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How to Schedule Tasks Manually or Automatically in Project 2010

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  kbnotes's Photo
Posted Apr 20 2010 09:37 AM

Some project managers want or need more scheduling control over their project. That is, they want to be able to manually enter duration, start dates, and finish dates, without causing those entries to recalculate other aspects of the schedule.

Other project managers need a scheduling engine that automatically calculates dates when entering or changing task information. When they enter a task duration, they want the tool to figure when the task will end, and when they make a change, they don’t want to have to manually compute all the ripple effects throughout the schedule.

New in Microsoft Project 2010 is the ability to choose whether a task should be scheduled manually or automatically. By default, all new tasks are set for manual scheduling, although this default can easily be changed. Manually scheduled tasks can be switched to automatic scheduling, and vice versa. You can have a mixture of both manually and automatically scheduled tasks within a project plan. Whether you schedule manually, automatically, or a mixture of both can depend largely on your project planning style, the development stage of the plan, and the complexity of your project.

Being able to control the scheduling yourself or letting Project 2010 calculate the schedule for you gives you the flexibility you need as the project manager. But with this control, more awareness and responsibility are needed. Like many other choices you make in Project 2010, your selection of manual or automatic scheduling for some or all of your tasks can significantly affect how you can use other aspects of Project 2010. We’ll try to point those out where relevant throughout this chapter as well as throughout the book.

Manually Scheduling Tasks

With manually scheduled tasks, also known as user-controlled scheduling, when you enter a task, no duration, start date, or finish date is assumed or calculated for you by Project 2010. In fact, the Duration, Start, and Finish fields are blank. You are free to leave them blank until you have more information. You can enter a duration without dates. You can enter a start date without a finish date. You can even enter text in the Duration, Start, and Finish fields.

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Manually scheduled tasks are marked with the pushpin icon in the Task Mode field of the Gantt Chart.

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If you enter two out of three bits of scheduling information, such as the duration and finish date or the start and finish date, the task is marked with the pushpin icon. If you enter no scheduling information, or maybe just one bit, like just the duration or just the start date, the task is marked with the pushpin question mark icon.

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The chart area of the Gantt Chart also provides visual cues about the information entered for a manually scheduled task.

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Although they’re manually scheduled tasks, Project 2010 does do a little calculation, but it’s the calculation that’s assumed that you would want. As you can see, the three bits of scheduling information Project 2010 is looking for are duration, start date, and finish date. If you have any two of these three, Project 2010 can extrapolate the third. That is, if you enter duration and start date, Project 2010 fills in the finish date. If you enter duration and finish date, the start date is provided for you. If you enter start and finish dates, Project 2010 fills in the duration.

Automatically Scheduling Tasks

If you have used previous versions of Microsoft Project, you’re already familiar with automatically scheduled tasks. When you enter a task that’s identified for automatic scheduling, the default estimated duration of 1 day is entered, the default start date is the same as the project start date, and the finish date is calculated from the start date and duration.

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As you refine the durations, link tasks, and possibly enter date constraints or assign resources, Project 2010 calculates your schedule to reflect those controls. Automatically scheduled tasks are marked with the Gantt bar icon in the Task Mode field of the Gantt Chart.

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You can also add this field to other sheet views when you need to distinguish between manually and automatically scheduled tasks.

The chart area of the Gantt Chart shows traditional Gantt bars in their default medium blue. This is in contrast with the various visual cues of a manually scheduled task, which might show a start date marker, a finish date marker, a duration, or some combination of the three in a variegated light blue (by default).

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(From the forthcoming Microsoft® Project 2010 Inside Out by Teresa Stover)

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