Organizations have used stoplight charts for years to quickly display the status of projects to executives and project stakeholders. The goal is to give the stakeholder or executive a quick, visual way to know which projects need attention. The idea is simple: Distill the project status into metrics that can be represented graphically, usually with red, yellow, and green stoplight indicators. If you check on a project and see green, you know that it’s progressing well. If you see mostly yellow or some red, the project might require further attention.

With the release of Project 2000, users could build such stoplight indicators into their projects at the task level. However, stoplight indicators were not easy to set up for the comparison of projects.

Project Server 2002, on the other hand, offers this capability via the Project Server Web Access. With a little up-front work, an administrator can set up project templates and Web Access views that take advantage of these graphical fields to create Web-based executive stoplight charts.

I’ll go through the steps required to set up Project Server 2002 to use these types of charts. I’ll also cover how to add an Over Budget field to your projects and then add it to a Project Center view in Project Server 2002. The Project Center is where you can view information about many projects at once from the Web. You can think of it as a portfolio view; it’s used by many organizations for viewing portfolios of projects.

The fundamentals
If you were an executive trying to decide which projects needed your attention, a glance at the stoplight chart in Figure A would show you that the PeopleSoft ERM Implementation might require your help, while the Payroll Systems Upgrade projects could likely go on without your assistance.

Figure A

To make these charts work, make sure that each of your projects uses the same custom field to store the metric you wish to chart; that field must have the same name in every project. Project Center views can display the Project level rollup of a task custom number field. Furthermore, if the custom number field is set to display a graphical indicator in Project 2002, those same graphical indicators will be shown in the Project Center view.

The key to having this task custom field in every project is to include it and its customizations (the formula and the graphical indicators) in all of the templates that your project managers use. By including this field in the templates, you’re ensuring that the stoplight chart will function for all projects.

New in Project Server 2002

A new feature in Project Server is the Enterprise Template. These are templates set up by an administrator on the server so that every project manager has access to them directly from the Templates link on the New Project Task Pane in Project 2002 Professional.

Creating templates; customizing the field
Since you likely already have a set of templates, we’ll start with a procedure for adding the field to one project, then cover the steps for copying this customized field into other projects.

Open a project
You can start with a blank project or one of your existing templates. Select Tools | Customize | Fields to bring up the Customize Fields dialog box, shown in Figure B.

Figure B

Make sure that Task is selected in the options at the top of the dialog box. Then select Number from the Type drop-down box. Select an unused number field and then click the Rename button.

Enter a new name in the dialog box that comes up (for our example we will enter Over Budget). Click OK. Click the Formula button and enter this formula:
IIf([Baseline Cost]=0,0,(IIf([Cost]=0,1,IIf([Cost]<([Baseline Cost]*1.2),IIf([Cost]<([Baseline Cost]*1.05),1,2),3))))

Figure C shows the formula dialog box. When you’re finished entering the formula, click OK.

Figure C

Next, select the Use Formula option in the Calculation For Task And Group Summary Rows section of the dialog box shown in Figure B. This will ensure that the Project Summary task will contain the proper value for the formula. Finally, click the Graphical Indicators button. Figure D shows the dialog box you will see. Set the fields as shown in Figure D. Click OK when you’re finished.

Figure D

Of course, you can choose any colors or shapes you like by selecting them from the image field drop-down box; these are just examples. When you’re finished, click OK, and then click OK again to close the Customize Fields dialog box.

When you’ve completed this process, you’ll be finished customizing the field. You can add the field to other projects by opening them into Project 2002 while you still have the project you just customized open. Then click Tools | Organizer. Select the Fields tab and you’ll see an Organizer dialog box like the one shown in Figure E.

Figure E

The template file will be shown on the right side. From the Custom Fields Available In drop-down box at the bottom left side of the dialog box, pick the project in which you just created the custom Numberx field. You’ll then see the Over Budget (Numberx) field on the left side (where x is the number of the custom field you customized). Select it and click the Copy button. You’ll see the field on the right side. Click Close and then save your template. It will now contain the Number field you customized along with all of the formula and graphic indicator information. Repeat this process for each of the templates your project managers use.

Customizing the Project Center views
Next, you just need to add the Number1 field to a Project Center view and you’ll have a simple, one-element stoplight chart.

Log in to Project Server Web Access as an administrator and click the Admin link at the top of the page. Next, select the Manage Views link. From here, select one of the Project Center views and click the Modify View button to bring up the view you see in Figure F.

Figure F

From here, scroll down in the Available Fields list box and find the Numberx field (where x is the number of the field you customized). Select it and click the Add button. Then click the Save Changes button (which is not visible in this image). You will have a simple stoplight chart. Repeat the field customization process for every field you want to add to the chart and then add them to your templates.