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In today’s post, please enjoy the complete Chapter 5, “Scheduling Tasks Manually or Automatically.” New in Microsoft Project 2010 is the ability to choose whether a task is scheduled manually or automatically. By default, all new tasks are set for manual scheduling, although this default setting can easily be changed. Manually scheduled tasks can be switched to automatic scheduling, and vice versa. You can have a mixture of manually and automatically scheduled tasks within a project plan. Whether you schedule manually or automatically or use a mixture of both can depend largely on your project planning style, the development stage of the plan, and the complexity of your project.
Scheduling Tasks Manually or Automatically
Some project managers want or need more scheduling control over their projects. That is, they want to be able to manually enter durations, start dates, and finish dates without having those entries recalculate other aspects of the schedule.
Other project managers need a scheduling engine that automatically calculates dates as soon as they enter or change task information. When they enter a task duration, they want the tool to figure the task’s finish date, 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 is scheduled manually or automatically. By default, all new tasks are set for manual scheduling, although this default setting can easily be changed. Manually scheduled tasks can be switched to automatic scheduling, and vice versa. You can have a mixture of manually and automatically scheduled tasks within a project plan. Whether you schedule manually or automatically or use a mixture of both can depend largely on your project planning style, the development stage of the plan, and the complexity of your project.
Controlling the scheduling yourself or letting Project 2010 calculate the schedule for you gives you the flexibility you need as a project manager. But with this flexibility, 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 use other aspects of Project 2010. Such issues will be pointed out where relevant in this chapter and throughout the book.
Manually Scheduling Tasks
With manually scheduled tasks—also known as user-controlled scheduling—when you type a task name, 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. (See Figure 5-1.)
Gantt Chart. If you enter two out of three bits of scheduling information—such as the
Manually scheduled task duration and finish date or the start and finish date—the task is marked with a pushpin icon icon. If you enter no scheduling information, or maybe just one bit—such as just the duration or just the start date—the task is marked with a pushpin icon with a question mark.
The chart area of the Gantt Chart also provides visual cues about the information entered for a manually scheduled task. (See Figure 5-2.) information
Figure 5-2 The Gantt Chart shows any manually scheduled information in the chart area.
Even for manually scheduled tasks, Project 2010 does do a little calculation, but it’s the calculation that Project assumes you 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 extrapolates 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 type the name of 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. (See Figure 5-3.)
The finish date is calculated from the start date and duration
The start date is the same as the project start date
The default estimated duration is one day
Figure 5-3 Default scheduling information is filled in for automatically scheduled tasks.
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. You can also add this field to other sheet views when you need to distinguish Automatically 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 associated with 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). (See Figure 5-4.)
Figure 5-4 By default, the Gantt bars of automatically scheduled tasks are medium blue without start or end markers.
Switching Task Scheduling Modes
By default, any new tasks added in Project 2010 are manually scheduled. You can easily convert a task to automatic scheduling. To do this, follow these steps:
1. Select the manually scheduled task you want to convert to automatic scheduling. A manually scheduled task is marked with the pushpin icon in the Task Mode column.
2. On the Task tab, in the Tasks group, click Auto Schedule.
The task is converted to an automatically scheduled task. Any start or finish dates already entered are discarded. However, any durations are retained and used as part of the automatic scheduling calculation.
When you open a project file that was created in Microsoft Project 2007 or earlier, all tasks come in as automatically scheduled tasks, even if your default for new tasks is set to manually scheduled tasks. This occurs because Project 2007 and earlier versions have no option for manually scheduled tasks; all tasks are automatically scheduled. But just as in any project plan, you can convert an automatically scheduled task to a manually scheduled task, and vice versa.
To convert an automatically scheduled task to manual scheduling, follow these steps:
1. Select the automatically scheduled task you want to convert to manual scheduling.
An automatically scheduled task is marked with the Gantt bar icon in the Task Mode column.
2. On the Task tab, in the Tasks group, click Manually Schedule.
The task is converted to a manually scheduled task. Any previously entered duration Schedule is retained, and any start or finish constraint dates are retained in the Start and Finish fields.
