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Clarity – MS Project Best Practices
By Jorge Dominguez

First things first: What is Clarity1 and what is the difference between Clarity and MS Project2? Do we need to use both? Why?

Clarity (formerly Niku) is a project management information system with functionality to do communication management, time management (including scheduling), cost management, resource management, risk management, and portfolio management. You can create projects, create a budget, add/remove resources to projects, manage project risks and issues, baseline a project, enter project actuals, store project documentation and monitor the project health.

MS Project (MSP for short) is a project scheduler. You can add/change/remove tasks and milestones, create task dependencies, add/remove resources to tasks, estimate task work or duration, identify the critical path, and level resources.

Because MSP does project scheduling better than Clarity they are used in conjunction so that all scheduling tasks are performed in MSP and uploaded back to Clarity. The user interface in Clarity is not conducive to doing project scheduling as easily as in MSPs Excel-like already familiar interface.

When MSP is used as a scheduling tool with Clarity, there are rules and one of them is that Clarity “rules”: Clarity owns everything, including the schedule. It just allows you to temporarily “borrow” the schedule by downloading it into MSP so that you can make the necessary changes and hand it back; all of this via a Clarity-MSP interface that neither Clarity nor Microsoft are proud of.

The other rules are not as simple and are not spelled out anywhere except by third party vendors and consultants that have been there and done that. If you follow these best practices that I have collected through some years of working with both tools you will avoid a lot of trouble and frustration:

  • Interface installation – Follow the interface installation instructions from top to bottom without missing anything. You want to do it right the first time so that you can continue to the “MSP configuration”
  • MSP configuration – Ensure MSP is configured to work with Clarity as per the installation instructions provided by Clarity’s manufacturer. Clarity limits the functionality of MSP. This means that you cannot use MSPs functionality to their full extent when it works in conjunction with Clarity
  • Password protection – Don’t password protect the project in MSP, Clarity does not support it
  • New projects – Don’t use the “Save As to Clarity” (on MSPs Integration Toolbar) to create and save a new project from MSP to Clarity. All projects have to be created in Clarity first using the project creation functionality
  • Project save – Don’t use the MSPs File/Save or the File/Save As functions because they don’t save to Clarity
  • Copy/cut and paste – In MSP, we are all used to copy or cut and paste a whole row. Clarity doesn’t like it because each row of the schedule is provided with a unique Clarity ID that cannot be duplicated
  • Drag and drop – Same as “Copy/cut and paste”
  • Resource assignment – Only assign resources to a task in MSP that are already allocated to the project in Clarity first. If you create resources directly into MSP that are not in the Clarity project the project will not be saved back to Clarity
  • Blank task names – Blank task names are not supported in Clarity. They will acquire their Clarity internal ID as the task name upon the save to Clarity
  • Split tasks – Clarity does not support the split task functionality of MSP
  • Do not use Effort Driven – Clarity does not support Effort Driven tasks. Do not mark tasks as Effort Driven in MSP
  • Do not use Fixed Work – Task type Fixed Work is not supported by Clarity because of its effort driven nature; do not mark a task with this type in MSP or it will create unexpected results down the road
  • Do not use recurring tasks – Recurring tasks are not supported by Clarity and, in the best case scenario, will be converted to ordinary tasks once saved to Clarity, in the worse case, you will get unexpected results when uploading the project back to Clarity
  • Terminology – Get the terminology straight. For example, allocation in MSP is always used loosely when talking about both allocation and assignment, however, in Clarity, allocation is when a resource has been added to a project, and assignment is when that resource has been assigned to at least a task in that project
  • Field names – Be aware that some fields in MSP do not share the same name in Clarity. For example, Remaining Work in MSP is called Estimate To Complete (or ETC) in Clarity. You can always rename the MSP column name (a nice feature of MSP)
  • Clarity reserved fields – Clarity has reserved some fields for its exclusive use: Text1 through Text5, Flag1, Resource Name, Initials, Email, Number1, and Number2. Bad things will happen if you use them, for example, Text3 holds Clarity’s unique ID for each task and you can imaging what will happen if this is changed
  • Calendars – Clarity is the source of calendars. Changes made to the calendars in MSP will not be saved to Clarity and will only persist until you close MSP
  • Resource leveling – There is no resource leveling functionality in Clarity similar to MSPs. Continue to perform a manual leveling in MSP for each project; you can try the automatic leveling if you are comfortable with the unexpected results it always give you (in any case, always save a copy of the schedule before trying it)
  • Baseline – Do not baseline in MSP. Clarity owns the project baseline and this is done in Clarity
  • Actuals – Do not manipulate project actuals in MSP. Actuals are entered via Clarity’s timesheet functionality
  • Task completion – If you use MSP to mark tasks as “Complete” remember to change the Remaining Work (ETC in Clarity) to zero. If a task’s Remaining Work Hours or Remaining Work is zero in MSP and the completion is 100%, the complete task must be changed to 100% and the status changed to Complete
  • Save frequently – Frequently, save your plan to Clarity. The more often you save it, the easier it will be to recover if you do something you want to back out of

The best advice of all is to completely avoid MSP functions that are not supported by Clarity and you will save yourself and others a lot of time. Don’t you think so…? Well, I do.

1Clarity (version 8.1.1 as of this writing) is a product of CA, Inc
2MS Office Project (version 2007 as of this writing) is a product of Microsoft Corp.

Jorge Dominguez, PMP®

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