“I’m an Expert”

July 25, 2014

Joanne Nova pointed me to this YouTube video, and she heard about it from Eric Worrall. It’s only about 7-1/2 minutes. Go for it.


This really rings true to me.

Microsoft Project as a Planning Tool: Getting to “Done”

July 1, 2014

The purpose of this posting is to point the way forward for those who are interested in having a simple-as-possible methodology, based on using Microsoft Project or equivalent, for handling the numbers and computations related to planning the cost and schedule for a project.

The goal is to get quickly and easily to:

  • Identify what “done” means.
  • Identify when “done” might get done.
  • Identify how much “done” might cost (to request funding).
  • Identify who needs to be involved in getting to “done” (and automatically create an integrated “CTR”).

Here I will tease the reader with the general outline of how to do it and expose the possiblities. In later postings we may more fully flesh out how this works with examples.

This outline assumes you have some familiarity with using Microsoft Project. If not, take the time to read a good book about Microsoft Project. You can use Primavera P6 if you must.


  • Assemble a list of the deliverables. A list of deliverables is preferable to a list of the tasks, e.g. the things you have to do to deliver a deliverable. Let tasks be the domain on the people who do the tasks. Focus instead on named deliverables. Remember to include the deliverables you plan for risk mitigation.
  • Look at the calendars in Microsoft Project. They probably are ok, but if not then change them.
  • Import that list of deliverables (copy/paste works well) into the field in Microsoft Project (or equivalent tool) called “Task Name”. Yes, that may appear to violate the advice in the previous point, but we can’t change Microsoft’s nomenclature.
  • Add one project “start” milestone (linked to successors) and one project “complete” milestone (linked to predecessors).
  • Use Microsoft Project’s automatic scheduling, and except for the start milestone task, do not enter any start or finish dates. You want Microsoft Project to do the “heavy-lifting” and compute the dates for you.
  • Avoid creating more than one or at most two levels of summary task hierarchy, and do not enter blank lines. Keep it simple.
  • Fill in the following fields for each “task”:
    • Task Type: fixed duration. Let Project compute units based on your input of duration and work.
    • Duration, in days, hours/minutes, or whatever. Use elapsed days (“edays”) if the task timeline should ignore non-working days in the calendar.
    • ID of successor and/or predecessor. To create the project execution logic.
    • Create a Custom Text Field: Gate. Tag each deliverable for the planned project Gate at which the deliverable will be reviewed. Gated project systems are in common use in many industries.
    • Create a Custom Text Field: CTR. This is the number or other identifier of CTR (Cost, Time, and Resource) document that will be given to the project’s finance team. CTR’s are commonly used in many industries and show a scheduled estimate of the time estimate of people and other resources. You want CTRs that are integrated with the project plan and not something completely separate–which is what some project teams do–an unnecessary use of their time and could add significant risk to the project. With this approach, generating the CTR is automatic, not added work, and useful.
    • Create a Custom Text Field: AFE (Approval for Expenditure) number into which this deliverable will be packaged into the AFE document to seek customer/partner approval for expenditure. AFE’s are commonly used in many industries.
    • Assign the list of resources planned for each deliverable. Normally this will be in terms of “work”, e.g. days of chargeable time.
  • In the Resource list, provide a billing rate for each resource (per use or per unit of time, e.g. per day).
  • Add in key milestones as “tasks”. Link all predecessors and successors for these milestones, e.g. those deliverables which encompass successful completion of the milestone. Fill in the deadline date in the Deadline field if these milestones have real deadlines (as opposed to wished-for dates).

View and Work With Results

  • Show the Project Summary task on the view.
  • Add the standard field “Cost” to the view to show the cost (which is computed automatically by Project multiplying the resource work times billing rate. Total project cost will be in the top row (Project Summary Task).
  • View the Critical Path. This will tell you when the project, as described will be done and what the critical path activities are. If you dislike the computed cost/schedule for your project, then re-plan. Remember, of course, that the Critical Path is not the boss’s favourite tasks, necessarily.
  • View the schedule by CTR using the Group feature to group by the CTR custom field.
  • View the schedule by AFE using the Group feature to group by AFE custom field to show you when and what to ask your partner(s) and/or customer(s) for funding.
  • View the schedule by Gate using the Group feature to group by the Gate custom field. This will give you an indication when to schedule Gate Review meetings with gatekeepers.
  • With the Resource Usage view, show the CTR summary. This will be automatically aligned with your current schedule. Adjust the timescale to something useful, e.g. by month, quarter, etc. Daily and weekly CTRs are unrealistically precise. If you must track/plan high-frequency time, use the project schedule, not CTRs, for daily/weekly project control.


