Project Management

Define resources with Microsoft Project

Defining project resources is the most important part of a project plan. It's tricky, but Microsoft Project can help. Here's a look at the basic fields in Project that are involved in defining a resource and its costs.

When developing a project plan, it’s important to carefully define the available resources. Microsoft Project can help you clearly define your project’s resources, and in this article I’ll describe the basic fields involved in defining a resource and its costs in Project.

Defining your resources
Figure A shows the General Tab of the Resource Information dialog box. It contains the basic information about your resource. Double-click on any resource in the Resource Sheet view of Project 2000 or Project 2002 to call up the Resource Information dialog box. You can see the Resource Sheet view by clicking the View | Resource Sheet menu item in Project.

 

Figure A


Resource Name
Enter a name for a resource in the Resource Name text box. This name is what you’ll call your resource in the project; so don’t use a name like “Steve.” Get into the habit of using full names to prevent confusion. You’ll be glad you did when your company starts using a central Resource Pool or installs Project Server 2002 and you have to convert all your project plan resources to full names!

Resource types
There are two types of resources: Work and Material. Work is the resource type that you’ll use for almost all of your resource requirements. A Work resource is anyone or anything that works on a task in your project. This can be a net administrator, a software tester, or even a particular computer that has special software needed to do certain tasks.

Material resources are often confusing for new Project users. It’s better to use the Material resources type for things that are consumed by a task, not the things that perform the task. Material resources are things that are kept on hand and used up by the tasks in a project.

It’s hard to think of many things in an IT project that would qualify as Material resources. Cable ties would be one example, but there just aren’t many things that get “used up” by an IT project. For this reason almost all your resources will be of the Work type. Things like equipment have schedules and can be over allocated, just like humans, so it’s better to use Work resources for them. Project always assumes that Material resources are in unlimited supply.

Max Units
In the Resource Availability section of the dialog box, there’s a field called Units, which is functionally the same as Max Units. When you set this field, you’re setting the Max Units. Once you understand the concept of Max Units, Resource Availability will be easier to understand.

Max Units can be a bit confusing when you first use Project. Basically, it‘s the percentage of the resource’s full working day, as defined by that resource’s Calendar, that the resource is available to do project work.

Say one of your work resources is a programmer. If her Calendar says she can work eight hours a day, five days a week, and her Max Units value is 50%, then she’s available to work 20 hours a week, four hours a day, one hour every two hours, or 30 minutes per hour. You use Max Units to determine if a resource is over allocated. Project will see a resource as over allocated if the resource’s scheduled tasks at any point make the resource’s total Units for any given time period greater than its Max Units value. Here’s an example:

Your programmer has a Max Units value of 50%. She is assigned to Task 1, and the Units value is 50%. She can also be assigned to Task 2 at 50%. If her assignments on these two tasks overlap for even a minute, her Max Units value will be 100% because she’s being asked to work on two tasks at 50% for a total of 100%.

Resource Availability
Figure B shows the Resource Availability section of the General tab in the Resource Information dialog box. In this section you can define different Max Units values for different time periods. The example shows a resource that will have a Max Units value of 100% from the start of time to 9/27. Then from 9/28 to 11/29 it will be 50%. It goes back up to 100% on 11/30. It’s important to remember that if you specify dates where the example in Figure B shows NA, then before the earliest date and after the latest date in this section of the dialog box, Project will assume the Max Units value is 0%.

Figure B


Figure C shows the Costs tab of the Resource Information dialog box. This is where you define time-based rate schedules for your resources. It lets you model projected pay increases in your project plan. For example, if you know that a resource will get a 20% pay increase on 1/1/2003, you can enter this information, and assignments after 1/1/2003 will use the new rate. As you can see in Figure C, I entered a date in the Effective Date field. Then in the Standard Rate field I entered “+20%,” and MS Project calculated a 20% increase to $42,000.

The fields associated with Resource Cost are covered below:

Figure C


Standard Rate
Standard Rate is the “regular time” rate for a resource. It can be per hour, week, month, or year. For most projects, this is the prime driver of project cost calculations. Basic cost calculations for a task happen at the assignment level where:

Cost = (Regular Work * Standard Rate) + (Overtime Work * Overtime Rate) + Cost per Use.

Overtime Rate
Overtime Rate is the overtime rate for this resource. Remember that Project does not “know” when overtime starts. It calculates overtime cost from values you enter in the Overtime Work field. So if you enter 10 hours of work, Project won’t see the first eight hours as regular work and the last two as overtime. If you know that the last two hours are overtime, you need to enter eight hours in Regular Work and two hours in Overtime Work.

Per Use Cost
Per Use Cost defines a cost associated with the use of a resource. This might be a contract initiation charge, or you might use it for resources that work on a flat fee or per-job basis instead of by the hour. This value gets added to the Cost field of every task to which the resource is assigned. The “Use” in this case is not use on the project, but on each task. So if a resource with a Per Use Cost value of $100 is assigned to three tasks, the project will see a cost related to Per Use Cost of this resource in the amount of $300.

Cost Accrual
The Cost Accrual list box lets you define how actual costs should be accrued against the task for this resource. The choices for this field are: Start, Prorated, and End. For example, you might use Prorated for an in-house resource that is paid by the hour. Or you could use End for a resource that is not paid until the resource’s work is completed. This field helps you control how the program calculates cash flow for the project. The most common setting here is Prorated.

I’ve described the basic fields involved in defining a resource and examined how to define time-based Max Unit values. In part 2, I’ll look at defining a Resource’s working time and the tricky business of modeling a resource’s true availability.
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