Linking is the key

Microsoft Project is a great entry-level application for Project Management.  You can create a list of Tasks, estimate their Duration’s and link them together with Dependencies.  This is done by analysing which Tasks can’t start until a previous Task has finished.

The program can then calculate the Start and End dates for every Task and therefore give a predicted date for the project’s completion.

What’s more, because the Tasks are linked, when you enter the fact that one of them has over-run, the delay is automatically reflected in the dates of the Tasks that follow (its Successors).

Also, there are a host of other features that enable Microsoft Project to model situations which may occur in the real world.

Entering the Tasks

In the following illustration, I have created a simple project plan.  Tasks have been entered, along with their duration’s and I’ve implemented a Work Breakdown Structure.

SchedulingA

Notice that I’ve used generic names to emphasise the structure of the plan.  Task A1 is a sub-task of Task A – Task A.1.1 is a sub-task of A.1 and so on.

Creating Dependencies

In the situation where one Task cannot start until the previous one has finished, you should link them with a Dependency.

SchedulingB

Here are three different methods for setting up these links:

  • Select a Task – Hold down the Ctrl key whilst selecting the Task which depends on it – Choose [Task/Schedule] – Link Tasks
  • Drag with the mouse from the centre of a Gantt bar to its successor
  • In the Predecessors column type the ID number of the Task which precedes this one in the schedule

Scheduling with Dates

Sometimes, outside influences have an effect on your project.  In our example, Task A.1.3 cannot start until a particular piece of machinery arrives.  We have been told that will not be until 21st March.  By entering this date into the Start column, we ensure that this task will not begin before that date.  Notice how Microsoft Project recalculates the dates of any linked Tasks, which in turn affects the Project End Date.

SchedulingC

Technically, we have introduced a Date Constraint. This is shown by an indicator at the left hand end of the relevant row.

Introducing a Delay

Let’s say that Task A.1.1 is to plaster a wall, Task A.1.2 is to paint that wall.  Once the plastering task is complete we want to allow two days for the plaster to dry before beginning to paint the wall.

When you need to allow a delay between linked tasks, you can introduce a Lag. There are several methods for doing this.  Perhaps the simplest is to double-click on the link line between the dependent tasks.  In the resultant dialog box, enter 2d into the Lag: box.

Note that the entry 2d refers to two working days (i.e. excluding weekends and public holidays).  In this case, as the first Task ends on a Friday, the successor is actually scheduled for the following Wednesday.

Overlapping Tasks

In a different situation, you may want to begin a Task before its predecessor has finished. Suppose that Task A.3 involves some work on partition walls.  These are being built by Task A.2.  After one day of construction work, the new task can begin – we imagine that the builders are now at the far end of the room out of our way!

Once again we double-click on the link line to show the Task Dependency dialog box.  This time we also need to change the Type: of the dependency. The default setting of Finish-to-Start means a Task can’t start before the previous one has finished.  With Start-to-Start, both Tasks can start on the same day, so they run concurrently.  Adding a Lag: of 1d pushes back the start date of the second Task.

 

Notice here that the link line comes from the left hand end of the first Task.

Splitting Tasks

Another feature available in Microsoft Project is the ability to split a task into two or more sections.

Imagine that a piece of equipment required for Task A.1.2 must be used on a different project on Friday 11th March.  We can still commence the task as planned on 09/03/2016, work on it for two days, but then pause until the following Monday in order to complete the task.

Here is the technique required:

  • Choose [Task/Schedule] – Split Task
  • Take the mouse pointer over the Gantt Bar and click over the date that you don’t want to work on the Task

SchedulingF

The program will produce a split of one day.  Drag the bar for the second section to the right to increase the delay.

To Sum up

In this blog I’ve explored the ways that Microsoft Project can take a simple plan and cope with the complexities that life can throw at it.  Most situations that you will come across can handled using a combination of these features.

These skills and many more are featured in our Introduction, Intermediate and Advanced training courses.  Click here to find out more.