Great news! Microsoft Project 2013 Step by Step, by Carl Chatfield and Timothy Johnson is now available for purchase.
Experience learning made easy—and quickly teach yourself how to manage the complete project life cycle with Project 2013. With Step by Step, you set the pace—building and practicing the skills you need, just when you need them!
- Work with Project 2013 on your PC or touch-enabled device
- Build and fine-tune your project plan
- Schedule tasks and milestones, and assign resources
- Track progress and costs, and manage variances
- Troubleshoot delays and budget overruns
- Customize Gantt chart views, tables, and calendars
- Learn project-management best practices
Here are some options for purchasing this book:
From The Microsoft Press Store
From an independent bookseller
The table of contents an excerpt from the book’s introduction can be found in this previous blog post.
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 4, “Building a task list.”
IN THIS CHAPTER, YOU WILL LEARN HOW TO
▪▪ Enter task names, durations, and start and finish values.
▪▪ Create milestone tasks.
▪▪ Create summary tasks to outline a task list.
▪▪ Link tasks to create task dependencies between them.
▪▪ Convert individual tasks to automatic scheduling, and then change the default to have new tasks automatically scheduled.
▪▪ Check a plan’s overall duration and scheduled finish date.
▪▪ Enter task notes and hyperlinks.
Tasks are the most basic building blocks of any project’s plan. Tasks represent the work to
be done to accomplish the goals of the plan. Tasks describe work in terms of dependencies,
duration, and resource requirements. In Microsoft Project 2013, there are several kinds of
tasks. These include summary tasks, subtasks, and milestones (all discussed in this chapter).
More broadly, what are called tasks in Project are sometimes more generally called activities
or work packages.
Entering task names
As mentioned previously, tasks represent the work to be done to accomplish the goals of the project. For this reason, it’s worth developing good practices about how you name tasks in your plans.
Task names should be recognizable and make sense to the people who will perform the tasks and to other stakeholders who will see the task names. Here are some guidelines for creating good task names:
▪▪ Use short verb phrases that describe the work to be done, such as “Edit manuscript.”
▪▪ If tasks will be organized into an outline structure, don’t repeat details from the summary task name in the subtask name unless it adds clarity.
▪▪ If tasks will have resources assigned to them, don’t include resource names in the task names.
Keep in mind that you can always edit task names later, so don’t worry about getting exactly the right task names when you’re initially entering them into a plan. Do aim to use concise, descriptive phrases that communicate the required work and make sense to you and others who will perform the work or review the plan. When necessary, you can also add more details in task notes, described later in this chapter.
TIP As you enter a task name, you are creating a new task. Every task in Project has one of two scheduling modes that controls how the task is scheduled: manual (the default) or automatically scheduled. You’ll work with automatic scheduling in “Switching task scheduling from manual to automatic” later in this chapter.
The scenario: At Lucerne Publishing, you have collected the initial task names for the new book launch. You know you don’t have all the details you’ll eventually need, but you have enough detail now to start with.
In this exercise, you enter the names of tasks. SET UP You need the Simple Tasks_Start file in your Chapter04 practice file folder to complete this exercise. Open the Simple Tasks_Start file, and save it as Simple Tasks.
1. Click the cell directly below the Task Name column heading.
2. Type Assign launch team members, and then press the Enter key. The task you entered is given an ID number. Each task has a unique ID number, but it does not necessarily represent the order in which tasks occur. Your screen should look similar to the following illustration.
Because this is a manually scheduled task (as indicated in the Task Mode column), no duration or date values appear, and the task does not yet have a Gantt bar in the chart portion of the Gantt Chart view. Later you will work with automatically scheduled tasks that always have duration, start, and finish dates.
Think of a manually scheduled task as an initial placeholder you can create at any time without affecting the rest of the schedule. You might not know more than a task name at this time, and that’s OK. As you discover or decide more details about the task, such as when it should occur, you can add those details to the plan.
3. Enter the following task names, pressing Enter after each task name:
Design and order marketing material
Distribute advance copies
Coordinate magazine feature articles
Launch public web portal for book
Your screen should look similar to the following illustration:
While reviewing the tasks you entered, you realize that you missed a task. You want to enter this task between tasks 2 and 3. You’ll insert that task next.
4. Click the name of task 3, Distribute advance copies.
5. On the Task tab, in the Insert group, click Task. Project inserts a row for a new task and renumbers the subsequent tasks. Project names the new task <New Task>.
6. With <New Task> selected type Public Launch Phase, and then press Enter. The new task is added to your plan.
TIP To delete a task, right-click the task name and in the shortcut menu that appears, click Delete Task.
