Fine-Tuning Task Details in Microsoft Project 2010

  • 6/2/2010

Scheduling Summary Tasks Manually

In Chapter 2, you worked with summary tasks and subtasks. Recall that the default behavior of Project is to automatically calculate a summary task’s duration as the span of time between the earliest start and latest finish dates of its subtasks. For this reason, Project sets summary tasks as automatically scheduled—their durations are automatically determined by their subtasks, regardless if those subtasks are manually or automatically scheduled (or a mix).

There may be times, however, when you want to directly enter a duration value for a summary task that is independent of its calculated duration as determined by its subtasks. For example, a summary task might represent a phase of work for which you want to allocate 60 working days, and compare that duration with the calculated duration determined by the subtasks (their durations, task relationships, and other factors). This is especially true during the initial planning of a project plan, when you may need to account for the gap between how long you’d like a phase of work to take and its duration as determined by its subtasks.

Fortunately you can enter any duration you wish for a summary task. When you do so, Project switches the summary task from automatic to manually scheduled and reflects both the automatically calculated and manually entered durations as separate parts of the summary task’s Gantt bar. If the summary task is a predecessor of another task, Project will reschedule the successor task based on the manual, not automatic duration.

Setting a manual duration for a summary task is a good way to apply a top-down focus to a project plan. You can, for example, introduce some slack or buffer to a phase of work by entering a manual duration for the summary task that is longer than its calculated duration.

In this exercise, you enter manual durations for some summary tasks.

To begin, you’ll adjust the outline display of the project plan to display just its top-level summary tasks.

  1. On the View tab, in the Data group, click Outline, and then click Outline Level 1.


    Project hides all subtasks and nested summary tasks, leaving only the top-level tasks visible.

  2. On the View tab, in the Zoom group, click Entire Project.


    Note that the minus signs next to the summary task names changed to plus signs, indicating that the subtasks are hidden.

    In this view, you can more easily see and compare the durations of the individual summary tasks. Next, you’ll enter some manual durations. You’ll begin with the Editorial phase, which you’d like to see completed within 30 working days.

  3. In the Duration field for the summary task 20, Editorial, type 30d and press Enter.


    Project records your manually entered duration and makes some adjustments to the schedule:

    • The summary task is switched from automatically scheduled (the default for summary tasks) to manually scheduled. Note the pin icon in the Task Mode column that reflects the task’s scheduling status.

    • Project drew a two-part Gantt bar for the summary task. The upper portion of the bar represents the manual duration, and the lower portion represents the automatically scheduled duration.

    • Project draws a red squiggly line under the new finish date to flag this as a potential scheduling conflict.

    • Project rescheduled the successor tasks throughout the schedule based on task 20’s manually entered duration.

    Looking at the updated schedule, you decide you’d like to allow a bit more time for the color prep and printing.

  4. In the Duration field for the summary task 42, Color prep and printing, type 50d and press Enter.


    Project records your manually entered duration, switches the summary task to manually scheduled, and redraws the Gantt bar. To conclude this exercise, you’ll adjust the display settings to see all subtasks.

  5. On the View tab, in the Data group, click Outline, and then click All Subtasks.

    Project expands the task list to show all subtasks. Next, you will collapse the recurring task.

  6. Click the minus sign next to the name of the recurring task 1, Editorial staff meeting.


    In the chart, you can see approximately where the tasks in the Editorial phase are extending beyond your preferred duration of the phase, and where there is a small amount of extra time, or buffer, in the Design and Production phase of the project plan.