Goal: Optimize the project plan to meet the finish date

Applies to
Microsoft Office Project 2003
Microsoft Office Project Server 2003
Microsoft Project 2000 and 2002

After you build your project plan, you need to review the scheduled finish date. If the plan does not meet your targeted finish date, and if meeting your finish date is important to project success, you can optimize the plan to meet this date. As you change the aspects of your plan that relate to the finish date, however, remember that you are likely to change the costs and scope.

 Tip   This article is part of a series of articles that describe a broad set of project management activities. We call these activities "goals" because they are organized around the project management life cycle: Build a plan, track and manage a project, and close a project. The project life cycle is outlined in The Project Map, where you can find a link to an article about each project management goal. Most of the articles include links to supporting information or procedures that you perform in Project or Project Server. These "goal" articles were designed to help you not only use Project but also better understand project management.

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Runners in a relay race

number 1 Specify and review project dates     Reviewing project dates can help you to see whether you are meeting the targeted finish date and whether you need to make any further adjustments to meet that date.

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Number 2 Identify the critical path     If you are not meeting your targeted finish date, seeing the critical path (critical path: The series of tasks that must be completed on schedule for a project to finish on schedule. Each task on the critical path is a critical task.) can help you to focus on adjusting calendars (calendar: The scheduling mechanism that determines working time for resources and tasks. Project uses four types of calendars: the base calendar, project calendar, resource calendar, and task calendar.), scope (scope: The combination of all project goals and tasks, and the work required to accomplish them.), tasks (task: An activity that has a beginning and an end. Project plans are made up of tasks.), and assignments (assignment: A specific resource that is assigned to a particular task.) to make changes to the critical path tasks and therefore the finish date.

Number 3 Estimate durations by using PERT analysis     The duration (duration: The total span of active working time that is required to complete a task. This is generally the amount of working time from the start to finish of a task, as defined by the project and resource calendar.) estimation tools in Project can help you to develop realistic durations for the tasks in your project plan.

Number 4 Adjust the plan to meet the finish date     You can use a variety of strategies, including adjusting calendars, scope, tasks, and assignments, to meet the targeted finish date.

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You might need to reduce the scope (scope: The combination of all project goals and tasks, and the work required to accomplish them.) to meet the finish date or the budget (budget: The estimated cost of a project that you establish in Project with your baseline plan.). Or, after building your project plan, you might have more time or money than expected. In either case, you can change the scope of the project. You can choose between changing the deliverables (deliverable: A tangible and measurable result, outcome, or item that must be produced to complete a project or part of a project. Typically, the project team and project stakeholders agree on project deliverables before the project begins.) of the product or changing the scope of the project.

  • Cut the product deliverables     By cutting product deliverables, you are actually providing less to the customers or stakeholders than you planned. For example, to meet a project's finish date or budget, you decide to cut features from the product that were originally planned and approved by the customers. In this case, you probably need to obtain customer approval and you may need to adjust the contract, if applicable.
  • Cut the project scope     Change the way that you produce the project deliverables. For example, you decide to remove a market research task from a project, and you also reduce the duration of product testing in order to meet the finish date or budget. In this case, the end product and deliverables don't change. However, you changed the method for providing this end product by reducing the scope of the project.
  • Use available time or budget     You can add project deliverables. Or you can increase the scope of the project itself, which often results in a higher quality product.
  • Consider the impact that changes in the scope can have on the quality     You might need to reduce the scope to meet the finish date or the budget (budget: The estimated cost of a project that you establish in Project with your baseline plan.). Or, after building your project plan, you might have more time or money than expected. In either case, you can change the scope of the project. When you decide whether and how to change the project scope, consider that the quality and scope are closely related. If you cut the scope, you might have to accept a reduced level of quality. If you increase the scope, you will probably increase the quality in the project and in the resulting product.
  • Change a duration to meet the finish date by reducing the amount of time planned for critical path tasks. Be sure that the reduced duration still reflects a minimum reality. Also be sure to adjust the corresponding amount of work assigned to resources.
  • Remove a task to meet the finish date. Removing tasks can decrease the quality of the overall project implementation. Tasks that must be done should still be reflected in the plan, and only those tasks that are considered optional should be removed.
  • Replace a resource assignment to meet the finish date. You can replace a slower resource with a faster one, such as a person with more experience, equipment with higher capacity, or material with a quicker setting time.

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Number 5 Adjust the plan to take advantage of additional time    

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After you build your plan and Project calculates the schedule (schedule: The timing and sequence of tasks within a project. A schedule consists mainly of tasks, task dependencies, durations, constraints, and time-oriented project information.) and cost (cost: The total scheduled cost for a task, resource, or assignment, or for an entire project. This is sometimes referred to as the current cost. In Project, baseline costs are usually referred to as "budget.") for the project, you might have more time or an increased budget (budget: The estimated cost of a project that you establish in Project with your baseline plan.). You can choose to end the project ahead of schedule or under budget. Or, you can increase the scope (scope: The combination of all project goals and tasks, and the work required to accomplish them.) and add quality (quality: The degree of excellence, or the desired standards, in a product, process, or project.) to the project deliverables.

Number 6 Enter a note about schedule changes     Log information about changes you made to meet the finish date. Such notes can be helpful when you are tracking actual progress, closing the project, or collecting data for the next project.

Number 7 Evaluate the results of schedule optimization     This evaluation ensures that you did indeed meet the finish date and that costs, workload, and other projects were not adversely affected by these changes.

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Number 8 Communicate assignment changes to resources     If you assigned new tasks to resources (resources: The people, equipment, and material that are used to complete tasks in a project.) or changed or removed existing assignments as a result of meeting the finish date, you can communicate these changes to the affected resources, either online or by printing assignment reports (report: A format in which you can print schedule information that is appropriate for the intended recipients. You can use the predefined reports provided by Project or create custom reports.).