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Did you know that you can do a lot more than just create project schedules with Project Online? Yep. Project schedules are a very important part of good project management, but there’s also a lot more, such as Risk Management, Issue Tracking, Documentation, and Deliverables, just to name a few. And Project Online helps you manage all of that in on easy to use place – Project Sites.

Risk Management – Project Sites have a Risks repository, where you can track and manage Risks in one location. You can include mitigation plans, contingency plans, and trigger if you’d like, but you don’t have to. Everyone on the project can view these Risks, and they can even be assigned to team members for better management.

Issues – Issues and Risks are very similar in Project Online. Technically, an Issue is something that has happened already, where a Risk is just a chance that something might happen. Issue lists are a great way of keeping track of things that affect your project throughout execution. Issues can also be assigned to team members and tracked and managed in Project Sites.

Deliverables – Mostly likely there are tasks within your project that result in certain document deliverables. They can be stored in Project Sites and even linked from the Project Schedule. For example, if part of the project is to create a Press Release, you could link the press release document you created to that task. Everyone can easily find it, and you’re ensured there’s only one current version of the document out there.

Announcements – reduce your emails and ensure everyone on the team sees the same message by using Announcements. These are a great way to increase project communication, and can be displayed for the duration of the project, or set to expire on a specific date. Now, reminding your team members to update their tasks before a status meeting only takes a minute!

Calendar – Share your project calendar with the team – it’s a great way to keep track of holidays, site closures, vacations, and other important events. This is separate from your project schedule, so it’s great for things that are good to know, but don’t have a direct impact on your project.

Customized Lists – This is where Project Sites are really great. You can create a custom list, or document library, of anything you’d like. I think it’s great for managing things like contractor invoices, project management documentation such as the Charter and Scope Statement, and even simple things like a phone list. Just think of how many Excel spreadsheets you could replace with a custom list. I prefer the custom lists because I know everyone sees the same thing, and there aren’t different versions of a spreadsheet being emailed all over.

Alerts and Notifications - Most items have the option of setting alerts on the item or list. Each person on the team can set up the alerts however they’d like. I like to be notified whenever there is any change to an item in my list, but maybe a team member only wants to receive a notification when a new item is added. That’s no problem since the alerts are managed by each individual.

Accessible anywhere, from any device – Project Sites are part of Project Online and Office 365, so they are accessible from any device. Just think of how organized you’ll be and how much time you will save. No more searching through emails to find the document you were supposed to review, you can pull it up right on your smartphone or tablet and review it there.

Project Sites are a great compliment to your Project Schedule. It’s one place where you can access all of your project information. You’ll be more organized and efficient, and your project team will be too!

If you’re interested in what Project Sites can do for you – Please join us on April 16th for Simplex-PM’s monthly webinar (2-2:30pm eastern).  April’s topic will be Project Sites, and we’ll demonstrate some of the topics in this article.

Click here to RSVP for this free webinar and possibly win a free copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2013 courtesy of Microsoft.

Simplex-PM is part of Simplex-IT, which is an award winning IT services organization located in Hudson, Ohio (between Cleveland and Akron).  Simplex-PM is aimed at Project Managers in the Small to Medium Business world, offering mentoring, training and support for organizations and people struggling to implement Project Management into their organization.  Simplex-PM is well-versed with Microsoft’s Project Suite, including Microsoft Project Online, Project Standard, Project Professional and Project through Office 365 and Project Server.

At Simplex-IT, we specialize in sharing our knowledge with several free webinar and Lunchinar events each month on topics such as Microsoft Office, Project Management and Data Practices.  Contact us at Info@Simplex-IT.com, Twitter (Simplex_IT), LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/company/simplex-it) or FaceBook: (http://www.facebook.com/simplex.it)

 

MS AccessIn this webcast, we will continue to look at our data that we worked with in the last webcast using Microsoft Access 2013.  In the last webcast we created tables and worked with field settings and learned how to find data in a table.  Now, we will learn how to filter in a table.  Filters are a great way to find information quickly in a database, but are not as powerful as queries.

