7 Incorrect Ways to Use Microsoft Project: Lack of Structure

This is the third article of this series highlighting common incorrect uses of Microsoft Project. The images in these posts are built using the Microsoft Project 2013 Pro edition, but this series can be useful for all versions of the product.

Flaw #1: Date-Related Planning

Flaw #2: Capacity as Activity 

Flaw #3: Lack of Structure (Work Breakdown Structure)

Building a Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) can be a daunting task. There are a lot of things to consider: how many levels of detail will you incorporate in the schedule? How many tasks will be on one level? Will we use the standard WBS number or do we need to conform to a financial system?

The rewards however are great! A structured WBS will give you more insight in your project. It will be easier to report on progress. Plus, not only you, but your entire team will be able to read and understand the schedule. So let’s explore this WBS concept some more.

A correct WBS looks like this in the Gantt diagram:


These are the most important items you use while building a Work Breakdown Structure in MS Project:

  1. The Project Summary Task
  2. The Outline Codes
  3. Indenting and Outdenting a Task


1. Project Summary Task

The Project Summary Task can be found in 2010 and 2013 versions of the product in the “Gantt-chart tools Format” menu. The checkbox should be located on the far right in the screen together with the outline codes. In earlier versions it is hidden away in the “tools –> extra” menu, look for it at the bottom of one of the tabs.

This summary will give you a quick overview of your entire project! How sweet is that? All project costs, work, and the total duration (including start and finish dates) are there.

2. Outline Codes

Outline codes are the numbers that represent a task’s place in a schedule. I can’t provide a better definition of these codes then Microsoft does itself, so here is their definition and how to create them in Microsoft Project.

3. Indenting and Outdenting a Task

This is key! Indenting a task will create a new level in the WBS. The task above the selected task will become a summary task. Summary tasks (like the Project Summary Task) give you an overview of the underlying data. Costs, duration, and work will be totaled in the summary.

I hope you liked the post, please let me know if there is anything missing about the WBS. Also feel free to share any interesting links in the comments below. Keep your eyes open for my next flaw: To much detail in the schedule.


This article was originally published on Erik van Hurck’s website, The Project Corner. You can visit his website for more helpful tips.

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The Resume Fields in Project 2010 and 2013.

Written by Erik van Hurck
Erik van Hurck is a Senior PPM consultant for Projectum, a western European Microsoft Partner with offices in Denmark and The Netherlands. On top of that Erik is a Microsoft MVP. As such, Erik assists enterprise customers to adopt the new Power Platform cloud solutions for Project and Portfolio Management. Erik has a personal blog (www.theprojectcornerblog.com) and is also a writer for the Microsoft Project User Group (MPUG.com).
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  1. When is it practical not to have a predecessor task. To me the first task in the project obviously does not have a predecessor task. But what about as you get further down into the WBS?

  2. Hi Jack,
    Thanks for the respons. In my opinion only the first project doesn’t have a predessesor… Unless there are more then one task starting at the beginning of a project.

    If you have an example of an exception I would love to hear it.

    Kind regards,
    Erik van Hurck

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