  • Revise the schedule to better match resource availability
  • Revise the schedule to get the dates you seek
  • Revise the schedule to get the governance needed (Gate reviews)
  • Use probabilistic methods to get the most probable schedule and take care, knowing the uncertainties, when promising project dates. In general, consider promising 70-80% probable dates with customers, and target 30-40% probable dates with suppliers. Align everyone’s incentive bonus schedule (if applicable) to these probabilistic cost/schedule estimates.
  • When the schedule is sufficient “complete”, set a “baseline” and track progress to that baseline.
  • At intervals (normally for Gate Reviews), update progress and refine with greater precision the remaining schedule.


  • Some people prefer (and sometimes brag about) using Microsoft Excel (or equivalent) to do the above project planning to “keep it simple”. This is usually naive. If you are prepared to program into Excel all the algorithms–correctly, of course–this would be ok. Frankly, it is unlikely that the algorithms can be done very easily, nor would most mortals know how to do it. Doing all this work yourself increases the risk you will develop an erroneous cost/schedule estimate for your project. Avoid Excel or other manual methods for this sort of thing unless you are prepared for doing a lot of work–work that Microsoft Project could do for you.

Adaption to Weather Can be Shown to Work

July 16, 2013

Phys.org has a article today “Long-forgotten seawall protected New Jersey homes from Hurricane Sandy’s powerful storm surges” which discusses how two residential communities on the Jersey shore withstood attack by Hurricane Sandy in 2012.

“A forgotten, 1,260-meter seawall buried beneath the beach helped Bay Head weather Sandy’s record storm surges and large waves over multiple high tides …”


“Despite the immense magnitude and duration of the storm, a relatively small coastal obstacle reduced potential wave loads by a factor of two and was the difference between widespread destruction and minor structural impacts, the researchers said.”

People are not intended to build and live on the Jersey Shore without risk. They do not have a “right” to build homes there and expect, without reservation, they will withstand the ravages of nature. They do not have the right to build on the Jersey Shore to have their property destroyed and then expect government (other people) to bale them out.

But with investment in storm and flood protection, including not building in areas not sufficiently protected against storms and floods, risk can be reduced. The above demonstrates that.

Nothing is for free.

Update 17 July 2013: Anthony Watts asks:

” … makes you wonder about past storm intensity and the need to protect shorelines from storms coming from the sea. With all the hype surrounding “Superstorm Sandy”, it is interesting to see that 150 years ago, simple engineering made the storm less intense in this one area.”

I wish I had thought of that angle.

Growth allowed in NYC flood plains?

June 13, 2013

Mayor Bloomberg of New York plans a massive investment in flood protection. It is perhaps not unlike the concept of the Thames Barrier in London. Today the New York Times editorial supports the plan and says:

About 400,000 New Yorkers live in flood-prone areas. City analysts estimate that, by the 2050s, 800,000 people will live within those areas. As Mr. Bloomberg said of the need to start working immediately: “Whether you believe climate change is real or not is beside the point; the bottom line is we can’t run the risk.”

How is it possible that they would allow a doubling of population into flood prone areas? Why not stop growth in areas prone to flooding and move those already there?

Beautiful Exposition of Real Life vs. Science

October 2, 2012

See the Comment by MikeHaseler at 2 Oct 2012 at 10:44 p.m. Bishop Hill’s blog.

So, one learns never to assume the original problem as presented is the real problem. There are human, instrumentation, inter-machine problems.

This is what Engineers have done and do. Engineers do more than fix PC’s and washing machines.

Plan to untreated effluent into the Sea at Siccar Point. Good idea?

September 3, 2012

There is a plan by a company that prepares and packages vegetables for grocery stores to change how their waste water effluent is handled. Now they pipe it to on-site reed beds to filter it. They are seeking to reduce the treatment costs by building a pipeline across a sensitive area into the Firth of Forth to allow untreated wastewater to be released just beyond the shore. The location is near a marine conservation area and through a historical geological location–Siccar Point.

It’s the 21st Century. In the 20th Century we learned that dumping untreated effluent into lakes, oceans, and rivers was not a good thing to do and we did something about it. When I first moved to Scotland in the early 1980’s sewage effluent was dumped straight into the Firth of Forth. Now there are treatment plants. They still tell us we can’t eat the fish and seafood from the Firth, but it doesn’t smell anymore.

How, in the 21st Century can this plan to dump yet more effluent into the nearby sea be considered serious?

