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Project management questions

In this group of questions and answers we collect interesting Questions about project management, also from Merlin Project's point of view. The list is sorted thematically.


Currently you will find information on the following topics (in alphabetical order):

A project is a temporary project to create a unique product, service or event (simplified from PMBOK). In Merlin Project a project is created in one file, but different projects can also be combined in one project file.

Designated aloud Wikipedia, initiating, planning, controlling and completing projects.

The work breakdown structure (WBS) results from the final structure of a project Project.

In Merlin Project the WBS is a view configuration which can be opened in the Netplan view and is always up-to-date.

Although the Gantt chart takes its name from Henri Gantt, it was probably first used in a project by a Swiss named Joseph Priestley.

Within the diagram, the project is represented on a time axis by individual elements (bars). In addition to the bars, additional information has now also become established in the Gantt chart:

In Merlin Project the Gantt diagram is integrated in many views, for example in the "Structure plan / Input" or the "Target/actual comparison (time)".

In this context, many terms are used for one and the same purpose. For example: operation, task, activity, etc. You can make it easy on yourself and say that it's all the same. But it is also possible to derive a structure, which is quite OK.

An example: There are several phases in the project. For example, preparation, implementation and completion. Each phase contains different work packages. Depending on the size of the project and the individual style of the project manager, these work packages can be further broken down into individual tasks. This brings us to the tasks and activities.

In Merlin Project we have decided to use the term activity - not at least because of our proximity to PMI and the PMBOK.

A milestone is a special activity. Milestones are often used as intermediate goals. Since they have none duration, you can use any number of milestones in a project without extending the duration of the project.

A group is a logical summary of various activities and/or milestones. The size of a group or phase is not regulated. The project itself is also a group. A group often contains summaries and totals of transactions contained underneath. In addition, a group is often used for time and cost budgeting.

Two or more activities are set in one of four possible ways. You use this link to specify that both operations were planned in a particular sequence and are to be carried out in the same way. Further details can be found at Wikipedia.

  • End to Start: Normal sequence
  • Start to Start: Start sequence
  • End to end: End sequence
  • End to Start: Jump sequence

In addition, a buffer can be specified as the duration between the linked operations. This can also be negative. The buffer is not explicitly displayed in Merlin Project in the Gantt chart, but only as a modified link line.

In project management, there is the concept of buffer times. According to Wikipedia the buffer time is a time margin for the execution of an operation, so-called time reserves. This latitude can be used by shifting the process and/or by extending (stretching) the process duration. Additionally, in Merlin Project at dependencies a buffer can be specified. The resulting times are stored in the following attributes:

  • Expected end buffer time: Contains the duration between early and latest end.
  • Expected start buffer time: Contains the duration between early and latest start.
  • Expected free buffer time: Contains the duration by which an operation can be delayed without the start of subsequent operations being delayed. If an operation has no successors, it is equal to the total float.
  • Expected total buffer time: Contains the smallest value of the expected start buffer time and the expected end buffer time. It describes the duration of work by which a process can be delayed without delaying the end of the project.

There are two basic planning methods in project management: resource-based planning and time-based planning. Merlin Project supports both planning methods. The fields"... work..." are responsible for the former. In the latter case duration fields are brought to bear.

Resource-based planning is carried out with work units, i.e. the total amount of work to be done is entered. Depending on the resource, this can be specified in Merlin Project in time units or in units of measure.

In Merlin Project these fields are used for resource-based planning:

  • Default work: takes the quantity of planned work for an operation. Percentage values can also be specified that refer to the specified work of the superordinate group.
  • Default work absolute: contains the same information as the default work. However, the percentage values specified there are converted to absolute values.
  • Planned work: Contains the total work that results for an operation after complete calculation of the planning.
  • Expected work: Specifies the total work expected for an operation.
  • Maximum planned work: contains the maximum amount of work that can be done between the planned start and the planned end of an operation, taking the calendar into account.
  • Remaining work: displays the amount of work not yet done.
  • Real work: takes up the amount of work already done.

With regard to resource-based planning, however, information from the areas of overtime, costs and evaluation (in particular earned value analysis) can also be used.

A distinction is drawn in project management and consequently also in Merlin Project between two planning methods: resource-based planning and time-based planning. For the former, the fields "Work..." are responsible. In the latter case, permanent fields are used.

