Why You Should Not Link Summaries In Microsoft Project

The software allows it, but that does not mean that it is a good idea.

Never link summaries as predecessor or successor, to tasks or milestones or other summaries. Never. Ever.


  1. Circular references are inevitable.
  2. It cannot be tracked properly.
  3. Obscures or distorts the critical path.
  4. Only a task or a milestone (which is just a task with zero duration) can be a predecessor or successor. Summaries aren’t tasks, but just a way of organising tasks.
  5. It’s lazy. You are just trying to avoid doing the work of figuring out the real predecessors and successors.
  6. It is a waste of time and effort because it will all have to be undone and done properly later anyway.
  7. Numerous others, but isn’t that enough?


Very occasionally, they can be useful, perhaps for broad-brush roughing out, but the downside reasons above mean it isn’t worth it.

There are more correct and better alternatives.

Tracking Tips For Microsoft Project

Let the software do the work.
When you consider how little information is required to update project progress in MSP, and how easy it is to use the information properly, updating and re-scheduling should be a piece of cake.

But it is very common for people to make it a lot more difficult and complicated than it really is.

It is essential to keep some basic records. That means having a system, and people who will use it. Someone has to know when a task actually started an when it actually finished. And I mean non-optional, not just nice to have; everything depends on it. If a task has actually started, but not yet actually finished, then you need the actual start and the actual duration. That takes care of the facts. Then you need to re-estimate the remaining duration.

If you cannot obtain the necessary records and facts, you may as well give up right there. How can it be that the people who are doing the task do not know when it actually started? Maybe you should let them know that you will keep on asking the questions until you get the answers.

Ok, here goes:

You have a status date. This is the essential starting point. Display the status date as a vertical red line on the chart.
Click “mark on track”. MSP fills in all of the days from the actual start up to the status date as actual duration.

Or, you can input the actual start and input the actual duration in the tracking table. If the actual duration is less than the duration between the actual start and the status date , then you will have some planned/scheduled duration in the past, relative to the status date. You will need to move this up to the status date (the move button on the ribbon) so that all scheduled duration is in the future.

Do not focus on finish date and % complete. If you keep accurate records and address the actuals and the remaining duration they will both take care of themselves.

Here is your example.

The 8 cases pretty much exhaust the possibilities. Any other possibilities are just combinations or variants.

The current date is today, 15/01/2018 08:00 (orange line)

The status date is last Friday 17:00 (red Line)

All 8 cases started off as scheduled to start Friday 05/01/2018 08:00, and 10 days duration.

Here is the little story that goes with each of the possibilities.

  1. The task has not started, as of the status date. The entire task has been re-scheduled to start asap in the future (relative to the status date, that being today, 08:00. The duration remains 10 days.
  2. The task actually started as scheduled and was continuously in progress up to the status date.
    The remaining duration has not been changed.
  3. The task started as scheduled, was continually in progress for 5 days, and is finished.
  4. The task actually started on Monday 08/01/2018 08:00, and was continuously in progress up to the status date.
    The remaining duration has not been changed.
  5. The task actually started as scheduled, and was continuously in progress for 3 days, and then it was interrupted.
    The remaining duration has not been changed.
  6. The task actually started as scheduled and was continuously in progress up to the status date.
    The remaining duration has been changed/re-estimated at 2 days.
  7. The task actually started as scheduled and was continuously in progress up to the status date.
    The remaining duration has been changed/re-estimated at 6 days.
  8. The task actually started as scheduled, was continuously in progress for 2 days, then interrupted, then started again on the 4th day, then interrupted, then started again on the 6th day.
    The remaining duration has not been changed.

    I have included the status date as an event in the list (with a MFO date constraint) because it is a significant milestone, albeit one which will be moved to the right with every progressive update, as well as displaying it on the chart as the red vertical gridline.

Note that there is no progress, ie actual duration, in the future, and no scheduled duration in the past.

Any project management system worthy of the name must be able to channel the minimum amount of information that you need to do this to your desk.

Carillion and Why Building Companies Fail

Every time a building company blows up, everyone scratches their heads and tries to come up with all the reasons why and how it happened.
In this article, Ian King explains:
“Carillion ultimately went under for the same reason every company goes under – it was overwhelmed by its debts and was unable to obtain further credit from its lenders.”

This is not really the “ultimate” reason. To get to that, you have to dig a little deeper. If we dig a little deeper, we might be able to come up with something useful as suggestion or recommendation for building companies about what they should do or should not do in order to avoid the same fate. Let’s have a closer look at this sentence. We can assume that the second part is unnecessary and redundant because it follows automatically from the first part. The next question has to be “how and why was it overwhelmed by its debts?”

Debt? By itself, not a problem.
Well, the money was going out faster than it was coming in. That’s cash flow. Losing control of cash flow is closer to the “ultimate” reason.
Whether the business is large or small, if they lose control of cash flow, they bleed out just the same.

Assuming that there was some sort of system that was supposed to control cash flow (and that is a generous assumption), it did not work.
If you are in a business with tight margins and plenty of risk, you have to have a control system, it has to be effective, and you have to be able to prove that it works.