Queries ask questions and are the guts of a database.  It’s where you get all the answers to your questions to extract useful information.  We will learn how to create queries using one or more tables in a database.  We will see how to create queries using the query wizard and work with criteria to get the information we are looking for.  We will learn how to create a calculation in a query and total a group of items, such as total sales by department, total units in stock for products.  Do you want to enter the information you are looking for in a box so you get a different outcome each time you run the query or print a report, let’s create a parameter query to do just that.  Now that you have the information you need, why not print the query.  You want the report to look nice, let’s combine the fields such as first and last name even though they were create as separate fields in a table.  You can also export the report to Word and then email it to someone even if they don’t use Access.

Yes – there is so much more to Access and really we’ve just covered a fraction of what it can do.  If you are interested in learning more, we can provide another webcast or come out and train your employees to learn how to use this powerful program.

Attend this Free webinar from Simplex-IT and possible win a copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2013!

When:  Thursday, April 9th from 11-noon (eastern)

Where:  Online

click here to:  RSVP

At Simplex-IT, we specialize in sharing our knowledge with several free webinar and Lunchinar events each month on topics such as Microsoft Office, Project Management and Data Practices.  Contact us at Info@Simplex-IT.com, Twitter (Simplex_IT), LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/company/simplex-it) or FaceBook: (http://www.facebook.com/simplex.it)

Bob CoppedgeHowdy, folks.  I’ll (Bob Coppedge, that is) will be presenting at the next meeting of the Entrepreneurship Series at the Hudson Library (the series is made possible with a grant from the Burton D. Morgan Foundation).  The topic will be Cyber Security.

“Bob Coppedge, owner and CEO of Simplex-IT, will discuss how to protect your business by safeguarding your perimeter, critical internal assets, data, remote users, customers, and partners.

Simplex-IT’s Managed Services practices and provides straightforward leadership on many IT issues and provides a wide range of security services to small and medium-sized businesses in the Hudson area and beyond.”

Want to join me?  It’s free, and I think they’ll have cookies.

When:  Monday, March 30, 2015.  6:30-8:30pm (eastern)

Where:  Hudson Library

RSVP (or find details) by clicking here.  If you’d like to attend online, send me an email, and I’ll see what we can do.

 

 

Microsoft has been pretty busy over the past few months with Windows 10. A major new version was released for preview, including their version of Apple Siri (“Cortana,” from the xBox Halo).

But less fanfare has been generated for some of the decisions behind the scenes, including rather liberal upgrade paths from previous versions of Windows (including Windows phone). Also how Microsoft is going to handle software updates to Windows 10 once it’s released.

And let’s not forget about Microsoft Office. Apparently it’s also going to be released in the same timeframe (no surprise there). Also apparently it’s going to be called “Office 2016,” in spite of my ongoing belief will be getting rid of the version number sooner rather than later.

So at our next luncheon are were going to review all of these changes that Microsoft is going to be implementing over the next 9 to 12 months. We’ll also take a look (a high-altitude one) at some of the other changes that Microsoft is rolling out, including significant changes to Microsoft’s Azure(cloud-based server and infrastructure), and Microsoft rebranding of their Lync product into Microsoft Skype for Business.

As always our lunchinars are free and open to the public.  We’ll be giving away a copy of Windows 8.1 and Office Professional 2013 (courtesy of Microsoft).

When:  Wednesday, March 18, 2015 from 11:30 AM to 1:00 PM (Eastern)

Where:  Stow Hampton Inn (or online from noon to 1pm)

Click here to RSVP!

Free Webinar: “Corporate Data Review – What’s That?”

Did you like last months article (and webinar) about Database Performance? If you did, then you’ll love this upcoming free webinar!

Welcome to our third monthly Database webinar. Doug Tombow will introduce you to some key concepts as well as provide some understandable examples of what you should be thinking about regarding assessing your existing corporate data.

Topics presented:

  • What is a Corporate Data Review?
  • How Useful is Your Corporate Data?
  • Determining the ‘usability’ of your corporate data
  • Enhancing the usability of corporate data

When: Tuesday, March 24, 2015 from 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM (EST)

click here to RSVP (and possibly win a copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2013)

A Corporate Data Review is just a fancy phrase for something we probably are doing already.  Assessing the usefulness of our business data and systems.  But what we are probably not doing is being proactive about that process.  In other words, formally reviewing our data and then taking action when we discover the information is not quite as useful as we imagined.

