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Infrastructure Update Caveats for Cost Resources

posted July 16th, 2008 by Stephen Sanderlin
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While reviewing the white paper that describes the recent Project 2007 Infrastructure Update in detail, I came upon some interesting information at the end of the document.

Before I start, I first want to thank and congratulate Microsoft on a job well done with the quality and quantity of documentation they’ve provided for this update. Compared to the sometimes-cryptic KB Articles that typically accompany hotfixes and updates, the Infrastructure Update’s documentation is outstanding.

That being said, I do have some concerns relating to the changes in Cost Resources, which are a new way in Project 2007 of accounting for costs associated with a project. Cost Resources are typically used to account for non-work costs such as travel expenses. The Infrastructure Update makes some significant changes to the way that Cost Resources function, and while I am a big fan of the idea of Cost Resources, I cannot help but be concerned by some of the caveats I’ve quoted below:

Best practice use cases
There are still some known potential issues with the behavior of cost resources. In order to avoid any undesirable behavior, we strongly encourage users to follow the guidelines for using cost resource assignments.

  1. Whenever possible, avoid assigning cost resources to tasks where there exists work and/or material resources assigned that may be updated in Project Server.
  2. It is all right to plan costs at Monthly or within another summary time unit, but we strongly discourage users from making complex updates to cost resource assignment actual cost contours at that granularity.
  3. Avoid using cost resources when the task or project has a 24-hour elapsed calendar associated. Costs spreading from one day to another can have unexpected results in this configuration.
  4. Always pay attention to your cost values when editing in the “Usage” views. With user control of both cost and actual cost contours you are in the best position to make sure that the right costs are on the right days.

User scenarios to avoid
Now, with the infrastructure release, cost resources behave in a consistent and predictable manner. And above all, the scalar values (on the left side) and the time-phased sums (right side) of the “Usage” views show the same value for cost resource assignments.
There are, however, some situations we encourage users to avoid.

  1. Try to minimize the number of times you need to “undo” changes to remaining duration on cost resource assignments. This will often lead to data inaccuracies for the time-phased side which further results in an inconsistency between the left and right sides of Project’s usage views.
  2. If for some reason you need to disable the ability for Project to automatically calculate costs (this is a project options setting) your cost resource assignments will have their costs replaced with zeroes like all other costs within the project.
  3. Tasks with cost resource assignments should not have any assignments on these tasks updated in Project Server either by the PWA User Interface or programmatically through the Project Server Interface (PSI).

Many of these items will not be a problem for most users — however, they could present significant problems in some organizations.

The first item that jumps out at me is item one in Best practice use cases. In this item, Microsoft recommends that users avoid assigning Cost Resources to tasks that currently or may in the future have Work or Material Resources also assigned to them. Depending on the reporting requirements for an organization and the way they’ve chosen to structure their project plans, this may present a problem. In simple terms, this restriction will prevent users from associating Cost Resources to a task in their project plan, meaning that it will be impossible to associate a travel expense or similar non-work cost with a task without relying on an external document or a PM’s knowledge.

Further compounding this concern is item three under User scenarios to avoid, which states that tasks with Cost Resources assigned to them should not have any assignments (meaning assignments to Cost, Material, or Work Resources) updated on that task through PWA or the PSI. This means that if you choose to disregard item one in Best practice use cases, you may only perform task updates from within Project Professional. However, it is possible to configure the system so that it will only accept Task Updates through PWA. This essentially eliminates Cost Resources as a tool for organizations who’ve chosen this configuration.

Furthermore, it would be helpful if Microsoft described precisely what happens should you choose to ignore item three under User scenarios to avoid. Does the PSI or PWA interface throw an error? Does the update appear successful but not take effect? Could you corrupt your entire plan? Could you inadvertently trigger Armageddon? Since users of the system invariably question why we make certain suggestions (for example, I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve been asked, “Why are special characters not allowed?”), not giving deployers any information (other than “because we said so”) means that we cannot communicate this to users. In addition, we are almost guaranteed that at least one user will perform the prohibited action, intentionally or otherwise. Depending on the results, we could burn a lot of money trying to chase down whatever issues subsequently arise without any clue as to their true cause.

The next item that jumps out at me is item three in Best practice use cases. Here, Microsoft recommends that users avoid using Cost Resources in tasks or projects where a 24-hour calendar is used. This is a very common scenario for users, and one that will essentially remove Cost Resources as a viable tool.

These concerns aren’t major issues, and deployers should be able to communicate them to their users clearly thanks to the plethora of documentation that Microsoft has provided for this release. In addition, even with these concerns, I think the Infrastructure Update holds a lot of promise. It looks like it will resolve a good number of the outstanding issues that users are experiencing, and makes some great improvements to the system’s infrastructure as well.

Let’s give a round of applause to Project and SharePoint Teams on a job well done!

Stephen Sanderlin is Vice President of Technology for MSProjectExperts and a Microsoft Project MVP. His earlier writings on Project Management and Microsoft Project can be read at EPMFAQ.
He is actively posting new content at ProjectServerHelp.

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