Dear PM Advisor December 10, 2012

Dear PM Advisor, I was told to resource level my Gantt chart so I pressed the automatic leveling button and now it says my project will finish in the year 2035! I know it is likely to come in later than next September but 2035 seems excessive. What did I do wrong?

Job Security in Fairfield, NJ

Dear Job Security,

That's a dangerous button to press. And I don't think there is an undo from that unless later versions of MS Project have fixed that error. I recommend never allowing MS-Project to level your project for you. It thinks like a machine, not a person. However, you were told to level your project so let me take you through the steps required to do so.

First thing you need to do is determine how much effort is required on a task by task basis. Ask the person who is responsible for each task (and hopefully gave you the duration of said task) how many hours of effort she will put in during that time. Also, you need to find out who else will be working on that task and how many hours they will put in.

This number is the total hours they will put into the task regardless of its duration. Sometimes it will be 40 hours over a one week duration, other times it will be only two hours over the same duration. That person is promising that they will do those two hours of work sometime during the course of that week. Or there may be 120 hours spread over six days if multiple people are working on the task.

There are two ways to enter this effort. I like to insert a column before duration called 'Work' and enter the hours here then enter the duration. Project will then calculate % time worked on that task. For more details on this, check out this post on determining % complete on projects. It gets complicated when you need to have multiple people putting in different numbers of hours on tasks. It is doable and I'll deal with this issue on another post.

Once you have done this, you have solved most of the problem that the auto level button caused because, until you entered the correct amount of effort, MS-Project assumed everyone associated with a task was working 100% of their time on each task. Now pressing auto-level will have your project finishing only twice as long as it should rather than twenty times. But you can do better.

Take a look at the Resource Usage choice under Views. This will allow you to find times when your people are working above their capacity. Compare the amount of hours worked per day with the amount their manager has promised you they are available on your project. Whenever this exceeds that capacity, you have a problem.

When this situation occurs, find tasks that are not on the critical path during that time and increase their duration or delay their start date so that you free up time for the resource to work on the critical path activities. Or shift the task to another resource. Then look at what this did to future constraints.

You have to do this by hand so that you are aware of what you are doing and the effect your decisions have on the rest of the project. There are going to be some crunch times when people are working overtime or weekends to get through a rough patch. That's life. Just make sure they get some comp. time shortly after so they don't get burned out and stop caring about your project.

When you've done this, your project will be a little delayed but not like it was when you asked MS-Project to do it automatically.

Good luck,

PM Advisor

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