It happens all the time.  We deploy a new ‘wonder system’ that will ‘manage all of our data and provide information at our fingertips’.  It’s promised to require very little effort on our part and a wonderful work experience each day.  We’ll know everything about anything with just a couple of clicks of our mouse.  What could be better?

But then we soon discover there are some limitations in the wonder system.  Ones that actually prevent those benefits from being realized.  There was a problem getting the historical sales data loaded.  Someone decided to issue new customer numbers and now we have two accounts for each of our customers.  The programmer’s idea of ‘ease of use’ requires me to open 5 different forms to update a customer address.  Unfortunately, these are all too common occurrences in new systems.

What can we do about it?  Well, the starting point is to have an understanding of your existing business systems and data.  What applications do we use, what data do they contain, where is that data stored, what format is the data saved in?  How many of us can answer those questions accurately?  It’s not easy when you have 10+ systems installed by a variety of vendors over time.

When our latest system was purchased how much analysis of the data was performed?  From what we see in the industry it’s usually the ‘exact amount required’.  That is, the exact amount required to get the system operational (to some degree).  Notice that may not coincide with the exact amount required to fully benefit from your existing data and your new system.  Data analysis and systems integration are specialized skills.  Skills that take years to master.  Skills that are far beyond those required to install a new system, load some files and give the users an overview on how to use the screens.

This is why the promises of ‘information at our fingertips’, ‘a holistic view of your entire customer relationship’ and others like them are usually not fully realized.  Because in the end no-one is analyzing our data and making the required decisions over time to ensure it is re-usable into the future.  They’re just installing new systems.

Let’s change that right now!  Let’s undertake the task of determining the best way to use our corporate data across all of our business processes.  It’s actually a very simple process that every business owner can get started with immediately.

Take the first step by attending the upcoming Simplex-DBA webinar ‘Corporate Data Review – What’s That?’ on Tues, 3/24/15 at 11 AM EST.  During that session we’ll cover this topic along with a few others to help us understand how we can get the maximum value from our business data and systems.  Because that’s the reason we have these systems in the first place!

I hope you all can attend and look forward to seeing you online.

Doug

Free Webinar:  ”Project Scheduling Best Practices”

When creating project schedules Microsoft Project/Project Online, there are a few things that work well, and some things we’ve learned to avoid. Here are a few of my favorites:

Tasks should be a reasonable duration based on the size of the project overall – Typically between 8-40 hours works for most. Anything smaller is too granular and larger is too big to manage. If you find yourself with a 5 month task, try to think about how to break it up. Use the large task as a Summary Task, with the more detailed tasks underneath it.

Assign tasks to named resources when possible – Assigning a task to “Paul Brown” provides a lot more visibility and accountability than assigning it to “Accountant” or “Sales Team.” Especially when using Project Online and/or Project Server and task status reporting is used.

True task dependencies – A lot of times we create a project schedule by entering the tasks in sequential order, and then linking them all together in finish to start relationships without much thought given. Rather than just arbitrarily linking tasks for cosmetic purposes, really think about which tasks are dependent on other tasks. Are they dependent on other tasks to start or finish before they can start or finish? If you don’t know, these are great questions to ask your resources or subject matter experts as you are creating the schedule.

Good realistic estimates – Inaccurate estimates can be the quickest way to project delays. Plan on about 6-6.5 hours of work on a task per day. Chances are, your resources are attending meetings, answering phone calls, sending emails, any number of things. You need to plan for that. Also, if you don’t know how long something will take to complete, ask the resources doing the work. Explain work and duration to them and be sure you understand how they are answering you. There are some great estimating techniques out there, but a simple best case/worse case provides you with a starting point.

Use constraints sparingly – When there’s a change in the project schedule, Microsoft Project (and most other tools) will automatically update the schedule for you. For example, if a task is scheduled to finish on April 25, but (in a shocking turn of events) it finished early on April 1, theoretically any task dependent on the completion of that task could start earlier as well. By using constraints to force a task to be scheduled on a certain date(s) reduces the fluidity of the schedule. Project wants to schedule your tasks to start as soon as possible (that’s the default) and entering constraints to force the contrary often leads in reduced functionality and frustration.

Don’t enter Start and/or Finish Dates – Create task dependencies as mentioned previously and let the software determine the start dates based on the durations and links of the earlier tasks. When a Start or Finish date is entered manually, MS Project creates a constraint (see constraint concerns above).