Project management focus: Defining the right tasks for the deliverable
Every project has an ultimate goal or intent: the reason that the project was started. This is called the project’s deliverable. This deliverable might be a tangible product, such as a new book, or a service or event, such as a product launch party. Defining the right tasks to create the deliverable is an essential skill for a project manager. The task lists you create in Project should describe all the work required, and only the work required, to complete the project successfully.
When developing your task lists, you might find it helpful to distinguish product scope from project scope. Product scope describes the quality, features, and functions of the deliverable of the project. In the scenario used in Part 2, “Simple scheduling basics,” for example, the deliverable is a new children’s book, and the product scope might include its number of pages and illustrations. Project scope, on the other hand, describes the work required to deliver such a product or service. In the scenario in this chapter, the project scope includes detailed tasks relating to generating publicity and advance reviews for the book.
Scope as a component (along with time and cost) of the project manager’s focus is described more in Appendix A, “A short course in project management.”
Entering task durations
A task’s duration represents the amount of time you expect it will take to complete the task. Project can work with task durations that range from minutes to months. Depending on the scope of your plan, you’ll probably want to work with task durations on the scale of hours, days, and weeks. Giving your tasks duration values is one of the benefits of using a scheduling tool like Project over a simple checklist or to-do approach to organizing work.
Let’s explore task durations with an example. Let’s say a plan has a project calendar with working time defined as 8 A.M. through 5 P.M. with one hour off for lunch breaks Monday through Friday, leaving nonworking time defined as evenings (after 5 P.M.) and weekends. (If you need a refresher on the project calendar, see “Setting nonworking days in the project calendar” in Chapter 3, “Starting a new plan.”) If you estimate that a task will take 16 hours of working time, you could enter its duration as “2d” to schedule work over two eight-hour workdays. You should then expect that starting the task at 8 A.M. on a Friday means that it will not be completed until 5 P.M. on the following Monday. No work would be scheduled over the weekend because Saturday and Sunday have been defined as nonworking time.
You can use abbreviations when entering durations.
As noted earlier, Project handles task scheduling in two ways. Automatically scheduled tasks always have a duration (one day by default). Manually Scheduled tasks, however, do not initially have any duration. A task’s duration is essential for Project to schedule a task, so it makes sense that a manually scheduled task, which is not scheduled by Project, does not require a duration. You can, however, enter duration values for manually scheduled tasks—you’ll do so in this section.
With manually scheduled tasks, you can enter regular duration values using the abbreviations shown in the preceeding table—for example, “3d” for three days. You can also enter text values, such as “Check with Bob.” Such text values are replaced with the default 1-day duration value when you convert a task from manual to automatic scheduling.
TIP Project will not allow you to enter a text value for an automatically scheduled task’s duration, start, or finish value.
Project uses standard values for minutes and hours for durations: 1 minute equals 60 seconds, and 1 hour equals 60 minutes. For the durations of days, weeks, and months, you can use Project’s defaults (for example, 20 days per month) or set your own values. To do this, on the File tab, click Options, and in the Project Options dialog box, click Schedule, as illustrated here:
The exercises in this chapter use Project’s default values: 8 hours per day, 40 hours per week, and 20 days per month.
TIP If needed, you can schedule tasks to occur during nonworking as well as working time. To do this, enter an elapsed duration to a task. You enter elapsed duration by preceding the duration abbreviation with an “e”. For example, type “1ed” to indicate one full 24-hour day, or “1ew” to equal seven 24-hour days, or “1em” to equal thirty 24-hour days.
You might use an elapsed duration for a task that goes on around the clock rather than just during normal working hours. For instance, a construction project might have the tasks “Pour foundation concrete” and “Remove foundation forms.” If so, you might also want a task called “Wait for concrete to cure” because you don’t want to remove the forms until the concrete has cured. The task “Wait for concrete to cure” should have an elapsed duration because the concrete will cure over a contiguous range of days, whether they are working or nonworking days. If the concrete takes 48 hours to cure, you can enter the duration for that task as “2ed,” schedule the task to start on Friday at 9 A.M., and expect it to be complete by Sunday at 9 A.M. In most cases, however, you’ll work with nonelapsed durations in Project.
The scenario: At Lucerne Publishing, you showed your initial task list to the resources who will perform the work and to other project stakeholders. They gave you their preliminary (although incomplete) feedback on some task durations and dates that you’d like to record in the new book launch plan.