If you’re working in the Entry table of a task sheet (or any task table to which the Task Mode column has been added), you can also quickly switch a task between manual and automatic scheduling by clicking in the Task Mode field for the task. Click the arrow that appears, and then click Manually Scheduled or Auto Scheduled.
You can change multiple tasks to automatically or manually scheduled tasks at once. To select multiple adjacent tasks, click the first task, hold down the Shift key, and then click the last task. All tasks from the first to the last are selected. To select multiple nonadjacent tasks, click the first task, hold down the Ctrl key, and then click the other tasks. On the Task tab, in the Tasks group, click Manually Schedule or Auto Schedule.
If you’re changing several attributes of one or more tasks, you can use the Task Information dialog box to also specify whether a task is manually or automatically scheduled. To do this, follow these steps:
1. Select the task(s) you want to change.
2. On the Task tab, in the Properties group, click Information.
The Task Information (or Multiple Task Information) dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 5-6.
You can also simply double-click a single task to open the Task Information dialog box.
Figure 5-6Use the Task Information dialog box to change various properties of a task.
3. On the General tab, next to Schedule Mode, select Manually Scheduled or Auto Scheduled. Make any other changes you want, and then click OK. If you’re working with multiple tasks, not all fields are available for multiple update.
Changing Scheduling Defaults
Consider your scheduling style and your habits, and determine whether your default task mode should be manually scheduled or automatically scheduled tasks. If you’re fairly new to Microsoft Project, or if you have previously used Microsoft Excel to manage your projects, you might want to retain the manually scheduled task default.
However, if you’re an experienced Microsoft Project user, and if you like the way the scheduling engine automatically calculates and updates your schedule as you make changes, it would be most efficient for you to change the default task mode to automatic scheduling. You can change the default for new tasks added to an existing project plan, for new tasks in a newly created project plan, or for all new project plans.
Switching the Task Mode Default for New Tasks in a Plan
Suppose you’ve been working on a project plan, and you find that you keep changing the task mode from manual to automatic (or automatic to manual) scheduling. You can change the default for new tasks to your preferred task mode. To do this, follow these steps:
- On the Task tab, in the Tasks group, click Mode.
- A drop-down menu appears, showing the choice of Auto Schedule or Manually Schedule for new tasks. The current default is highlighted.
- Click the task mode you want new tasks to adopt.
The button in the lower-left corner of the Project 2010 status bar shows the new default mode for this project plan. All new tasks are created in the task mode you select.
Switching the Task Mode Default for a New Project Plan
When you begin a new project plan, it’s a good time to decide whether your predominant task mode will be manual or automatic scheduling. To change the default task mode when you create a new project, follow these steps:
- On the File tab, click New.
- In the Available Templates window that appears, double-click Blank Project. The new blank project appears, along with a pop-up notification near the status bar
- at the lower left of the screen. The notification indicates the default task mode; for example, “New tasks are created in Manually Scheduled mode.”
If you want to keep the task mode shown in the notification, you don’t need to do anything. (The notification disappears after a few seconds.) If you want the other task mode, click the button on the status bar labeled New Tasks: Manually Scheduled or New Tasks: Auto Scheduled. In the menu that appears, click the task mode you want to use for new tasks in your new project.
Switching the Task Mode Default for All New Project Plans
You can change the task mode default for all new project plans. To do this, follow these steps:
- On the File tab, click Options, and then click Schedule in the left pane.
- In the box next to the section title labeled Scheduling Options For This Project, click All New Projects.
- In the New Tasks Created box, choose how you want new tasks to be scheduled: Manually Scheduled or Auto Scheduled. (See Figure 5-7.)
Figure 5-7Change the project plan’s scheduling options if you want to switch the task mode default for all new project plans.
- Click OK.
- Be sure to click Save on the File tab to save the settings you just changed for all new projects. All tasks in any new project will be created in the selected task mode.
Whether a task is scheduled manually or automatically affects various aspects of scheduling; for example, setting durations, linking task dependencies, identifying start and finish dates, setting baselines, tracking progress, and more. The relevant chapters that cover these topics discuss the differences and how they can affect your task scheduling and overall project plan.