Multi Project Planner 3.3

The problem

Planning, scheduling and tracking multiple concurrent projects competing for shared resources.
Monitoring the financial aspects of multi project management.

The solution

Scheduling multiple projects resembles the job shop scheduling problem, seen in the manufacturing world.

In a Job Shop a job runs through a set of operations such as cutting, sanding, drilling, etc, where each operation is conducted on a machine capable of performing the operation.

In order to schedule the jobs, the Job Shop Scheduler contains a master schedule, where each row represents a machine, on which the operations are booked according to available space in time and capabilities of the machine.

Now substitute jobs with projects, operations with activities and machines with work teams.
Next imagine dragging the Gantt charts of the projects onto the master schedule and you've got Multi Project Planner.

As the job shop scheduler Multi Project Planner contains a global activity schedule, where each row represents a work team, upon which the activities of the projects are booked according to available space in time and competencies required by the activities compared to those offered by the work team.

Benefits of this solution

This solution immediately reveals any resource conflicts, ensures a far superior overview of the project portfolio and importantly minimizes the strains on the brains of the planner thereby increasing the credibility of the plan.

The picture below shows the planning board for a construction company.
In the schedule eight projects, P1 to P8, each distinguished by its own color, are scheduled.
The projects' 'Foundation' activities are 'booked' at the 'Concrete team', the 'Walls' activities are booked at one of the 'Bricklayer' teams, etc.

Planning Board for a Construction Company. Click for larger image.

The picture clearly illustrates how the production apparatus forms a pipeline through which the projects flows. The need to avoid a 'lumpy flow' becomes obvious. Click to enlarge.


The layout of Multi Project Planner

Multi Project Planner is essentially a planning board, containing two schedules:

  1. The activity schedule, where each row represents a work team, or capacity, upon which the activities of the projects are booked, according to available space in time and competencies required by the activities.
  2. The duty schedule, where each row represents a resource. The resources will man the work teams as needed.

Besides the schedules the planning board contains two analysis views:

  1. The resource situation view showing the aggregated demand and supply of resources and/or groups of resources.
  2. The financial situation view showing the financial consequences of the plan in terms of income, cash flow and risks.

See here for a brief description of the difference between traditional project management solutions and Multi Propject Planner.




The planning process in Multi Project Planner

Planning and scheduling in a multi project environment can be a daunting task caused by the complexity of the problem.

Multi Project Planner offers a four step process splitting the problem into independent manageable subproblems.

These steps are:

  1. Define the project using Work Breakdown Structure

    The Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) sees the project as a product consisting of components, which again may consist of components.

    The product is broken down from the top continuing until the components requires nothing but labor and materials/components not fabricated by yourself.

    This is a very convenient way of defining a project, as you can shift your concentration between overview and detail, without those aspects interfering with each other.

    This process almost automatically ensures that everything's covered.

  2. Define the order of execution

    Components which requires labor gives rise to activities. The order of execution of the activities is defined in the Gantt chart (Bar graph), by establishing predecessor / successor relationships between the activities.

  3. Schedule the project

    The scheduling is a simple Drag and Drop operation.
    You decide where and when the last activity is to be scheduled. Multi Project Planner schedules the rest of the activities based on resource requirements, free space and predecessor / successor relationships.

    Effectively you drag and drop the Gantt chart of the project onto the activity schedule and that is also the visual feedback you will get during the drag and drop operation.

  4. Resource scheduling

    Finally allocating the right resources to the activities is a matter of clicking the 'auto allocation' button in the toolbar.

Defining a project using Work Breakdown Structure and scheduling it using Drag and Drop are illustrated in these videos.

  1. Creating a project using WBS is illustrated in this video.
  2. Scheduling a project is illustrated in this video.

The Divide and Conquer strategy, illustrated in the videos, greatly eases the task of scheduling multiple concurrent projects, as you define a project in advance without bothering about the resource situation and then schedule the project without worrying about the predecessor and successor relationships between the activities, etc.




Tracking in Multi Project Planner

No battle plan survives contact with the enemy. as they say in the military.

Imagine one activity being delayed. Not only will all its successors have to be rescheduled but also the successors of the successors, etc. And that is not the end of the story. The activity that is booked next to one delayed, will have to be rescheduled too. The domino effect explodes.

To handle this complex scenario Multi Project Planner offers the Hot Potato facility.
A hot potato is an activity which want to occupy a space already occupied by another activity. That is a hot potato represents a resource conflict.

The usage of hot potatoes

Lets say a 'Foundation' activity, booked on the 'Concrete Team', ends five days later than planned.
The activity has to be resized. If another activity is booked at the 'Concrete team' immediately after the 'Foundation' activity, the resizing is prohibited, as it will result in a resource conflict. Pressing the 'Ctrl' button before the mouse is released will enforce the resizing anyway, converting the 'Foundation' activity into a hot potato.
By resizing the 'Foundation' activity its successors will be rescheduled by the program if needed. Any resulting resource conflicts will be turned into hot potatoes.

Now you can shift your focus of attention to the hot potatoes. A hot potato can be rippled into the future by enforcing it into place. The hot potato now becomes an ordinary activity and the activities which occupy the space are turned into hot potatoes. This way you can ripple the hot potato into the future.

It gets to complicated to explain. This video illustrates rippling a hot potato".

What's in it for me?

Rippling hot potatoes is a far simpler way to solve the problem, than having to go to the end of the plan and make space as you work your way backwards.
Further you don't have to solve the whole problem. You can let some hot potatoes rest in the future to be handled when you are ready.

All this could have been done automatically, but at the expense of you loosing track and control of what is going on.
By letting you do the intellectual part of the work, you ensure the credibility of the plan and by letting Multi Project Planner keep track of all the loose ends and little things, Multi Project Planner ensures the consistency and completeness of the plan.



Financials in Multi Project Planner

The fact that Multi Project Planner allows you to specify costs and sales price per competence and material, gives rise to the following benefits:

  • You may use the Work Breakdown Structure as a calculation tool, thereby ensuring the economy of the projects.
  • A budget for the plan as a whole is available. This facility lets you evaluate your plan against your economic goals as well as monitoring your cash flow and spot liquidity needs well in advance.
    Further the budget facility enables you to use Multi Project Planner to create budgets and evaluate strategic plans.


Conclusion

By and large Multi Project Planner offers a unique, simple yet comprehensive solution to the multi project management problem, which you owe it to yourself to try out.

Download a free trial here.



Applicability

Multi Project Planner is applicable in construction, engineering, development, consultancy and generally where multiple concurrent projects compete for scarce resources.

The program is mainly targeted at small to medium sized projects, but can be used as a strategic tool on a portfolio of large projects, if these projects and the resources are generalized into broader concepts.

Main limitations

The minimum scheduling unit is one day.

Technical

Will run on Windows XP, Windows Vista, and Windows 7.

Installation: Download and install. You will need administrator rights to your machine.



Testimonials

Multi Project Planner
is a huge winner for our company.

Jimmy Jensen CEO
Danish Track Service (Railway)
jimmy.jensen@danishtrackservice.dk
+45 2517 0398


Ive been using the Multi Project Planner for several years. And I am satisfied with its way of presenting the various projects.
It has even helped me to explain the workload to the customers.

Gunnar Eri
Karosseri Nord AS
gunnar.eri@karno.no



Multi Project Planner will answer questions like: Features

Download a free trial.


Costs
The costs for single user license is 948 USD.

Current version: 2012.08.14