Time-based planning can be used in the following cases, for example:

  • If the effort for a resource cannot be determined
  • if external resources are used and no detailed financial calculations are performed for them
  • if the workload is to be modified by different values for work and duration

In the first planning phase of a project, the activity values for work or duration can still vary. The project manager can make this clear by placing a question mark behind the value.

Resource is a term for people, materials and equipment used in the project.

A stakeholder is a person or a group who has a particular interest in the course or outcome of a project.

Sometimes referred to as stochastic scenario analysis, the term Monte Carlo Simulation or 'Monte Carlo Methods' is certainly more familiar to project managers. And this is for good reason. On the basis of the probability theory, an attempt is made to calculate a problem which cannot be solved - or is very difficult to solve - using a very large number of similar but random experiments.

In project management, this technique is sometimes applied to the question of all questions: "When will my project end?". The Atlantic Systems Guild created a freely available simulation based on MS Excel for this application many years ago. Under the name Riskology you can download the simulator and the manual for free. And don't let the design of the website fool you; the software works like a charm ;-)

Risk management defines the general philosophy and procedure for dealing with project risks. Risk analysis and risk management deal with the mutual concern of client and project team that the characteristics of the developed system correspond to the project goals with regard to technical functionality, costs and deadlines.

The risk management approach comprises a continuous and iterative process of risk identification, risk planning and risk controlling throughout the project. Risk management is already initiated in the preparatory phase of a project and is continued throughout the entire project life cycle. Risk management is one of the core elements of project planning and at the same time one of the most important factors for the success of any project.

Risk management itself is an ongoing and continuous process from the definition, planning and implementation phases of the project. The approach used in risk management comprises a number of interrelated tasks. They are summarized below and are described in more detail in the following sections.

The tasks are:

  • risk identification
  • risk assessment
  • risk prioritisation
  • action planning
  • Risk monitoring and tracking

Risk management is primarily the responsibility of the project manager (or the bid manager during the bidding phase). Nevertheless, the involvement of project team members, clients and subcontractors is essential if all potential risks are to be identified and managed. In large projects it is appropriate to appoint another team member as responsible risk manager in order to relieve the project manager of this time-consuming task.

— Translated from Source: Projektmanagement mit Merlin, Germany, Hanser-Verlag 2009

In short, a time window is the amount of time that an activity can be delayed without causing a delay to other activities or even the project completion date. In Merlin Project, the name we give to the time window is slack.

Wikipedia offers a more detailed explanation. It also includes an example which we implemented in Merlin Project here.

Earned Value Analysis (short: EVA) is a project controlling tool. It is used to assess the progress of projects. The current schedule and cost situation is described by key figures. The key values are planned value, actual costs and earned value. By tracking the key figures, a trend analysis is possible (from Wikipedia).

Thus Merlin Project provides a model to control project progress and involved costs. These fields are active:

  • Target costs of calculated work (SKBA): The degree of completion (also planned value, PV) in euros at the time of the report.
  • Target cost of completed work (SKAA): Also known as earned value (EV). This arises during the project work. It is the amount that would have been incurred if the planned resource costs had been assumed. I.e. the EV represents the total value of the trade union corresponding to the work progress / degree of completion.
  • Actual cost of completed work (IKAA): The actual costs (AC) are entered using the variable IKAA. All resource costs, material costs and base costs incurred up to a point in time are added together.
  • Plan deviation: In a real project, however, absolute plan fulfillment is very rare. Either one overachieves the planned goals or (in most cases) one hangs behind the plan. This results in a deviation from the planned target, which is referred to as a schedule variance (SV). A negative schedule variance (SV) indicates that the schedule for the entire project cannot be met. The SV is therefore not primarily concerned with cost differences, but with delays.
  • Cost variance: The cost variance (CV) is measured against the actual costs of the project.
  • Total Cost Estimate: This is the budget at complete (BAC). It corresponds to the expenditure planned at the time, i.e. taking into account all assumed resource, material and basic costs.
  • Planned costs: Often also referred to as planned costs (PC), they are defined in the work packages at the beginning of the project and distributed over the duration of the project.

*1: Field descriptions according to Wikipedia

Project Management with a bit of Magic!

Merlin Project combines traditional methods with Kanban.