By Dale Howard, Sensei Project Solutions
Serving as a Project Online Application Administrator for your organization can be an overwhelming experience. There are many features to set up in the system, and the right way to set them up is not always as obvious or as intuitive as we’d like it to be. Using a trial and error approach for learning how to configure Project Online can lead to weeks or even months of lost time and a good deal of frustration. A smarter approach would be to use a book, sign up for a webinar, or enroll in a course specifically designed for Project Online Application Administrators – a course like the Ultimate Application Administrator Boot Camp for Project Online, for example.
If you are an Application Administrator for your organization’s Project Online system, allow me to offer a few pointers that can make your life easier. These pointers come from many years of experience with Microsoft’s PPM tools and are part of the content taught in the Application Administrator class referenced above.
1. Test for NA Values in a Formula
If you have ever tried to create an enterprise custom field containing a formula, you will know what a challenge it is to test for an NA value in a date field. For example, suppose you need to create a formula to determine if there is an NA value in the Baseline Finish field for each task, which would indicate that no Baseline has been saved for the task. Using a task Flag field for this purpose, most people would try using the following formula to detect an NA value in the Baseline Finish field:
IIf([Baseline Finish] = “NA”, True, False)
Figure 1 shows the syntax error dialog that Microsoft Project will display if you try to use the preceding formula.
Figure 1: Formula syntax error dialog
After clicking the OK button in the error dialog, the software highlights the syntax error in the formula, as shown in Figure 2.
Figure 2: Syntax error highlighting in formula
You can clearly see that the formula is not written correctly to test for an NA value in the Baseline Finish field. The correct way to write the formula is as follows:
IIf([Baseline Finish] = ProjDateValue(“NA”), True, False)
You would have needed to use the ProjDateValue function to test for an NA value in the Baseline Finish field. Using this formula to test for the NA value, along with using a graphical indicator to indicate tasks with no baseline, yields the results shown in Figure 3. Notice that the No Baseline field displays a red “X” indicator for every task where there is an NA value in the Baseline Finish column. You can see that this custom field clearly identifies tasks with no baseline.
Figure 3: No Baseline column
2. Use Microsoft Project to Create Formulas in Enterprise Fields
The Project Web App user interface allows the application administrator to create formulas in all three types of enterprise custom fields: Project, Task, and Resource. As we saw above, you can also create enterprise custom fields using the Microsoft Project user interface as well. However, keep in mind that Microsoft Project allows you to create only enterprise custom Task and Resource fields; it will not allow you to create enterprise custom Project fields. Here is how I recommend you use Microsoft Project to create enterprise custom Task and Resource fields:
- Launch Microsoft Project and connect to Project Online.
- Open an enterprise project in which to create and test the formula, but do not check out the project (i.e., leave it opened as Read-Only).
- Click the Project tab and then click the Custom Fields
- In the Custom Fields dialog, create the custom field containing the formula, then close the dialog and test the custom field in the project to make sure it is working correctly.
- Return to the Custom Fields dialog again and select the new custom field you just created.
- In the Custom Fields dialog, click the Add Field to Enterprise button shown in Figure 4. Figure 4: Add Field to Enterprise Button
- In the Add Field to Enterprise dialog shown in Figure 5, leave the default text in the Field Name: field, and then click the OKFigure 5: Add Field to Enterprise Dialog
- In the confirmation dialog shown in Figure 6, click the OKFigure 6: Confirmation Dialog
- Close the Custom Fields dialog, close the enterprise project without saving any changes, and then exit completely from Microsoft Project.
After completing these steps, you will find the new enterprise custom field on the Enterprise Custom Fields and Lookup Tables page in Project Web App. Keep in mind that the name of the field will include the original name of the field shown previously in Figure 5, such as No Baseline (Flag1). You will need to edit the field name in Project Web App and delete any text in parentheses. In the case of the No Baseline field I created, I would simply delete the (Flag1) text in the field name.
The beauty of using this approach is that it allows you to immediately test your custom field and formula in a real project. If the formula does not work as desired, you can quickly edit the formula and then retest the changes. Once you confirm that the formula is working as desired, only then would you import the enterprise custom field into Project Online.
3. Add Holiday Exceptions to the Enterprise Standard Calendar
One thing I really like about Microsoft Project and Project Online is that the application administrator is responsible for setting up all calendars used in the organization for projects and people. This is good since a recommended best practice is to add ten years of your company holidays to the enterprise Standard calendar, as this will help your project managers to create more accurate project schedules.
When you add company holidays to the enterprise Standard calendar, there is one issue you will need to address. Figure 7 shows the Change Working Time dialog for the enterprise Standard calendar for an organization. Notice that I have added the ten years of occurrences from 2018 through 2027 for the most common company holidays.
