up as well and at first glance seems easier to work with than 2008. It doesn't make my fan turn on immediately either, so I'm much happier using it on my old macbook.

November 5, 2010

Project Server and Report Builder 3 Null Value Error

I've been building a few Project Server 2010 reports with Report Builder 3.0 lately and have had to deal with missing values in iif statements. Unfortunately you can't test for the missing data in the iif statement as it evaluates all the expressions first so you need to test for missing values earlier.

The easiest way to do this I've found is to use code in the Report definition. Right-clicking on the body of the report (not the table or chart) brings up the report properties. Clicking on the Code tab brings up a box where you can enter your custom code.

In this case I want to make sure that at least a 0 is returned so I wrote this function

public Function NullToZero(Byval x as long)
If not x > 0 then
return 0
else : Return x
End if
End Function

Then simply use the function in your expression like this:


November 2, 2010

Trouble with Assignment Units in Project 2010?

Behavior of how assignments units are computed has changed significantly between Microsoft Project 2010 and earlier versions. I've been seeing this question in forums recently and think that this post by Heather O'Cull:
explains it better than anything else I've seen or could write. Long time users of Project should definitely read it to make sure they are aware of the new behavior.

August 5, 2010

The Best Project Server 2010 Book

I've worked on a few books about Microsoft Project in the past and know how difficult it can be to get all of the information into a concise form. Gary Chefetz and Dale Howard have made an art of it with their series of books on Microsoft Project and Microsoft Project Server. Yesterday I finally got a copy of their latest:

Implementing and Administering Microsoft Project Server 2010 for Project Managers

It follows in the same tradition of their previous books giving complete commentary about the new features. But beyond that, and what many other books don't do, is it gives solid guidance about why and when you might want to make use of a feature and how you would use the software to reach your goals.

MSProjectExperts builds their books around roles. This one is intended for Project Managers and it focuses primarily on the configuration and administration of Project Server to enable project and portfolio management. But also includes chapters on how to install and deploy Project Server across an organization. If you are going to use Project Server effectively this book is a must read even if you are not going to be administering the tool as it tells you what is possible and recommended.

I also find that it has enough in it for a Project Manager with little IT support to get the application up and running and sustained.

The advice given about use of the tool and issues with the organization is spot on. There are a couple of items I'd state differently but those are just minor personal preferences. I think there is still room for clarification in some areas - for example, I think that the timesheet and task status section could start with a better introduction - but the information is all there.

Once again I find myself giving it my highest recommendation. If it saves even one mistake or travel down a wrong path it will be well worth it. Go buy it now!

May 25, 2010

I know I know

There is something seductive about knowledge, and one's reaction to it can border on addiction - or perhaps there is no such border. This was illustrated by my trip last weekend to the San Mateo Maker Faire where the subtext of each exhibit is "how?". How do I make a robot, how do I knit, how do I shoot flames out of a 40 foot steel sculpture? Certainly some people go to the fair for the spectacle or the society or to pay $7 for a hot dog, but I believe most are driven by that fundamental question and the vendors at the fair offer answers in the form of example, tool, training and conversation.

But like any binge, there can be a hangover. In this case I have a pocket full of discount coupons, leds and batteries and a new set of half-started projects and distractions (I learned that both silver and platinum catalyze hydrogen peroxide reactions and I even learned how to knit).

Was it worth it? Well for me it was, just like a cool beer on a hot day.

There is a chemical reaction somewhere in the brain which is releasing something my neurons are hungry for.

I'm inching here towards the proposition that the quest for knowledge is something which is not entirely rational. Sure, it serves a valuable purpose, but like all instincts it can be exploited. A number of vendors at the fair are aware of this. And the same is true outside the fair grounds.

An example showed up in my emailbox this morning, an invitation (OK, corporate mandate) to fill out a "predictive index" survey so that people can know what motivates me and how I behave. A ten minute survey and my motivations, desires and behaviors can be known. So what sort of knowledge is this? Humans are complex, but are not entirely unpredictable. I do not doubt that the knowledge that this survey delivers is true at least at a gross level. But the real question is what is the value of the knowledge?

At first glance it would seem valuable. KNOW WHAT DRIVES YOUR EMPLOYEES WITH AN INVESTMENT OF ONLY 10 MINUTES!!! The proposition seems unbeatable. But the true measure of knowledge is not the absolute value, but rather the derivative of the function. What is the rate of change in my state of knowledge?

At the fair, my kids demonstrated this clearly. "We did that last year" was good cause to skip a booth and move on to something new. "They showed us some new tricks" was praise for the guys manning the soldering stations. In the case of this survey, what it adds to what is already known should be the true measure. And if that answer is zero Knowledge calories, then it is no better for us than a pink and purple puff of cotton candy.

I haven't taken the survey yet.

But the testimonials are all confirmations of its predictive power by people who already KNOW the behavior of the subject under test. It is praised because it tells us what we already know.

Now, with fading memory and all that, my brain gives me a warm twitch even on this sort of recycled knowledge. Trivia games play on this in a highly developed way. So is this sort of survey just a clever party trick or does it really provide value? I'll have to take the survey and find out...

March 16, 2010

Plum Blossoms in Winter

March 11, 2010

Taking and Passing the PMP Exam Part 16 How I passed the PMP Exam

I'm getting a bit out of order here because I just passed the exam without finishing my series on how to pass, but I'd like to jot down a few impressions of the exam while it is fresh in my mind.

First. You can pass (or fail) a large number of questions by knowing (or not knowing) the positive from negative in Earned Value calculations. SV = EV - PV, CV = EV - AC, SPI = EV/PV, CPI = EV/AC so for variances a negative number is BAD and for indexes a number less than 1 is also BAD. We all know that bad means you are spending more or taking longer than planned. Frankly I was shocked by the number of questions on this simple topic.

Second. This experience validated my thesis that it is possible to pass the exam solely using the Guide to the PMBOK as your reference material. There may be a few minor questions which are outside the PMBOX but if you follow up on the references in the appendix then you likely have things covered.

Third. Read the questions. I've worked on a couple of certification exams and believe me that writing the questions is as hard as answering them. There are often many acceptable answers so the person writing the question will have to put limiting words or scenarios into the question so that there is one right or best answer. Look for those words as they will help you choose the answer.

Fourth. Read the answers. Just as writing the questions requires limitations, writing the answers also requires putting something in to make an answer false. There were certainly some answers which were "half-right" but were negated by addition of something irrelevant or incorrect. This and the last point are probably sufficient to pass a quarter of the questions even if you have no idea what the correct answer really is.

Fifth. Cramming apparently works. Psychrometrically the test is supposed to determine if you are a real project management professional, but I think if you have a good memory you can pass this test.

Sixth. Some people advocate a brain-dump technique to write down all the formulas etc. before you start the test. I think this creates unnecessary stress. There were few formulas needed in the test, and if you can remember them long enough to get to the test center, you can certainly hold on to them for another hour or so. In my opinion this is just superstition. That said, the act of writing things down does cement items into your memory, so take notes while studying, but there is no need to worry about carrying all the stuff around with you and barfing it out on paper just before the test.

I hope to continue my series on preparing sometime soon...

Until then, good luck!

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