Calculating National and Religious Holidays for Your Project Schedule

In November, 2014 I began an annual tradition: I collected a list of commonly observed national and religious holidays for the coming calendar year, and suggested that those holidays observed by the project team be accounted for as non-working days in project schedules for the coming year. But it’s time to remove myself from the equation: I’ve prepared an Excel workbook that will calculate my (now expanded) list of national and religious holidays, from 2021 through 2030.

How it Works

Many holidays are observed on a specific date, such as Canada Day. Organizations that observe these holidays usually have their own rules for what day to take off when they occur on a weekend, so excepting US Independence Day and Christmas, I don’t try to predict whether Friday or Monday will be non-working. Other holidays are based on relative dates such as third Monday of January, like Martin Luther King’s Birthday. In a couple of cases, the authorities added a wrinkle, such as last Monday in August. Others are based on a Lunar calendar; rather than try to calculate Lunar New Year or Passover, I created a look-up table and populated it through 2030.

Download the workbook using the link at the bottom of this page. Then enter the year you want to schedule for in the cell at the top of the Holidays tab, highlighted in orange.

Change Working Time in MS Project

Navigation depends on which version of project you are using. In Microsoft Project 2007, under the Tools menu, select Change Working Time.  In Project 2010 and later, on the Project tab, select Change Working Time.  You can then enter the holidays under the Exceptions tab.  Note that Exception days appear in the calendar in blue; however, if you have selected one of the exception dates, as shown in the example below, the date will appear in red.  Scheduled non-working days appear in gray.  Note that you can also make an exception of a scheduled non-working day, so that it appears to be a working day.  Use this feature carefully – having some of the team working over a weekend can easily throw off the scheduled for the entire team.

Creating a Custom Calendar

You can also create custom calendars, if your team is spread across multiple countries with different holidays. Again, the version of Microsoft Project you are using makes a difference in navigation. In Project 2007, under the Tools menu, select Change Working Time. In Project 2010 or later, on the Project tab, select Change Working Time. Click the Create New Calendar button in the upper right. Give the new calendar a meaningful name, then click the Make a copy of radio button. Select the Standard calendar from the pull-down list. Then click OK.

At this point, you can add the dates you want to mark as exceptions to the working calendar.  Enter the Name, Start, and Finish dates. Then click the Details button. Click the Working Times radio button.  The default working hours will appear; change them only if necessary.

Click OK to return to your custom calendar and enter the non-working dates that apply. Then assign each team member to the appropriate calendar using the Resource Sheet, in the column labeled Base.

Scheduling with Multiple Calendars

While it can be helpful to have MS Project automagically re-schedule after you make a change, be cognizant of what can happen when you have a summary task involving team members using different calendars. A change of one day in one detail task can cause the summary task completion date to change by two or more days. Scrutinize the results before you publish them, and investigate anything that seems wrong.

Once your career has progressed beyond managing a few folks co-located in one cube farm, your ability to think globally and manage a geographically distributed team will be key to how far you can go. Develop your multi-cultural knowledge, awareness, and communication skills, and when someone is needed to manage a project that crosses borders, you’ll be ready.

Estimating Based on a Model of Project Execution

I initiated and managed a lot of projects over my career of 30 years or so. Along the way, I observed some common mistakes, both my own and others, that impact the quality of estimates for cost and schedule. Much of this comes down to the way these estimates are prepared. I’ve got a few thoughts to share on managing the preparation of preliminary estimates, so that proposed projects can be approved based on information that the decision makers can believe reflect an understanding of both the problems and the solutions, and how to achieve them.

An Estimate is Based on a Model

Any estimate of the labor and non-labor costs of planned work must be based on an understanding of what work needs to be done, how it will be accomplished, and who will perform the work. In other words, a project plan. A good estimate should reflect a range of possible values, with a confidence level, and should document identified risks and related assumptions, including an assumed start date.

A Schedule, Not A Plan

A project plan is not merely a schedule, depicted in a Gantt chart. It reflects a number of decisions, from scope and high-level requirements to how the transition from the current state to the end state will occur. It takes constraints, non-functional requirements, and relevant organizational processes into consideration. In addition to direct work on deliverables and supporting activities in the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS), it includes plans for activities such as acquisition, staffing, cost reporting and budget management, risk management, security, and likely others. All of these plans are combined in what is known as integration management. Taken together, they constitute a model of how the project will be executed, which can be used as a basis for meaningful estimates.

What, How, and Who

The matter of what work is to be done is reflected in the WBS. The most meaningful estimate of project costs is rolled up from estimates for each work package. Note that initial work package estimates should assume that all inputs and other resources will be available. Dependencies must be planned for, but work on that when scheduling, rather than when when estimating. There are usually few completely new tasks in most projects, and past experience should drive estimates, even if different people will perform the work. Three-point estimates should be prepared for each work package—most optimistic, most likely, and most pessimistic. These parametric estimates can then be used in Monte Carlo simulations of the project.