The aviation industry knows this. So does the shipping industry, mining, oil and gas and others. Of course, sometimes the system fail. But in construction, there is hardly any evidence of functioning, effective systems at all, and very little appreciation of how important they are, and especially a resistance to investing in them.

More Eye Candy

I suppose it is just meant to be illustrative window dressing, but even here there are obvious scheduling mistakes. The summary is linked, the progress is all over the place. The concern, of course, is that this is exactly the kind of junk that turns up in real life.

Gantt Charts For Local Government Projects

There are 140 local governments in Western Australia, and they are always building something.
The customary approach to awarding the construction contracts, mandated by legislation, is open tendering.
The requirements for the tender submission are onerous, to put it mildly. This can readily be confirmed by obtaining the “Request For Tender” documents from the cities’ websites.
I will post some examples.
The part of the contract that we are always interested in is the requirements for “Programming the Works”. Sometimes there is a requirement to submit a construction program with the tender. In other cases, there is only a requirement for a construction program after award. It is possible to find (via good ol’ Google) some examples of how the tenders are assessed. In an understandable attempt to objectively compare competing tenders, the Local Governments have all adopted a scoring system.
I have been collecting all of this for decades. Without exception, the specifications for the construction program, where any such thing exists, are abysmal. In this regard, the building contractors are lucky. The LGs do not seem to have anyone who knows how to read a Gantt chart, so just about anything with horizontal bars on it will be impressive. I have seen minutes of council meetings where tenders are being compared. Those that submit a construction program get a mark and are better regarded than those who don’t. However, there is never any comparison of those which are submitted, no distinction made between the best and the worst. A Gantt chart made by colouring in the cells in a spreadsheet is as well regarded as one of a higher standard, in, say, Microsoft Project, with a fully developed scope and a critical path network, and a high level of consistency with recognised standards, best practice guidelines and recommended practices.

A Review Of the AS2124 Modifications For Programming The Works

For decades in the construction industry in Australia, it has been common practice to employ the standard AS2124 contract, and also common practice to vary it in some significant ways.
AS2124, and its variants. have been used for state government projects, local government projects and private (non government) projects.
Since AS2124 in its original, un-amended form says virtually nothing about programming the works, there have been various efforts made to specify some basic minimum requirements for the construction programming.
The requirements are usually a good attempt, and surely well intended. However, they do not go far enough, and have usually been written by lawyers or others who have never has any experience in actually complying with the requirements.
Sometimes the requirements are mutually contradictory, or inconsistent, or somewhat inadequate or insufficient.
There are other problems too.
Mainly, building contractors usually have to be coerced and threatened to meet even the basic minimum requirements, and the project owners rarely adequately enforce the requirments.
It is a mystery why building contractors do not realise that the construction programming, done properly, is there for their benefit, to assist in the construction management and to substantiate claims.
It is also a mystery why project owners do not enforce the requirements, such as they are, more vigorously.

However, I couldn’t have said it better myself than how they say it here:

Gantt Chart Eye Candy

I love infographics. They are so colourful and so much design effort goes into them. There is no shortage of groovy artwork for project planning. You can get all kinds of stock photos from various sources such as Shutterstock and 123RF. These are obviously only intended to be decorative  artwork, not real Gantt Charts. However, when you have a closer look, many have some of the familiar errors that are commonplace in real project planning. The ones that show progress on the Gantt Chart bars are especially interesting in this way.

In the example here, we can see several anomalies. There are 7 tasks. Let's call them A,B,C,D,E,F,G from top to bottom. There is no status date shown. The percentages appear to be percentages of duration, which is what MSP means by "% Complete". If we assume that the status date is at the end of the latest of the dates shown as actual duration on G, so that there is no actual duration in the future, then all of the bars which are not 100% have remaining duration in the past.


Learning Microsoft Project From Youtube – Don’t

I have seen nearly every Youtube video and Slideshare presentation about learning Microsoft Project and I have to warn you that so much of it is just plain wrong.

And while I am at it, that goes for people who are training it out of a book who have never actually done any real project planning and tracking on a real project of any kind.

At PPP we do it for real every day. If you have a problem with project planning and can describe it accurately, contact me and I will solve it.

Why Project Planning Is Hard

This passage is a quote from a small book which was used in the Diploma Of Building Course at the WA TAFE. I thought it very apt. I have never met K Paul but he seems to be tuned in.

Planning requires a difficult kind of thought process, the ability to arrange a complex array of ideas and to see various combinations of effects
Thought requires effort and not all executives enjoy it.
It often involves the painful contemplation of unfortunate and undesirable events and arouses reflections on errors of the past
To those who are inclined to be optimistic in their outlook, planning requires that pessimistic occurrences also be anticipated. The executive, who by habit is motivated by action, is not favourably inclined to sit at his desk and think.
Creative ability is in short supply. It is usually best drawn forth by a comfortable and relaxed atmosphere, although in the building industry, strains, pressures and tensions may make it difficult to find one. Intellectual activity is frequently ridiculed by those who lack respect for it and there are cases of executives who are so sensitive on this point that they go to great lengths to avoid being caught thinking.
~K Paul Building Organisation 2
A Trust Publication 1982
Technical Publications Trust
Prospect Place Perth Western Australia 6000