Schedule optimization requires investigation of critical tasks to see whether fast tracking or “crashing” of these tasks will materially shorten the schedule. You also may want to perform a more accurate bottom-up estimate of these tasks to confirm their duration estimates. If you are looking for a way to help focus in on those tasks that provide the most promise for shortening your schedule in Microsoft Project, then read the following suggested approach.
In Microsoft Project, suppose you have a large project with numerous tasks, and you want to focus in and optimize those tasks that are contributing the most to your schedule duration, i.e. critical path. The longest duration critical tasks, most likely, provide the best opportunity for gaining crucial time on a schedule. So you want to rank your critical tasks from longest duration to shortest. This will help you focus in on and investigate those tasks that have the highest possibility of significantly shortening the schedule.
This article describes how to filter out non-critical tasks, and then sort and rank the critical tasks by duration to support schedule optimization efforts in Microsoft Project. In this article we are using Microsoft Project 2013, but the principle is the same for most versions.
We have here in Figure 1 a sample project.
This is a relatively small project, but the process of filtering and sorting tasks to isolate the longest duration critical tasks is the same, regardless of project size.
The first step in the process of locating the longest duration critical tasks is to toggle off both the summary tasks and project summary task. This will reduce clutter. To do this select the Format tab, the Show/Hide ribbon group, and then toggle off both summary tasks and project summary task. Your schedule should now look similar to Figure 2.
Next we want to filter out non-critical tasks. Let’s also filter out milestones, because they have no duration, and, therefore, will not contribute to schedule compression. To create our filter select the View tab, Data ribbon group, and then the Filter drop down menu. Select ‘New Filter’. Your filter should look similar to Figure 3.
Note from the figure that we are filtering out non-critical tasks and milestones. Your schedule will now appear similar to Figure 4.
Now we want to use the sort feature. Select the View tab, Data ribbon group, Sort drop down menu, and Sort By. Set the Sort by to Duration and Descending. Click Sort and all the critical tasks will appear in descending order by duration, Figure 5.
The column to note is the Duration column, which shows the critical tasks in descending order of duration. Also, the Gantt chart does not provide a helpful comparison of critical task durations, because of the defined task relationships. So use the task table view and, in particular, the Duration column to compare critical task durations.
Also, the Project Management task is a high level task and spans the length of the project. Despite it being a critical task and of long duration, it can only be reduced by compressing tasks along the critical path. The project management task cannot be optimized in and by itself. The project management task will compress as tasks along the critical path are shortened.
If we didn’t use the filter then we would have needed to Sort by critical and Then by duration. This will achieve the same affect, but the non-critical tasks will appear below the critical tasks, which may clutter the screen and/or cause confusion. So it’s better to use the filter and sort by descending duration.
In our demonstration schedule ‘Lay Control Cable’ is the longest duration critical task followed by Mobilize, ‘Substantial Completion’, and ‘Set Foundations’. Our schedule optimization efforts should focus in on these four tasks. Again, consider fast tracking, crashing, or re-evaluation of the duration estimates.
Schedule optimization involves the tedious process of examining task relationships and, possibly, recalculation of bottom-up estimates. In particularly large projects you will want to limit your optimization efforts to a hand full of tasks. In Microsoft Project you can sort by critical tasks and then by descending task durations to rank tasks for possible investigation.
A slightly better and less cluttered approach in Microsoft Project, is to filter out non-critical and milestone tasks and then rank the remaining critical tasks by descending durations. Thus, the filter and sort features in Microsoft Project are helpful tools that support a focused investigation of schedule optimization opportunities. Be mindful that shortening critical tasks could change the critical path, and some previously non-critical tasks may become critical.