 

 

How the work will be accomplished is a technical matter. An architecture or technical approach document, based on the high-level capabilities required for the delivered product, is a practical minimum. A more detailed design document is better, if available for an initial estimate. Either way, know how you’re going to skin this cat! Make any necessary assumptions and document them to be delivered as part of the overall estimate model.

Note that the who doesn’t usually need to be a specific, named person. It’s helpful to have an assigned team before any estimates are required, but that isn’t usually the case, unless it’s a purely internal project to be performed by an established team. It is conventional wisdom that those who will perform the work provide the most accurate estimates, but that isn’t always the case.  For projects where some of the work will be performed under contracts or by contingent workers, you may have to make estimates with a lower confidence level, but that doesn’t mean that they can’t be useful.

Reducing Uncertainty

The goal of estimating should be to reduce uncertainty to a level where decisions and commitments can be made. Not commitments to a precise cost or schedule, but simply to proceed, in pursuit of specific benefits. And that decision to proceed must always be contingent on evidence of progress commensurate with expectations. As the project progresses, actual cost and labor figures can be used to update the estimate, further reducing uncertainty, so that decision makers can re-commit to continuing the project. As the project plan and schedule evolve, the estimate model should track that evolution. A baseline estimate is necessary, but so is a current estimate.

The best estimates open a dialog. You wouldn’t seriously support the Hashtag, “#NoCommunicating,” would you?

In Closing

We should not manage on a ballistic trajectory, where nothing can change between pulling the trigger and impact on the target. Like modern guided missiles, continuous corrections must be made, in order to optimize the effects of scarce resources—human, financial, and calendar. Agile methods are commonly used these days, but there are others, such as stage gates. Whatever governance model is used, a detailed estimate model, updated throughout project execution, will provide much better decision support than a round number.

 

 

 

New PM Articles for the Week of March 16 – 22

New project management articles published on the web during the week of March 16 – 22. And this week’s video: Harry Hall talks about the need to identify a risk owner along with the project risks you want to manage. 3 minutes, safe for work.

Ethics, Business Acumen and Strategy

  • Zorana Ivcevic and colleagues reports on results of a survey that found an alarming level of pressure to act unethically in US organizations. 5 minutes to read.
  • Ron Rivers examines the intersection of technology and labor, from early history to the near future. 13 minutes to read.
  • Adam Rasmi reports that COVID-19 is also impacting negotiations between the UK and EU on a post-Brexit free trade agreement. 2 minutes to read.

Managing Projects

  • Mike Clayton explains how to manage multiple projects at once. Video, 15 minutes, safe for work.
  • Marina Pilipenko tutors us on project cost management. 7 minutes to read.
  • Peter Landau coaches us on making a procurement management plan. Part of it is a commercial, but you also watch television, right? 6 minutes to read.
  • Jory MacKay guides us through writing a communication plan. 9 minutes to read.
  • Brad Egeland walks us through the process of handing a project off to another project manager. 4 minutes to read.
  • The nice folks at Clarizen compiled a list of five books that every project manager should read. 3 minutes to read.

Managing Software Development

  • Stefan Wolpers curates his weekly list of Agile content, from what drives performance of a distributed agile team to disagreement in distributed teams to the magic of conflict. 7 outbound links, 3 minutes to read.
  • Kiron Bondale argues that domain and organizational knowledge are the key requirement for prospective product managers. 3 minutes to read.
  • Tanay Agrawal suggests that product managers need to see their product like a new user, every single day. 5 minutes to read.
  • Henny Portman shows the difference between incremental and iterative Here’s Part Two, about ten minutes to read both parts.
  • Ankur Jain explains a diagram of the DevOps life cycle. 2 minutes to read.
  • Maximilian Bauer says that being smarter about test cases and how they are structured can save money in testing. 7 minutes to read.

Applied Leadership

  • George Pitagorsky tells us how to manage fear and anger in projects. 5 minutes to read.
  • Christine Trodella has some thoughts on managing newly remote workers, when you don’t know how long they’ll be working from home. 7 minutes to read.
  • Sharlyn Lauby uses the Marvel Cinematic Universe to illustrate keys points on how to manage the external workforce, both project-based and recurring. 4 minutes to read, plus a video interview, 10 minutes, safe for work.
  • Amelia Salyers curates a list of 22 articles for leaders from the past few years, published by venture capital firm Andreeson Horowitz. 5 minutes to read the synopses.

Cybersecurity and Data Protection

  • Curtis Franklin gives us a brief overview of how to quantify cybersecurity risks. 4 minutes to read.
  • Brenda Sharton sees plentiful opportunities for cybercriminals in the new “work from home” mantra of COVID-19. 4 minutes to read.

Pot Pourri

  • Elizabeth Harrin gives us some useful pointers for setting up our home office. 4 minutes to read.
  • Stephanie Vozza notes that generalists tend to be more successful, but only if they get really good at a few useful skills that combine to make them stand out. 3 minutes to read.
  • Sarath C P shares six tips for creating an effective elevator pitch. 5 minutes to read. You’ll need to find your own elevator …

Enjoy!