Part 5 – Microsoft Project Tutorial – linking to dates
When I as a consultant was called in to help a project manager getting their Microsoft Project file under control again, the first thing I did was watch the indicator field in the Gantt chart. That is the field to the most left in the table. If every row had this symbol:
In the case below, only one row has the icon (the bottom row):
I know that this would not be solved in one session.
What is that symbol? How do I get rid of it and why did it stick there in the first place?
Well, the most common way for people getting that thing there is by dragging the bars in the Gantt chart during the horizontal line. That is when they drag them forward in time. If you drag a bar to another bar, you link them (covered in chapter 3, Linking tasks) but by dragging the bar just forward or backward, you link the task in time instead. If you see that icon in your Gantt chart, move the cursor over the icon and you’ll see a tool tip. Don’t get frightened, just look at it. It will probably read something like this:
“Task start no earlier than 2009-10-01”
You get the same effect if you place the cursor in the Start field. Print in a date and confirm. Again you get that symbol and you have linked the task to that date.
The problem with this method if you’re building a plan is that you link tasks to dates and if you have changes in your plan, you have to move all the tasks. If you instead link them, changes ripple through your project and you can see the effect.
But how do you get rid of those icons and how are you supposed to use them?
If you select a task with a constraint and click the following butcon: the Task Information dialog box is opened (you can also double click a task to open this dialog box, but the butcon works with several tasks at the same time). Activate the Advanced tab and there you have a label for constraints. If the task has the icon, the contraint type is not Start as soon as possible, but instead it looks something like this:
If you change the constraint type to Start as soon as possible and confirms the icon disappears and the task is probably moved in time (remember, you should use linking as much as possible to show gaps, links, etc).
But if you look at the drop down, you can see that there are multiple choices. This is how they are used:
- Start as soon as possible
Means that the task starts as soon as it’s possible due to predecessors.
- End as late as possible
Means that the task ends as late as it’s possible without delaying the project.
- Start no earlier than
The first possible date is [date]. Used when for example resources cannot start working before a fixed date, etc.
- End no earlier than
The first possible end date is [date]. Used when for example a contract states how long an activity should continue.
- Must start on
Fixed start date to [date]. Used for example meetings or tasks which cannot move forward or backwards. If this criteria is set, the icon becomes red.
- Must end on
Fixed end date to [date]. Used for example meetings or tasks which cannot move forward or backwards. If this criteria is set, the icon becomes red.
If you look closely at these statements, none is a deadline and non of these should be used for deadlines. Instead you have a separate field for this, also on the Advanced tab in the Task Information dialog box (selected field on image).
If a task has a deadline, it gets a different icon BUT in the Gantt chart part of the Gantt chart view (third task on image):
Deadlines work nicely and if you re schedule and the deadlines cannot be met, you get warnings and those tasks get red icons in the icon field.
e now move on to Milestones. If you set the duration of a task to 0, the task becomes a milestone (first task on image). As you can see, the icon changes in the chart:
You can also set a longer task as a milestone. Get back to the Advanced tab on Task information and set Mark task as milestone:
You should do this with care. As you can see from the example below, milestones are per default visible on the task start date which looks odd in this case where the second task is a milestone ranging five days. In this case, I would instead create a new task, link the five day task to the new task and mark the new one as a milestone.
Finally, before the lesson is complete, we need to link the project to dates. This you do by selecting Project—>Project Information. Here you can set project start date and the calculated end date.
If you change the Schedule from to Project End date, you will instead be able to set a finish date and the start date is calculated. This is accomplished by the default task constraint type changes to End as late as possible. This can be really interesting during the planning phase, but remember to switch back when the project actually starts. Then you set the correct start date. Otherwise, your delays will say that a certain task should have started a week ago…