Updates from QA Training

Microsoft Project: Taking the effort out of scheduling

Microsoft Project 2010 has introduced a new scheduling engine to give you control over your timelines.

Richard Edgerton | 7 January 2013

Microsoft Project 2010 has introduced a new scheduling engine to give you control over your timelines.

Those of us who have used Microsoft Project over the years will have seen gradual improvements to the capabilities it offered from the introduction of removable baselines (what a boon for when the project dates got moved) to multiple undo. However, even though Project improved and evolved all the way up to the 2007 version, we have always struggled with or against the way the software schedules your tasks.

Automatic scheduling makes assumptions when working with time phased plans. Schedule from the start or finish date and you cannot get away from the impact of constraints when you create the inter-task dependencies. You can always turn off the effort-driven scheduling but this ended up being either a retrospective action or carried out on a task-by-task basis. 

This is painful and very frustrating and can lead to more time spent trying to get Project to match your requirements than actually planning and progressing those all-important deliverables.

Microsoft Project 2010 changes all that. It provides a completely revised scheduling engine and represents a massive leap forward in usability. By default all tasks added to a project plan created in Project 2010 are manually scheduled.  No more assumptions applied by the software.

The new scheduling engine provides two clear benefits to us. Control over the schedule and new ways of adding tasks into the plan.

Control over the schedule 

You can create the plan of activity and get the structure right in less time with the capacity of retaining the work flow exactly as you need it to be. Project may suggest dates and a duration when you create the task dependencies but it will not apply constraints in the traditional way. For instance if you have created two tasks and linked them, Project will still move the second task to the next available working time. However, if you subsequently move the task to the date you want it to start, Project will not apply any constraint.

Once the plan is at the point where you need Project to suggest a schedule you can then turn on the automatic scheduling for all or some of the tasks.

New ways of adding tasks

Not only new ways, but new task types too. You can add Placeholder tasks - these are tasks placed into the project plan in manual scheduling mode. Type the name of the task and Project will not apply any default duration or start/finish dates. This allows you to create the plan by simply typing a list into the Gantt entry table.

The flexibility this provides is a great feature. You can create a task and manually enter a start or finish date without specifying the duration.  Imagine, you only have deadlines that work must be completed by. Enter the tasks into the plan and just add the finish dates. No duration or start date is required. Simply add that information later once it is known or set the task to be automatically scheduled and Project will fill in the details.

Another great by-product of manual scheduling is the ability to enter text into duration and date fields. For instance, you have a task in the plan called Paint Walls and you do not know how long it will take but know it has to finish on a particular date. Just add the task and then put a note into the duration field such as "Ask Painter" and enter the finish date required.

The new scheduling engine really goes a long way to putting you in control of your plans and the associated time lines. It is just one of many features of Project 2010. A much improved product.

Discover more Microsoft Office 2010 courses .

QA Training | Richard Edgerton

Richard Edgerton

Office Applications Principal Consultant - Microsoft

Richard is the Principal Technologist for Microsoft Business Applications responsible for overseeing the development and production of new courses for QA and its clients. He has over 25 years’ experience of working with Office Applications and in client business application transformation projects, gaining a wide variety of experience across all sectors both commercial and not for profit. QA lead on Office 365 working closely with Microsoft since its launch in 2011. As a qualified PRINCE2® Practitioner, Richard has undertaken all project roles and is fully conversant with the PRINCE2® methodologies and their application. Equally happy in the classroom, delivering seminars, one to one or distance learning, Richard’s main focus is always on providing innovative and best value solutions to the client. Richard is based in the Midlands (Coventry).
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