In this exercise, you enter various task duration, start, and finish values for the manually scheduled tasks you created.
1. Click the cell below the Duration column heading for task 1, Assign launch team members. The Duration field for task 1 is selected.
2. Type 1d, and then press Enter.
TIP You can also click the up and down arrows to enter or change the value in the Duration field.
The value 1 day appears in the Duration field. Project draws a Gantt bar for the task, starting at the project start date you previously set in Chapter 3.
Until the tasks are linked or a specific start or finish date is set, Project will set all new tasks that have a duration value to start at the project start date. This is true whether the tasks are manually or automatically scheduled.
3. Enter the following durations or text phrases for the following tasks:
For task 5, Coordinate magazine feature articles, you’ll enter start and finish dates, and Project will calculate the duration.
4. In the Start field (not the Duration field) for task 5, type 1/19/15, and then press the Tab key.
TIP You can also select the date you want in the Start field. Click the down arrow button, and in the calendar that appears navigate to the month you want. Then click the date you want.
5. In the Finish field for the same task, type or select 1/27/15, and then press Enter.
Project calculates the duration as six days. Note that this is six working days: Monday through Wednesday, and Friday of the first week, and then Monday and Tuesday of the following week. Project also draws the Gantt bar for the task to span these working days plus the nonworking days (the Thursday, January 22 morale event you set up in Chapter 3, plus the weekend) between them, as shown here:
6. For task 6, Launch public web portal for the book, you don’t know a duration or start or finish date yet, but you can still capture what you do know.
7. In the Start field for task 6, type About two weeks before launch complete, and then press Enter.
As with the duration value of a manually scheduled task, you can also enter a text string for a start or finish date, or both. When the task is switched to be automatically scheduled, the text strings will be replaced with specific dates.
Project management focus: How do you come up with accurate task durations?
You should consider two general rules when estimating task durations:
▪▪ Overall project duration often correlates to task duration; long projects tend to have tasks with longer durations than do tasks in short projects.
▪▪ If you track progress against your plan (described in Chapter 8, “Tracking progress,” and in Part 3, “Advanced scheduling techniques”), you need to consider the level of detail you want to apply to your plan’s tasks. If you have a multiyear project, for example, it might not be practical or even possible to track tasks that are measured in minutes or hours. In general, you should measure task durations at the lowest level of detail or control that is important to you, but no lower.
For the projects you work on in this book, the durations are supplied for you. For your projects, you will often have to estimate task durations. Good sources of task duration estimates include
▪▪ Historical information from previous, similar projects
▪▪ Estimates from the people who will complete the tasks
▪▪ The expert judgment of people who have managed similar projects
▪▪ The standards of professional or industrial organizations that carry out projects similar to yours
One rule of thumb to consider is called the 8/80 rule. This rule suggests that task durations between 8 hours (or one day) and 80 hours (10 working days, or two weeks) are generally sized about right. Tasks shorter than one day might be too granular, and tasks longer than two weeks might be too long to manage properly. There are many legitimate reasons to break this rule, but for most tasks in your projects, it’s worth considering.
For complex, long-duration projects or projects involving a large number of unknowns, you might be able to make detailed duration estimates only of tasks to be started and completed soon (for example, within two to four weeks). You then might have only very general duration estimates for tasks that will start later (for example, after two to four weeks). You could hold a recurring task-duration estimating session with the team in a regular cadence as time progresses.
For complex projects, you probably would combine these and other strategies to estimate task durations. Because inaccurate task duration estimates are a major source of risk in any project, making good estimates is well worth the effort expended.
Entering a milestone task
In addition to entering tasks to be completed, you might want to account for an important event for your project’s plan, such as the end of a major phase of the project. To do this, you will create a milestone task.
Milestones are significant events that are either reached within the plan (such as the completion of a phase of work) or imposed upon the plan (such as a deadline by which to apply for funding). Because the milestone itself doesn’t normally include any work, milestones are represented as tasks with zero duration.
The scenario: At Lucerne Publishing, you just learned the date by which the new book launch’s planning activities needs to be completed for the book launch to occur on time. You want this date to have visibility in the plan.
In this exercise, you create a milestone task.
1. Click the name of task 3, Public Launch Phase.
2. On the Task tab, in the Insert group, click Milestone.
Project inserts a row for a new task and renumbers the subsequent tasks. Project names the new task <New Milestone> and gives it a zero-day duration. As with the other new tasks, the milestone is initially scheduled at the project start date of January 5.
3. With <New Milestone> selected, type Planning complete! and then press Enter.
The milestone task is added to your plan.