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Ten tips to be quicker using MS Project

1. Keyboard short cuts 

  • When Indenting a task or group of tasks to make the task above a summary line use <shift><ALT> whilst pressing the left or right arrow key.  Right indents and Left reverses this.
  • Adding and removing tasks using the following keyboard shortcuts:
    • INSERT key to insert a new task line
    • <ALT><E>,<D> to delete a task without needing to first select the whole line.
  • Quickly link tasks by typing the other task into the predecessor or successor columns.  Separate different dependencies using a comma.  Note that this is also true for resources - these need to separated in this way.

2 Display the same plan twice

  • When comparing different sections of the same plan or copying items around it can be annoying to keep scrolling up and down.  To display the same plan twice simply:
    • Click on the View menu or ribbon and chose Window and then New
    • Chose which plan to display and which view to open it with
    • Click on View then Window and then Arrange All

3. Quickly check progress

  • Use the status date and progress line to quickly see where you should be at any given date and compare how your plan is actually progressing.  
    • First set the status date : Project / Project Information (<ALT><P>,<P>).  Enter the status date (usually yesterday)
    • To display the progress line
      • Right mouse on the Gantt chart area (not on a bar) and select Progress Lines. 
      • Click on “Display” under the Current Progress Line and select “at project status date”. 
      • Note if no status date is set today’s date will be used
    • This trick displays a line which runs down the plan at the status date and kink back(or forward) to the “% complete” point on each task.  This means that you can quickly run down the plan seeing what is ahead or behind schedule. 

Image showing "progress line"

4. Don't use Manual Scheduled 

  • One of the main benefits of using MS Project is using the power of the computer to predict the future by seeing the impact of change to a linked up plan.  Using manually scheduled tasks negates this power. 
  • Set the option to New tasks created: Auto Scheduled, ideally set to “all New projects” 

Option required to switch off manual scheduling

  • If you find that your tasks are set to Manual then select the offending tasks and click the Auto Schedule button on the Task ribbon.
  • You can accidentally set summary tasks to manual if you type (or copy and paste) over the dates which Project has calculated for the summary line.

5. Use Copy and paste

  • Using keyboard short cuts is faster (holding the CTRL key down and using x for cut, c for copy and v for paste). 
  • Copy down (<CTRL><D>) works well, unlike Excel if you select a group of cells and use paste Project will only change the first cell in the column.  If you want them all to change then use <CTRL><D> to paste down.
  • Watch out when using copy and paste, later versions of Project will keep predecessors and successors which may cause unexpected links, however this can be very useful. 

6. Replace resources 

  • When swapping resources it is very useful not to have to remove a resource and then apply the new one, not least as this can have impacts on the duration / work etc depending on your settings which can be concerning.
  • To simply replace one resource with another
    • Select the tasks which will be impacted (note that you can filter first)
    • Click on the Assign Resource button.
    • Chose the resource to be replaced
    • Click "replace"
    • Chose the resource which will replace the original

7. Use total slack

8. Quickly enter today etc into the date fields

  • Type Today or Tomorrow into a date column to quickly enter that date.  This is so simple and seems to impress people!
  • The results for using the days of the week to get the date of the next instance (for instance Monday for next Monday) are patchy - some versions of project do this but others don't.
  • Also typing in a number gives that date in this month, so for instance typing 20 today would give the 20th Feb 2019.  If the day-of-the-week trick works this will also work.

9. Use the "Chain" button to quickly link a series of tasks

  • If you select two or more tasks and click the "chain" button chain and break chain these tasks will be linked.
  • The order of connection will be in order you clicked the tasks
  • The "break" button (next to the "chain" button obviously breaks linked tasks apart.

10. The inspect button reveals what is driving a task

  • When you have a simple plan it is easy to see what is controlling when a task is happening.  However when the plan gets large or complex this can become more challenging.
  • Use the "Inspect" button to understand what task or resource constraint is driving the selected task

Inspect button

  • When the selected task has many tasks driving the "inspect pane" shows the task which is actually pushing the task to the current date.  It also provides a link to the driving task so you can jump to it in the plan.  This allows you to quickly jump around the plan following that tasks specific critical path.  
  • It is a good idea to make a note of the original task number so you can quickly get back to it once you've clicked around the link chain.
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.