Where Manually Scheduled Tasks can be Useful

In our last blog we described manually scheduled tasks as used in Microsoft Project.  As a reminder, here’s what they look like:

manually scheduled tasks window

In the above illustration, task 1 is an automatically scheduled task, while tasks 2 and 3 are manually scheduled.

We described how manually scheduled tasks aren’t meant to be used when you’re constructing a schedule that you want to baseline and track. While it’s possible to link manually scheduled tasks together in the same way you would with automatically scheduled tasks, when your schedule changes manually scheduled tasks don’t react correctly.

Here’s an example:

In the image below we’ve linked 3 manually scheduled tasks. In this state they represent the same program that would have appeared if we would have used automatically scheduled tasks.

So far, there’s no problem.

mt2

Here’s what happens if we change the duration of Task 1 from 4 days to 8 days:

mt3

With the duration of Task 1 increased, the end date of Task 1 has been pushed out to 20/4/16. However, have a look at Task 2. Its start date hasn’t changed. If this were an actual project we would want the start date of Task 2 to be pushed out to 21/4/16.

The result here is that we have a Gantt chart that can’t be used as a forward-looking management tool.

So where would manually scheduled tasks be useful?

“Mock-up” Schedules

The first use for manually scheduled tasks is to create rough “mock-up” schedules. This is where a client might ask you to “provide a picture” of what a future project should look like so they can get an approximate idea of how it should play out.

In this scenario, we’re not going to baseline and track this project. We’re also not going to create a lot of detail or break it down into all the tasks. It’s an overview only, equivalent to a summary-bar report.

You can consider this a drawing of a future project, but only as a rough sketch. If the project was approved to go ahead, you’d then create a correctly structured Gantt chart using automatically scheduled bars, and it is this one that would be baselined and tracked.

Illustration bars

Have a look at the schedule below:

Task schedule

In this simplistic example we’re involved in some construction at a school. Two of the tasks are to demolish the old canteen (task 2) which will take 8 working days and rebuild the new canteen (task 4), which should take 15 working days. The combined total of these 2 tasks is planned to be 23 working days.

While the canteen is being demolished and rebuilt, there will be no lunch facilities for the students. It would be favourable, therefore, for this process to coincide with school holidays, which run from 17th September to 2nd October.

We’ve added a manually scheduled bar School holiday period (Task 3) to give us a visual guideline as to when the holidays fall in relation to the work on the canteen.

We’ll build the new canteen regardless of when the holidays are, but if we can get tasks 2 and 4 to coincide with the school holidays as much as possible, we’ll be able to pay less for temporary lunch facilities and we’ll inconvenience the students the least possible amount.

Note that this manual task isn’t linked to any other bar – its function is cosmetic only, and helps us visualise real tasks’ timeframes in relation to the holidays.

For more Microsoft Project tips check out our full blog.


Paul Silverman is a Director of ProjectTMA Pty. Ltd. As well as being a senior Microsoft Project training consultant he works with clients to help them incorporate Microsoft Project into their project management methodology. For more information call 1300 363 822 or email: paul.silverman@projecttma.com.au.

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