Don’t repeat nested task names – Maybe this is more of a pet peeve than a best practice, but repeated task names drives me bonkers. Let’s say you have a project of writing a book. If you have a Summary task named “Chapter 4” There’s no need to name the subtasks “Write Chapter 4 Text, Create Chapter 4 Graphics, Chapter 4 Proofreading” etc. If you must repeat, consider an abbreviated form, or put the repeated words at the end of the task. “Create Graphics – Chapter 4” or “Write text for Chapter 4.” These task names are displayed in various reports and views, and often times get cutoff if they are too long.

Good use of Milestone tasks makes for great reporting and status tracking. Milestones typically indicate when a large portion of the project is complete, and they are great reminders that it’s time to do a pulse check. Using the previous example, you may consider creating Milestones such as “Chapters 1-3 complete” or “Proofreading complete.” They are great way to show completion of a phase or group of tasks.

Keep it updates – an outdated project schedule is pretty useless. Pick a regular updating schedule and try to stick with it. It will depend on your project, but weekly seems to be a good starting point. If that seems too often then try every other week. Just make it priority to keep updated so you can do some forecasting as identify issues before they become problems.

Let your schedule determine your completion dates – too many time we come up with deadlines (or deadlines are demanded of us) without a full understanding of the work involved. Until the work is fully analyzed, it’s difficult to determine how long it will take. Throwing an arbitrary date out too early in the planning often leads to trouble meeting that deadline down the road. Take time to figure out what needs to be done and break it up in to manageable pieces. “Chunk it out” is a fun phrase that’s often used J Smaller pieces of the project will be easier to estimate (and more accurate) as well as easier to track and manage as the project progresses.

Use these best practices as a starting point, and add to it as you run across what works and what doesn’t work for you.

Be sure to join us on March 19th for the monthly Project Management webinar, where we will take a deeper dive into these best practices with additional discussions and demonstrations.

When:  Thursday, March 19th, 2-2:30pm (Eastern)

Where:  Online

Click here to RSVP:  (it’s Free!)

MS AccessIn this free webcast, we will look at creating and working with data in Access tables.  First we will look at how to organize and separate information into functional tables and set a primary field to identify records.  Will look at design vs. datasheet view – how to create fields in a table and understand certain rules when working with fields.  Will set the primary key field and work with different data types (such as text, numbers, dates, hyperlinks and attachments).  Did you know you can create a calculated field in a table?  We will work with data property settings, such as input masks, setting defaults and understand why you should create captions for your fields. We will use the lookup wizard to connect fields to other tables and create dropdown lists. We will also look at the relationship window to understand how to relate tables together.

Then we will look at a using the search, sorting, filtering features in a table, as well as being able to total, average, count a column of numbers.  Finally look at creating a quick form to help you enter data more efficiently into a table.

Since Access is such a powerful program and there are many parts to this software, we will cover another session next month that shows how to create queries and use criteria to extract the information you need out of your database.  And will also cover how to create a quick report to print that information.

One attendee will win a copy of Microsoft Office Pro 2013, thanks to Microsoft!

When:  March 12th, 11am-noon (Eastern)

Where:  Online

Click here to RSVP

At Simplex-IT, we specialize in sharing our knowledge with several free webinar and Lunchinar events each month on topics such as Microsoft Office, Project Management and Data Practices.  Contact us at Info@Simplex-IT.com, Twitter (Simplex_IT), LinkedIn (http://www.linkedin.com/company/simplex-it) or FaceBook: (http://www.facebook.com/simplex.it)

In Project Management, resources are typically your people, equipment, and materials. Most commonly, and for the purposes of this article, we’ll focus on people. But we see many of the same principles used for equipment as well.

This is also the topic of our next free webinar.  It’ll be on Thursday, February 19th, from 2:00 to 2:30 PM (EST).  Click here to learn more and RSVP.

Many companies face the challenge of trying to determine who’s doing what, who’s got too much on their plate, who’s got some extra time to take on more work, etc. Having resources allocated to multiple projects does make it more difficult to manually track their utilization, but MS Project and Project Web App make it very easy!

Once your project schedules have been created, and resources have been assigned to tasks, you can start managing resource allocation and availability in MS Project and Project Web App. Microsoft Project offers standard reports showing resources information such as the Resource Status report below. This report shows when resources are scheduled to start and finish their tasks, and how much remaining work they have yet to do at any given point in time.

