P6 User Tips: Activity Searching and Linking

At Alpha3, we are always looking for more efficient approaches to schedule preparation, without sacrificing quality. In fact, an efficient approach to schedule design and development improves quality by creating consistency and reducing the rate of errors.

To that end, we note that schedule development in P6 can be a time-consuming task with thousands of clicks and keystrokes. This article presents some time-saving tips for finding activities and creating activity relationships to help schedulers work smarter.

Searching in the Activities Screen

P6 has implemented several search capabilities that were not available in P3. The only way to look-up an activity on the activities screen in P3 was by the ID. If you did not know the ID, you had to create a filter or cut-and-paste the activity list to Excel or another program with a more robust search capability. Thankfully, P6 includes a ‘Find’ command, which can be accessed from the edit menu.

To access the Find command quickly (without taking your hands off of the keyboard) use Alt-E, F. Hold down the ‘Alt’ key while pressing‘E’ to pull down the menu, then release both and press ‘F’ to select the ‘Find’command. Most Windows programs have menu shortcuts that can be accessed quickly from the keyboard. Underlined letters on the menu bar will pull down the menu when pressed in conjunction with the ‘Alt’ key. Once the menu is pulled down, any underlined letters on the menu will execute the selected command simply by pressing the letter (without the ‘Alt’ key).

One limitation of the ‘Find’ command is that the selection box in P6 must be in the column that you are searching. In other words, if you are searching for an Activity ID, select the Activity ID column before executing the ‘Find’ command. If you are searching for a word in an Activity Name, select the Activity Name column.

Searching in the Predecessors and Successors Selection Dialogs

Another nice feature of P6 is that you can look-up activities more quickly in the predecessors and successors selection dialogs when defining relationships. Being able to look up activities by their description in the predecessor and successor dialogs eliminates the burden of having to page through the entire list of activities to find the one that you want to link.

If you know the ID of the activity to which you want to link, place your cursor in the text box at the top of the dialog and type the first few characters of the ID until the activity is selected. If you do not know the ID, simply type the first few letters or words of the activity name until it is selected. Strangely, you do not need to select the Activity Name column to search by Activity Name in the predecessors and successors dialogs as you must do on the activities screen itself.

If you type a few letters or words and find that all activities on the list are hidden, leaving nothing but WBS headings, you will know that you have mis-typed the start of the description—backspace until a few activities appear, and try again. Using a WBS to organize activities is a virtual must in P6, and the way in which P6 groups activities by WBS by default is also helpful in finding the activity for which you are looking.

Making Relationships More Quickly and Minimizing Errors

Once you’ve found an activity and selected it, you can click the small green plus sign to make the relationship. You can also select additional activities on the activity screen one by one and add the same predecessor (or successor) to those activities simply by clicking the green plus sign once as you select them one at a time. For example, this is helpful in situations where you would like to add a particular milestone as a start predecessor to a number of activities within the same phase of work and the start milestone kicks-off the phase.

At Alpha3, we like all of our successors from start milestones to be start-to-start relationships. Of course, finish-to-start is the default relationship in P6. The easiest way to change many relationships is to go to select the start milestone itself and change them all once they have been created. In this way, we can create the relationships quickly, then correct them all to start-to-start quickly. As a quality check once your schedule is complete, verify that all successor relationships from start milestones are start-to-start and all predecessor relationships to finish milestones are finish-to-finish. We believe this is consistent with good scheduling practice and demonstrates that the scheduler has shown attention to detail.

More importantly, run a filter for activities with no predecessors or no successors to verify that your schedule has no open ends. To do this, use the filters dialog to create a filter. The filter specification should state ‘(Any of the following) Where Predecessors equals [blank] Or Successors equals [blank].’ Just leave the spaces after Predecessors and Successors blank. Don’t type the word ‘blank.’

We call this filter the ‘Open Ends’ filter. When you run it, the only activities that should appear on the screen are the first and last activities in your schedule network. If you have more than two activities on your screen, your schedule has open ends. These open ends should be closed to provide for a complete Critical Path Method network. While you may feel that some activities may not have a significant logical predecessor or successor in the schedule, all project activities should start after the project start and finish before the project finish. Therefore, the project start and finish milestones should be logical predecessors and successors if there are no others that can be identified. Most schedules that have open ends have more issues, and closing open ends demonstrates attention to detail and quality scheduling.

Keep up the good scheduling.