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4 Handy Microsoft Project Scheduling Tips

1. When you schedule electronically, you should not enter start or finish dates for tasks. If you use Microsoft Project to simply capture dates and only dates, you may as well use Microsoft Excel instead. With MS Project, you enter durations and dependencies instead of dates to create a forecast model. The software then calculates start and finish dates by itself, based upon those durations and dependencies. A schedule with dependencies knows how to update other tasks automatically and is a dynamic model. Entering dates leads to rigid schedules with many constraint dates. We have started to call this the “4D-1D” approach to scheduling: enter Deliverables, Durations, Dependencies and Deadlines, but no Dates.

2. Since the 2010 release, Project has Manually Scheduled tasks that expect you to enter dates. You can do this as long as you eventually add the dependencies into the schedule and then switch the tasks over to Auto Scheduled; otherwise, the schedule will never be a forecast model of the project. From that point on, MS Project will calculate the Start and Finish dates for you and you are taking advantage of MS Project’s power as scheduling software.

3. There is an Auto Save option that saves your schedule every so many minutes, which you can select in ribbon File, item Options, tab Save. Here’s the trap! Note that each Auto Save wipes out the list of items you can Undo; therefore, you should carefully consider if you want to turn on auto saving. (The default is off.)

4. If you want to work with your Project Server schedules offline (without a connection to the Project Server database), you select an account to connect to Project Server and click Work Offline when starting MS Project. This allows you to work on your Project Server schedules while on a plane or wherever you do not have access to the server. In order to have your project schedules accessible offline, before you leave, you first need to check out the schedule from the database by opening it Read/write (which opens the project checked out) and not checking it back in when closing the schedule (select Keep it checked out). When you restart Project Professional, select the same Project Server account to log in (even though you are not connected), which will give you offline access to your locally saved Project Server schedules.

This article originally appeared as content in the textbook Forecast Scheduling with Microsoft Project 2013: Best Practices for Real World Projects, by Eric Uyttewaal, PMP, MVP Project.

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Written by Eric Uyttewaal

Eric is a thought leader on project, program, and portfolio management. He spends most of his time using software from Microsoft. He has authored seven well-known textbooks including ‘Forecasting Programs,’ ‘Forecast Scheduling with Microsoft Project 2010/2013/Online,’ and ‘Dynamic Scheduling with Microsoft Project 2000/2002/2003.’ He founded ProjectPro, which specializes in Microsoft Project, Project Server and Project Online. Eric developed several Add-ins with his team that enhance the capabilities of Microsoft Project in creating better schedules (Forecast Scheduling App), managing cross-project dependencies (CrossLinksPro), identifying and documenting the Critical Path (PathsPro) and creating S-curve reports (CurvesPro). He was president of PMI-Ottawa in 1997. Eric has received awards from PMI in 2009, from MPUG in 2012, and from Microsoft from 2010 until 2017 (MVP).

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