There are several different types of resources available to meet your needs:

  1. Individual Resources: an individual person, such as Bob Coppedge, or Patti Smerk
    1. These can be local to one project, or part of an Enterprise Pool, where resource management is more centralized. Project Managers can just access the pool and select who will be on their team, rather than re-entering resources over and over for difference projects.
    2. Generic Resources: Resources by job role or skillset, such as Accountant, Programmer, Electrician etc. These are used for planning purposes when an individual resource cannot be identified.
    3. Team Resources: Tasks can be assigned to a team such as Quality Assurance or Cleveland Testers, and then resources from that team can take the initiative to go claim a task and assign it to themselves.

For the most part, resource management is far more robust when using Enterprise Resources. Not only does it give the Project Manager visibility in to who’s doing what, but it also holds resources more accountable when tasks are assigned to a specific person.

In Project Web Access, there are many views and reports that help the team member (aka resource) as well as the Project Manager.  There’s a great Tasks view that shows a resource all the tasks they have been assigned from all projects. So from a resource or team member perspective, it’s easy to manage tasks across multiple projects, it’s almost like a personal dashboard or to do list for them.

Project Web App also has views to assist Project Managers in Resource Planning. The Resource Assignments view shows each resource’s project assignments, making it easier to identify over or under tasked resources:

The Assignment Resource by Project report is another nice report in PWA showing how much work is assigned by each project. This one is great for analyzing project work across an entire portfolio.


The next Project Management Webinar will be on February 19th at 2:00. We’ll talk specifically about Resources and all the great information you can easily get from having a good Resource Plan in place.

Database performance is a fun topic (read our other blog entry on this by clicking here).  ”I’m running reports overnight.  They take 3 hours!”  Not necessarily the end of the world (the completed reports are still waiting for me in the morning).  ”There’s a customer on our web site.  It takes 15 seconds to see their order status.”  Ok, now we’ve got a problem.

“Sooooo…let’s buy new hardware.”  That’s the quickest and often the easiest (in terms of justifying the expense) sell to management.  Because more…more cpu, more memory, more disk…that’s going to fix it, right?”

Not necessarily.  If you’re not measuring what was actually happening during those 15 seconds, then you don’t know why it took so long.  That’s why we have Performance Counters.  Metrics we can get (in real time, if needed) to tell us what’s actually going on.  Why it took 15 seconds (or 3 hours, for that matter).  And the conclusions we can come to from these metrics?

Welcome to our second monthly Database webinar.  Doug Tombow will introduce you to some key concepts as well as provide some understandable examples of what you should be thinking about regarding the performance of your data.

Topics presented:

  • Why does Data Performance matter?
  • Data Performance is Relative
  • Determining Your Required Data Performance Levels
  • Monitoring Data Performance
When:
Tuesday, February 24, 2015 from 11:00 AM to 11:30 AM (EST)
RSVP by clicking here, and you’ll receive connection instructions the day of the event.

The presentation will be aimed at the non-technical level.

And a lucky attendee will get a free copy of Microsoft Office 2013 Professional!

 

We’re happy to announce our February Office Webinar topic:  Visio 2013 Extras

This session is designed to cover more Visio diagrams and features.  We will learn how to create and work with your own stencils.  Create and save background pages and how to apply them to other diagrams.  Did you know you could create calendars in Visio?  How about a project timeline?  Another diagram that is useful is the brainstorming diagram, which utilizes the legend feature.  The legend can be used in a flowchart or any other diagram.

We will learn how to use the container feature.  Create layers in a diagram and import an excel spreadsheet into an organizational chart using the import function.

 We hope you can participate in this part two of “Exploring Visio” to help you with your diagrams.

Join Simplex-IT’s veteran trainer, Michele Bobola, for this one-hour, live streaming presentation.

One lucky attendee will win a copy of Microsoft Office Professional 2013, courtesy of Microsoft.

When: Thursday, February 12th, from 11am-noon

Where:  Online!

How Much?:  Free!

Click here to RSVP

Questions? Feel free to contact us by email at Events@Simplex-IT.com or call 234.380.1277.

Don’t miss this informational, free webinar brought to you by Simplex-IT – your Virtual CIO – bringing Vision, Confidence and Strategy to your Business IT!