Cross Project Linking Protocol


While working on a large project with 25+ individual project schedules, I discovered some nuances within cross-project linking.  This may be common knowledge for some of you experienced project managers, but if I can save anyone the frustration that I incurred, then the following information is worth sharing.

First and most importantly, have one dedicated resource in charge of all cross-project tasks linking.  The old saying, “Too many hands in the pie…” was created for a very good reason.  If you do not incorporate the aforementioned standard, be prepared to deal with the following:

  • Cross-project tasks linked to files that have been archived, backed-up or copied. One task may be linked multiple times to the same task.  As the file ebbs and flows with changes in MS Project, the task name will remain the same, but the task ID number may change.
  • Cross project tasks linked to unknown file path names.  This can occur from a project manager conducting the following tasks:
  1. Downloading their file to a thumb-drive and;
  2. Diligently taking their file home to “work from home” on a non-standardized application and;
  3. Uploading their file to a home computer and then making changes and links within their project and;
  4. The major fatal error…is re-uploading their file to the shared drive server at the workplace.
Notice in the picture below that the same external tasks are linked several times. This particular multi-linking occurred when a file was uploaded to a different application, worked on and then re-uploaded to another server.  The file task name remained the same within the ghost tasks, but the file path names vary.   Some of the ghost tasks did not have a file path name attached to them.  Actually, there should only be one ghost task titled “Standard Transactions-C.”  Notice that the duration was listed differently within each external link.  Luckily, there was a good link to the server at the workplace which made it easier for the project scheduler to narrow out the bad links.
Believe it or not, this does happen more often than I wish to acknowledge.  Do not get me wrong, this creates job security for a project scheduler, but after a while ENOUGH IS ENOUGH!
Let us not forget about those savvy project managers that know just enough about MS Project to get their MS Project schedule files completely out of whack.  In this particular scenario, I had an IT Project Manager decide to link their tasks to another project file. What they failed to understand is that you cannot open one schedule and then another, highlight both tasks and link them!  Sure they will appear linked, but there will be no file path to follow between the two files.  An innocent person reviewing the file will have no idea which two files are linked.  The task names will appear as ghost tasks, but there will not be a file path.  When you are dealing with 25+ schedules, good luck locating the linked task when all you have to go on is a task name!  Better yet, maybe the task name was not built out detailed enough and it is a one liner…good luck!
Now that we have reviewed a few of the “don’t go there in cross-project task linking,” let us take a look at a few cross-project task linking best practices:
  • As stated above and worth re-stating, have one person responsible for all cross-project tasks linking.
  • When linking tasks from two separate files, practice the following steps:

1.      Make sure the two separate files are in a consolidated project plan or master project plan.

2.      Once the files have been placed into a consolidated project or master project, click on the task that will be an external predecessor.  Next, hold down the control button and click on the task that will be in the external successor.

3.      Click the link button on your standard tool bar. The two tasks are now linked.

4.      “Task relationships between project plans look similar to links between tasks within a project plan, except that external predecessor and successor tasks have gray task names and Gantt bars.  Such tasks are sometimes referred to as ghost tasks because they are not linked to tasks within the project plan, only to tasks in other project plans” (C. Chatfield and T. Johnson, 2007).

Now that you have been given a quick snippet of cross project linking, link away!  But remember to follow Cross Project Linking Protocol!

Chatfield, Carl and Johnson, Timothy (2007). Microsoft Office Project 207 Step by Step. Microsoft Press, Redmond, Washington.

Posted By: Mindy Ogles
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    I have project crashing issues with few projects saved on Project server 2007 that have cross-project links.
    Although I applied the latest Feb CU, it did not help.
    Any ideas how to avoid crash..?



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