MVPs for Office and SharePoint 2010: Mitigating Risk with Project 2010 and Inactive Tasks

Editor's Note: The following is a guest post by MVP Bill Raymond as part of the MVP Award Program Blog's "MVPs for Office and SharePoint 2010" series. Bill Raymond has served the Project Management industry for nearly 20 years. His project experience ranges from managing commercial software releases to implementing ERP systems and developing business processes to build corporate governance policies and standards. Bill is currently the Vice President of Solutions at Program Planning Professionals, Inc. (Pcubed) and has held the title of Microsoft Project MVP since 2001 .

Okay so the title may not sound too catchy but it is real important to us Project Managers.  A Risk is something that could happen (and an Issue is something that did).

Here is a scenario I run into all the time on IT projects.  One of the risks is the hardware to run a new piece of software never ships on time.  I get a quote from IT that it will take 3 weeks to get the hardware and another 2 to setup.  We log a risk that it could take longer for the hardware to show up and then, surprise, surprise, the risk occurs.  Now, the hardware takes 8 weeks and due to conflicts, it won’t be configured for another 4.  In Microsoft Project, I used to create the schedule that with the original estimate of 3 weeks to acquire the equipment and 2 weeks for setup.

(graphic: NoRiskImplemented.png)

Given past experience, you and your team members can usually tell you what risks are more than likely to occur.  For those tasks, I like to sit down with the teams and say “okay, tell me what we will do if this happens”.  Then I copy the current project plan and create a new Microsoft Project file that contains more tasks in them if risks occur.  In this case, the IT team might say if the risk occurs, add another task to borrow hardware from another project and install some of the software on older hardware device until the new ones come in.

Maintaining two plans is extremely difficult because you have to keep them in sync manually and it is a real administrative burden.  With Microsoft Project 2010, you can use this very nice new feature called “Inactive Tasks”.  This new feature is not just designed for risk mitigation but I think most project managers will really like using it for this reason.  Here, you can add all the risks into your project plan and just make them inactive.  If the risk occurs you “Activate” them and suddenly the risk is fully integrated into the plan.


(graphic: InactiveTasks.png)

As you can see in the graphic above, I created some tasks related to potential risks and then fully integrated them into the critical path.  Note however that some tasks are linked to the task yet the plan hasn’t adjusted with the durations I entered.

When the risk occurs, I can simply make the tasks Active and my project will automatically update.

(graphic: activated tasks)

Note that the graphic above now shows the Risk tasks as being active and the dates in the project plan changed to account for these new items.

This new Inactive Tasks feature is a welcome change and should greatly reduce the amount of time a Project Manager spends in managing project risk.