A Logic Tracing Example in Microsoft Project

This article uses BPC Logic Filter to present the progression of a single logic tracing example from a simple approach to a more focused analysis.

[If you came here looking for a simple logic tracing macro and are comfortable using Visual Basic for Applications (VBA), have a look at these two other entries: Macro for tracing filtering and sorting task paths in Microsoft Project and Simple Macro for Listing Driving Predecessor(s) in MS Project.  They may give you what you want as long as your project has simple logic.]

BPC Logic Filter is an excellent tool for defining and visualizing the Critical Path and Near-Critical Paths of a project when Total Slack proves inadequate – namely in the presence of constraints, variable calendars, and resource leveling.  As I’ve written elsewhere, however, the first version of BPC Logic Filter was prompted by a very different, though straightforward stakeholder request: “My people can’t see why they need to finish these tasks so soon. Isn’t there a report or something to show what other tasks (in other departments) are depending on them?”  In other words, couldn’t I group, filter, and sort tasks simply according to logical relationships – in addition to Work Breakdown Structure, responsible department, and other codes.  At its core, the resulting solution was a simple logic tracing routine for exploring, marking, and displaying logical relationships in an existing project schedule.

This article presents the progression of a single logic tracing example from a simple approach to a more focused analysis.

Consider the example of the small installation project presented below.  There is a deadline on the “Substantial Completion” milestone, and the project is 10-days behind schedule.  For unrelated reasons, the project manager has identified a need to trace the predecessors driving one task – “A3 Install Line D.”  The selected task is marked with the arrow in the figure.

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We can first examine the task’s predecessors using MSP’s Task Detail Form and the Task Inspector feature.  The form shows that the task has two finish-to-start predecessors but provides no other schedule information for them.  Task Inspector identifies the second one — ID 22 – A3 Install Line C — as the driving predecessor.  That is the predecessor whose logic is controlling the start date for our task.

The Logic Inspector in BPC Logic Filter presents a single consolidated view of the task’s driving and non-driving predecessors, including other relevant information like dates, task calendars, and resources.  Driving relationships are highlighted and listed at the top, while links to inactive predecessors are de-emphasized and listed at the bottom.  For logical significance, the RelFlt column indicates how far the predecessor relationship is from being a driving relationship, in days.  (Logic Inspector also provides a similar view of successor relationships.)

Using a simple “Trace” macro (like the the one linked above or one of the freeware settings in BPC Logic Filter), it is possible to identify the chain of predecessors and apply a filter to hide the tasks that are not related to the selected task.  As seen in the result shown below, however, the actual driving logic for the selected task is not apparent.  (And no, Total Slack does not define driving logic for this task.)

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With advanced logic analysis features, the relative float of all the predecessor task paths can be defined and displayed.  The following chart shows the entire project, with the predecessor paths of the selected task highlighted according to their path relative float in days.  (Path relative float indicates how much a particular task or path may be delayed before affecting the selected task; i.e. “days away from driving”.)  Path relative float is indicated numerically at the right side of each related bar.  Unrelated bars are de-emphasized and colored green.

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BPC Logic Filter allows one variation – bounded network analysis – to only show connections to a particular target task.  The figure below highlights the connections between the selected task, A3 Install Line D, and the target task, A2 Civil.

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The previous two figures displayed the related task paths in-line and within the context of the overall project view.  A more focused view of the driving and near-driving paths is provided by applying a filter to hide all unrelated tasks, as shown here.

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It is often useful to group and sort tasks to clearly display the chain of driving logic and associated near-driving paths.  The first group in the figure below – “BPC Relative Float (d): 0” – indicates the driving logical path for the selected activity.  The next two groups depict branching logical paths (one task each) that are 10- and 20-days away from driving the selected task.

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Finally, when attempting to accelerate a task by shortening its driving logical path, Drag quantifies the maximum acceleration that may be gained by shortening a particular task along that path.  Drag is limited by the existence of parallel paths, as clearly evidenced by Tasks 6 and 11 in the figure below.  For focused acceleration of complex projects, the Drag metric can assist in prioritizing actions.

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The examples shown here represent successively more powerful analyses of driving logic for an arbitrary task in a project schedule.  If that task were the final task or a key completion milestone for the project, then the resulting special case of the driving path would be the “Critical Path” for the project.

See a related video entry here: http://www.boyleprojectconsulting.com/TomsBlog/2016/11/07/video-logic-tracing-example-in-microsoft-project/