The deadline date feature is one of my favorite scheduling features in Project--mainly because it has absolutely no automatic effect on my schedule. I've briefly mentioned the deadline date feature in a few previous posts but haven't fully walked through the feature. I will do so now.
I don't think I'd be exaggerating to say that all project managers are sensitive to meeting deadlines. For most project managers, meeting deadlines may be the primary way they demonstrate their value add to the organization. The default Gantt Chart's visual format and underlying Critical Path Methodology (CPM) scheduling logic that Project follows all support the notion of defining and meeting deadlines.
Yet other features within Project can actually make it more difficult to manage the schedule towards a deadline. Let's think through this with an example.
In the following schedule I have shown the details of the summary task "Acquisition." This is a pretty simple sequence of tasks, and as currently scheduled should be completed by May 4:
TIP Click the screenshot image to see a larger view.
Let's say that I absolutely, positively need that task to be completed no later than Friday of the following week, May 11. I've read a bit about constraints (see here for example), and this seems like a good opportunity to apply a "Must Finish On" of MFO constraint to a task. Since task 19 is just the zero-duration task milestone, I've got my eye on task 18--that's the task I really want to be completed by May 11. I'll set this task's constraint to a MFO type:
Depending on my preferences settings I may get a Planning Wizard warning about applying the constraint. Assuming I do apply the MFO constraint, I'll get this result:
Why the gap between the end of task 17 and the start of task 18? Well, task 17 still has the default constraint type applied, start As Soon As Possible (ASAP) while task 18 has the MFO constraint applied. The only way Project can resolve this and still honor the finish-to-start task relationship between tasks 17 and 18 is to introduce a delay or lag between the two tasks.
Well, as you can easily surmise this is not a good way to schedule these tasks. I effectively have some buffer on task 17; should it take a few days longer to complete than scheduled I can still start task 18 as scheduled. However if there's any delay in completing task 18, then my overall completion deadline is at risk. I don't like this approach, so I'll reset the constraint on task 18 back to ASAP:
Here's the first of two better approaches. Since I'm most focused on the completion of the task sequence, I'll apply a deadline date to task 19. I do so through the Advanced tab of the Task Information dialog box:
After applying the deadline date, the only indication I see is a deadline marker in the chart portion of the Gantt Chart view:
The deadline value has no effect on my schedule; it's simply a visual indicator I can keep an eye on to ensure the as-scheduled completion milestone (task 19) will indeed occur by my deadline date.
Here's one way this may play out. Let's say that for a variety of reasons these tasks did indeed take longer to complete than expected. For example, Carole Poland was out sick for a few days and took longer on task 17, and then Tad Orman wasn't able to start task 18 as soon as we'd like. Here's what the schedule looks like with actuals reported:
At this point, there's some work remaining on task 18 and I can easily see that as scheduled, the work should be completed within the deadline date I've set. It's uncomfortably close to missing its deadline, however. As the project manager I may want to task some steps to help ensure this work can be completed by deadline. I may for example discuss the work with Tad Orman to see if there's any scope we can reduce from the task. Or I might investigate if adding more Copyeditor capacity (currently assigned at just 25%) could speed up the work. The key is I have some time to avoid missing the deadline.
Next week I'll explore another option involving a buffer task, and how that can help me set up an "early warning system" when my deadline is threatened.
Hands-on with Project Step by Step
To read more about this blog entry's subjects in the two most recent editions of Tim Johnson's and my Project Step by Step books, see the following cross-references.
Setting task constraints
Project 2010 Step by Step: "Setting Task Constraints," pg. 147.
Project 2007 Step by Step: "Setting Task Constraints," pg. 142.
Setting deadline dates
Project 2010 Step by Step: "Entering Deadline Dates," pg.163.
Project 2007 Step by Step: "Entering Deadline Dates," pg.160.