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ten more MS project tips

1. Limit the use of formatting

Use formatting with care; if you manually change the format of text in a row (for instance colouring it) then Project will treat this as the only colour to use, even after you have removed the formatting.  This means that filters etc will no longer colour the text.  The safest way to highlight something for future attention is to either use a flag field and a highlight filter or to only colour one cell so that the rest of the text in that row will still be available for Project to colour.

2. Never add an image

Never copy in an image into MS Project, even though putting a logo into a report looks good, as it increases the file size.  The inflation never goes away even when the image is deleted. If you accidentally copy an image in, for instance a screen shot etc, the only recourse is to close the file without saving and the work that you have done will be lost.  Project files that get to big can become unstable. 

3. How to return to an original view when a filter etc has been changed.

The default is for new filters, tables, views etc to be copied into the Global template (new in 2010).  This means that you can either copy it back from the Global template using the Organiser functionality or you can reset the view default by clicking on the drop down for the current view, clicking on Reset to Default and clicking Yes on the "are you sure" dialogue box:

How to revert a view to default

Note that this behaviour of saving new views etc to the global template can be switched off in options (file / options / advanced -> Display) though you can continue to save your chosen views etc to the global template as with previous versions.

Option to control auto save to global template

4.  Customise the Gantt chart element of the display

Extensive customisation of the Gantt chart area is available by double clicking on it and adding / changing the definitions of the bars. You can change the colour or what each type of bar displays.  One use of this is to change the colour of bars for rows with a specific flag set.

5. Split views allowing Resourcing and Task information to be viewed

In a previous post I mentioned the use of split views to allow you to see more information about the task selected which is useful to display the name of the Predecessors and successors rather than just their ID.  The same technique can be even more powerfully used to display information about both the resource and task information which MS Project holds separately .  To do this display the Resource Usage view and then bring up the split view and in the bottom panel chose to show the Gantt chart.

This will display the Gantt (i.e. Task) information for any task which is selected in the resource area at the top.  This will allow you to do things like change the  resource allocation, dates etc for that task.  All these would normally require you to click away into the Gantt view which is slower.

6.  Change the resource allocated to a task in the Resource Allocation view

There are many ways to change the resource allocated to a task in the Resource Usage view.  The simplest is to select the task (click on the row ID on the left) and drag the task / tasks to the new resource.  The other ways are to use the Resource Allocation button or to use a split view to act on the task information (see above).

7. Use nested AND and OR in filters.

When defining a filter it is simple to use multiple criteria in a simple expression, for instance % complete <100% AND Resource Name Contains "Miles":

simple filter

However more sophisticated filters are available by combining expressions, for instance "show me tasks which aren't complete and involve Miles OR James.  This can be written as (% complete < 100%) AND (resource names contain Miles OR resource names contain James).  To group expressions simply hit the spacebar or the down arrow (depending on project version) instead of inserting a criteria:

complex filter

8. Inspect button

The Inspect button gives you a quick way to see what is driving a task - be it a resource allocation or a specific task.  Even if the task is linked to many items the Inspect button will show you which specific task is driving the timing of your target task.

Inspect button

9. Jump to a task

Use F5 to jump to a task; this is very useful when navigating around a plan or following a dependency chain.  This will only fail when the destination task is hidden in a collapsed summary task.

10. Display the same plan twice

It is very useful to display the same plan twice  when operating on different parts of the plan, for instance linking tasks which are at the top and bottom on a long plan; scrolling around to find the right task to link to is a pain and takes time.  To show the same plan twice simply chose "New Window" from the View ribbon.  You can then arrange the windows to your preference.

new window


Miles Goodchild

Miles Goodchild has been a Program and Programme Planner, PMO lead and Project Manger since 1998.  He enjoys using MS Office, especially Project, Excel and Visio to make life easier and simpler.  In the course of this he created SummaryPro.  In this blog he shares some of the tips and techniques he has learnt over the years in the hope that they will be useful to you.