There is a campaign “Save Siccar Point“. Have a read and consider if you would like to help.

Smart Meters on Electrical Power Supply

January 15, 2012

Secret Scotland has a great posting “Smart Meters — Maybe Not So Smart”.

The US and UK–government and industry–are pushing hard to install so-called “smart metering technology” everywhere.

Smart metering allows two-way information exchange between energy users and suppliers, providing real-time (almost) information about supply and demand at the individual user level, allowing the level of that supply and demand to be accurately determined on a moment-to-moment basis. According to the Government, smart metering will slash unnecessary energy use, reduce emissions, and cut consumers’ energy bills.

However, as mentioned in the above posting and based on my understanding:

: I still haven’t seen the “proof” that the best interests of customers are retained. Where are the experiments showing before and after? While described as something to manage supply and demand, it is more likely a tool to manage “supply”, e.g. they will give you electricity when they feel like it and if they feel you are not justified getting it, they will cut you off.

: Security is a risk. Our society cannot protect our credit card transactions “on the net”. How will our newly-networked electrical supply system be protected and will it work? Surely there now new risks which are insufficiently mitigated. And what about “unitentended consequences”? See the paper by Anderson and Fuloria linked to by Secret Scotland.

: In today’s news I read that Which? Magazine warns of energy smart meter “fiasco”. Which? is reported to be concerned about the project execution risk–which surely is large as projects like this have a very poor track record–but they don’t appear to be commenting on the purpose/benefits. Yet the project sponsors are enthusiastically reporting on the purpose/benefits which seem to be appear to be unsubstantiated.

Remind me again why we are doing this?

Dropbox vs. SugarSync

December 28, 2011

I have the need to post files on internet-based sites for use on collaboration with various other people for various reasons. I’ve been using Dropbox and SugarSync; the latter because it appears now to be ubiquitous and the latter because it was recommended by a person who provides reliable recommendations. Prior to getting started I read numerous reviews.

My bottom line is that SugarSync is the preferred tool. I come to this conclusion due to two features in SugarSync which are not in Dropbox (far as I can tell):

1. With SugarSync, I can post files for others to use in READ-ONLY mode. With Dropbox all files are changeable by anyone with access to the folder. Further, I’m informed but have not confirmed this, DropBox users can “re-share” with others without my permission. That opens up the possibility that pretty much anyone can edit the files without me knowing. This is disconcerting and a big reason to be careful of using DropBox’s sharing features.

2. With SugarSync, I can share specific folders in the PC’s file system without having to move them into the DropBox file folder (or subfolders). Yes, with the Mac version of DropBox it is possible to setup a symbolic link in the DropBox folder pointing to a folder in another location, so this point No. 2 is probably moot.

On thing that Dropbox does do is provide software for using on a Linux machine. SugarSync does not. That would be useful in doing more automation.

Engineering Thinking

April 18, 2011

Steve McIntyre in his recent posting entitled “The Smug Loop” elaborates on a topic which has occurred to me numerous times as I encounter “experts” in climate science or read about it. His point is sumarised by:

As someone who’s interacted with this niche over the past number of years, my recommendation has consistently been that people who are worried about the impact of increased CO2 need to provide an “engineering quality” exposition of how doubled CO2 leads to (say) 3 degree C and thence to problems. More cerebral, rather than less cerebral.

Engineering quality. Right on. That’s what we (the world) are missing related to the debate on climate change (man-made or otherwise) and the debate on energy futures.

I have yet to see such an “exposition” expressed and explained in an engineering way. I’m sure such things do exist, but anecdotal evidence suggests otherwise.

  • all the papers authored by the Scottish Government on so-called renewable energies
  • The Royal Society of Edinburgh’s initiative to determine “why people don’t get it about climate change”. I questioned the leader of this august body on their panel’s membership, and when asked about engineers I’m told “we’ve spoken with those types at Longannet Power Station”.

“Speaking with” is different than “thinking like” and producing engineering quality deliverables.

What could have been

October 9, 2010

Its is reported in today’s Scotsman newspaper about the Edinburgh Tram Project, now about 3 or four years into 3 year project:

But the council and its under-fire tram company are unable to say how much even this scaled-back route will cost after failing to end a dispute with the German construction giant which has the contract to build the network.

See http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/news/Edinburgh-tram-route-to-be.6572931.jp and http://thescotsman.scotsman.com/news/Edinburgh-trams-Three-years-of.6572962.jp

It probably could have been a great project. It probably could have been, and maybe it will be, a great development for Edinburgh. At the moment it only seems to be great as an example of how not to run a project.