Home > Blog

Ten more tips to be quicker using MS Project

1. Quickly and easily set simple constraints

Typing into the start date sets a “start no earlier than” constraint and typing into the finish date sets “finish no earlier than” constraint.  If you need to absolutely fix a task in place double click on it, go to the advance tab and select either "Must start on" or "Must finish on" constraints and select the date

2. Quickly update progress

Use the |Mar on track" button (below) to update progress up until the status date.  

Mark on track button

3. Make every row unique

If you make every task name unique this will mean that when you filter the plan you’re not faced with a sea of identical tasks.  This does take some time (the easiest way is just to copy and paste the summary task on the end of each line) however it is more than worth it when you've filtered the plan.  The most common time for this to happen is when looking at resource allocations or the critical path and you have a sea of "draft" and no idea what is being drafted.

4. Use the right dependency to schedule tasks in the right way.

Use the different types of dependencies to set your schedule rather than constraint dates if at all possible. This will mean that the plan can change in response to changes earlier in the timeline and makes the plan a powerful tool for seeing the future impact of current changes.

  • FS = the default which doesn’t need to be typed in – the finish of the named task will drive the start of the dependent task
  • FF = finish to finish – this task can’t finish until the dependency has completed – but note that this doesn’t mean they have to finish at the same time.
  • SS = start to start – this task can’t start until the dependency has started, but it could start afterwards if required
  • SF = Start to finish, this is a rare dependency useful for back scheduling – the start of the dependency drives the finish of this task




5. The power of filters

Use filters to allow you to quickly and easily extract dates from the plan, for instance for a Milestone report, making it easy and quick to run reports. This also reinforces the plan as the “single source or truth” meaning that the plan has to be maintained to run reports.

You can either quickly filter based on a flag or the contents of a field

Filter on a column or set of columns

You can quickly set up a filter on a single column by clicking the drop down arrow to the right of the column name:

Auto filter drop down

Clicking on this then gives you the ability to select those items you want to see

Contents of filter drop down

Note that you can set filters on more than one column at once, these will then form an AND filter so only the rows which display all the selected items will be displayed.

You can also set up a more complex filter using this drop down function, for instance searching in the name field for specific text:

Additional power in the drop down filter

Set up and re-use a filter

Whilst the above method is very quick it is not as fast as applying a saved filter.  Saved filters are very useful when setting up a specific view, for instance a specific view which contains the information you want to report (name, finish, baseline finish, RAG etc) and the view has the filter applied to it.

This also allows you to re-use an existing filter to highlight rather than only show items which match the filter or to apply more complex filters using AND and OR operators.

New filter sequence

  • Select New filter from the bottom of the drop down list under "Filter"
  • Name the new filter
  • Enter the criteria
  • Save

Your filter is now saved ready for use.

6. Don’t be afraid to set up new tables, filters and views to run reporting.

Quick and easy way – save a view

Simply start with a view which is close to what you want to display and edit it to your needs by

  • Adding or removing columns from the table
  • Apply a filter to hide unwanted information or highlight items which match the filter
  • Apply groups to the data
  • Change the formatting of the bars in the Gantt or entries in the data table if it is a usage type view

Quickly save a view

Save the view by clicking on the drop down arrow on the “View” button and then selecting “Save View”

More formal way - combine existing table, filter, group into a view

  • Before setting up a new view from scratch it is necessary to have the relevant table, filter and group set up.
  • Again click on the view button but this time select new view
  • Click though the options as shown

Set up a new view

  • Chose what filter, table and grouping to apply

7. Split views

Having the timeline on the screen at the same time as the Gantt view is an example of a split view.  This can be useful however it does prevent you from having any other split views as you can only have two on the screen at any one time.

To remove the Timeline view from the top you can drag up from the bottom of the vertical scroll bar to split the screen.  You can now display two views with the data in the bottom screen is driven by the rows selected in the top view allowing you to see more details.  To do this simply grab the double headed arrow below the lower scrollbar button and drag up.

Standard Split view

The default is to display the task information, right mouse to chose between

  • Predecessors and Successors
  • Resource and Predecessors
  • Resource and Successors

However you can chose other views to be displayed in the bottom panel, for instance the Gantt chart at the top and resource allocation at the bottom (select the chosen view by clicking on the top or bottom and then picking the view).

Resource split view

Notice that the contents of the bottom view is driven by what is selected in the top view, so in the illustration only the resources for the selected tasks are shown in the resource utilisation view.

8. Use baselines to store “old” versions of the plan.

Often people will be very reluctant to “baseline” a plan as this implies that it can’t change.  The availability of multiple baselines in MS Project mean that you can hold the “old” plan whilst maintaining the current timescales and still be able to quickly and easily refer to the baseline.

This is very useful for tracking change / slippage as well as for milestone reporting. To overcome the resistance to having a “baseline” a less threatening term can be “snap shot”.

The use of the baseline can also be vital to preserve the original “agreed” plan and allow the plan the flex in response to the changing project environment.  This is vital if the plan is to be used to help predict and manage the future.  After all there is some value to knowing that you have missed the agreed timeline for a task but the benefit of knowing the impact of the most likely date is far greater.  Having the baseline gives you both.

9. Quickly jump to where you want to go

There are a couple of quick ways to move around the plan. 

  • The scroll to task button (below) jumps the Gantt display to the task

Scroll to task

  • Pressing the <F5> key allows you to type a row number and jump straight to this location in the plan. This can be very useful when tracking dependencies through the plan.

10. Summary Rows should only summarise

A summary row or heading is only a way of grouping tasks and making the plan more readable.  Obviously these summaries can have more meaning, for instance some of them could be products or key phases, however it is important to use them as summaries.  This means that they shouldn’t be treated as normal tasks:

Don’t have resources applied to the summary row

  • if this happens the resource is also applied to all the sub tasks which can lead to over allocations which ae very hard to track down.
  • It also means that summary rows can get “stuck” at 99% complete even when all the sub tasks are complete

Use Links to and from summary rows with care.

  • These can be useful but they also apply to all sub tasks. This means that if a summary row is show as being dependent on task X nothing under that summary task can start before task X.  
  • This can be frustrating when the summary task is out of view or the task is heavily indented under a lot of other summary rows. Unless there is a compelling reason to link to and from summary tasks I always suggest that Tasks drive Tasks and summaries are only there to make the plan easier to read and understand.

It is easy to end up with summary tasks with resources or links especially when you have initially built a plan at a high or product level and are in the process of driving down to the tasks required to deliver the high level items.  If you find this is the case it is simple to create a filter which looks for (Summary equals Yes AND predecessor does not equal “”) etc to help to quickly identify the effected summary lines.