I thoroughly enjoyed the "Done in 40" presentation by Treb Gatte, given at our Sept. 25, 2014 Puget Sound MPUG chapter meeting. Treb had a fantastic mix of guiding principles and specific Microsoft Project strategies that focused on optimizing working time. I was particularly interested in one strategy Treb mentioned, and will explore it in Project in this post.
Treb pointed out that we sometimes have to make a "placeholder" assignment to a resource that is not a specific person. We may do so with the intent of updating that assignment to a specific person later. Here are some cases where this may be needed:
- You have a "TBH" resource that represents an incoming person; this might be someone who is coming from elsewhere in your org but you don't yet know who specifically they are, or it may be a "To Be Hired" person who has not yet been hired.
- You want to initially assign a task to a team, and you or the team leader will later assign that task to a specific team member. At this time though, just assigning the task to the team is adequate for your planning purposes.
You can no doubt think of other situations for which you might need to assign a task to something other than a real person. In fact Project Server has the explicit generic resource feature. With Project on the desktop, you can still meet this need with a little creativity.
The big risk in assigning tasks to a resource that doesn't represent a specific person is that you might not have the degree of accountability you'd like. I really love the Agile term for this--"the singly ringable neck."
If you assign tasks to what are really placeholder resources, you'd like to have some means of very easily spotting those assignments later so you can replace the placeholder with a real person at the right time. This is where Treb had a great suggestion: set all placeholder resource's Max Units value to zero. This won't prevent you from assigning them to tasks, but will instantly flag them as overalloated. The Project UI goes to great lengths to visually flag overallocated resources, so you'd have to work hard to miss them. Let's take a look.
To begin, here is my resource list for a project:
Note the "TBH Acquisition Editor" resource, which I have circled in the list. This represents a person who has not yet been hired, but I expect to be hired before this project begins. It's somewhat risky to assign work to a placeholder resource, since that placeholder should be filled in by a real resource before the work is scheduled to begin. To help mitigate against this risk I've included "TBH" in the placeholder resource's name.
To further mitigate against this risk, I'll set the placeholder resource's Max Units to zero. But first I'll assign the placeholder resource to some tasks:
I've assigned the placeholder resource "TBH Acquisition Editor" to tasks 4, 7 and 10.
Now I'll set this resource's Max Units value to zero rather than the default 100%. Remember that "Max Units" means the resource's maximum capacity to do work, normally measured as a percentage value. 100% means all of the resource's available capacity is available to do work. The Max Units value does not prevent you from assigning more work than their capacity can complete; it's simply the trigger point at which the resource moves from under- or fully allocated to overallocated.
Back in the Resource Sheet view, I'll view this resource's Information dialog box and change their Units value:
The Resource Availability table in the Resource Information dialog box allows me to do more sophisticated mapping of resource capacity over time (called resource capacity contouring), but it's easy enough to make the one-time adjustment of Max Units here.
Now, wherever I see this resource listed, because the resource has work assignments that exceed their capacity (which is zero), they're flagged as overallocated. Here's what that looks like in the Resource Sheet view:
Back in the Gantt Chart view, the tasks to which this overallocated resource is assigned are also flagged with the overallocated resource symbol in the Indicators column:
These visual indicators, plus many other views and reports, make it easy for me to spot the overallocated placeholder resource. I would ideally move the assigned task to the real person who fills that placeholder resource's spot, or to another resource.
A final word on "TBH" resources
I sometimes joke that there's some superhero team member running around with the initials of "TBH." Todd Baker Hastings? Tammi Beth Hollister? Whoever they are, I'd like to meet them because there's apparently nothing TBH can't do! I jokingly say this because I'd see "TBH" or a similar variation assigned to tasks in Project plans, and the project manager really had no idea who would eventually fill TBH's shoes and what that real person's capabilities would be. Be careful with placeholder resources, especially when assigning them work that must be completed in the short term. You should consider such assignments to be risky, and replace the TBH resource assignments with real resource assignments (that "singly ringable neck") as quickly as possible.
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 resources' maximum units
- Project 2013 Step by Step: "Entering Resources' Maximum Capacity," pg. 87
- Project 2010 Step by Step: "Entering Resource Capacity," pg. 59
Contouring resource capacity over time
- Project 2013 Step by Step: "Setting Up Resource Availability to Apply at Different Times" pg. 218
- Project 2010 Step by Step: "Setting Up Resource Availability to Apply at Different Times" pg. 184