Figure 7: Enterprise Standard calendar open for editing
Once you have created these holidays for the enterprise Standard calendar, a reasonable question to ask is, “What happens when a holiday occurs on a weekend?” At a minimum, the US national holidays that can occur on a weekend are New Year’s Day, Independence Day, and Christmas Day. Keep in mind that Microsoft Project has no way of knowing your company’s policy for holidays that occur on a weekend, and it will not automatically create exceptions for you when that occurs.
In this situation, you will need to manually create additional exceptions to the enterprise Standard calendar to make sure your project managers will have the most accurate project schedules. For example, notice in Figure 8 that Independence Day occurs on a Saturday in 2020.
Figure 8: Independence Day 2020 occurs on a Saturday
To address this situation, I would need to create an additional Independence Day exception for the 2020 date. According to our hypothetical company’s policy, the observed holiday would be Friday, July 3. Create the individual exception for July 3, 2020 and name it something like Independence Day 2020 – Observed, as shown in Figure 9.
Figure 9: Independence Day 2020 – Observed exception
After you create your initial round of company holidays, I encourage you to scroll through the calendar in the Change Working Time dialog, looking for any holiday that occurs on a weekend. Then, create individual exceptions for those weekend holidays according to your company policies for weekend holidays.
4. Use a Naming Convention with Timesheet Reporting Periods
If your organization plans to use the Timesheet page in Project Web App to track time and task progress, the application administrator will need to create time reporting periods. Our recommendation is to create at least one year of time reporting periods, and more if possible. As you create these time reporting periods, keep in mind that the naming convention you use will impact not only people who report time; it will also impact the sorting of any reports you want to create about timesheet usage.
There are a couple of tricks I recommend for creating time reporting periods. In this example, suppose you need to create time reporting periods for 2018. To do this, navigate to the Time Reporting Periods page in Project Web App. On this page, complete the following steps:
- In the Number of periods to be created field, enter 9 to initially create only nine reporting periods.
- In the Date the first period starts field, confirm that the date is 1/1/2018.
- In the Length of the standard period (days) field, confirm that 7 is the value.
- In the Prefix field, enter a naming convention such as 2018 – Week 0.
- In the Next Sequence Number field, leave 1 as the value.
- Leave the Suffix value blank.
Figure 10 shows the completed fields at the top of the Time Reporting Periods page. Notice that the Sample section of the page shows how the first reporting period will appear. You can see how the “0” character prefixes the number of the week.
Figure 10: Create the first 9 reporting periods
- Click the Create Bulk button.
Project Online will create the first nine reporting periods in the Create Periods data grid at the bottom of the page, as shown in Figure 11. Notice how the Prefix information added a zero at the beginning of each week number. This will help with sorting time reporting periods in reports about timesheet usage.
Figure 11: First nine reporting periods created
- In the Number of periods to be created field, enter 43 to create the remaining time reporting periods for the rest of the year.
- Leave the calculated date in the Date the first period starts
- In the Length of the standard period (days) field, confirm that 7 is the value.
- In the Prefix field, remove the zero character but leave the space character after the word Week, such as 2018 – Week .
- In the Next Sequence Number field, leave 10 as the value.
- Leave the Suffix value blank. Figure 12 shows the completed fields at the top of the Time Reporting Periods page for the next 43 reporting periods.
Figure 12: Create the next 43 reporting periods
- Click the Create Bulk button
- Click the Save button to save the newly created time reporting periods and return to the PWA Settings
About Dale Howard, Director of Education, Sensei Project Solutions
Dale Howard is a seasoned training professional who is approaching 30 years of technical training experience. He has taught students how to effectively use every version of Microsoft Project beginning with version 4.0 for Windows 95, and every version of the Microsoft EPM tool beginning with Project Central in the year 2000. Dale possesses the coveted Project MVP title and is one of only 64 Project MVPs in the entire world. He is the co-author of 20 books on Microsoft Project and Project Server. Dale is known for high-energy, highly interactive style of presenting and teaching. He was voted the “Best Presenter” by conference participants at the Project Conference in 2012.
About Sensei Project Solutions
Sensei Project Solutions, a Finalist for the 2017 Microsoft Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) Partner of the Year, focuses on bringing Instant Productivity to your team. Our mission is to help individuals and organizations be more productive so that they can achieve their greatest potential. As a Gold certified Microsoft Partner and Registered Education Provider (R.E.P.) with the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Sensei offers a complete set of services and products for a successful Microsoft PPM deployment. Our guiding principles for Proactive PPM follow best practices and industry standards aligned with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and Gartner, enabling organizations to manage resource demand, obtain business intelligence that facilitates better decision making, increase business effectiveness by easily connecting people, and become self-sufficient with PPM processes and solutions. In short, Sensei helps organizations achieve Instant Productivity.