7 Incorrect Ways to Use Microsoft Project: Date-Related Planning

As a consultant you come across a lot of different projects/companies/people. I’ve noticed that there are some flaws that keep popping up, regardless of the company, project or person.

In this series of articles, I would like to explain 7 of these flaws and subsequently show you how to solve each situation.

Flaw #1: Date-Related Planning

Take a close look at this Gantt table, and more specifically at the Indicators column (the blue “i” icon left to task mode):



How did these calendars get there? There’s a good chance you used the Start and Finish columns to enter the dates for the tasks. Granted, those dates are editable, but they should not be edited by hand.

What will go wrong?

If you have a schedule like this, none of the tasks are linked. And that will produce a lot of work for you when you change a tasks duration. Have a look at what happens:



Did you see that? I changed the duration for task 1, but now task 2 has a incorrect starting date. Let’s fix this.

Ideally there are just two dates that should be entered in any schedule –  there can be more but I’ll get to that later. These dates are the Project Start date (you can find that one in the Project information menu) and a deadline on the milestone for the finished product. That deadline is a fixed point in time that will not move and often has a external source like your manager or a client.

All other dates are derived from dependencies!

A dependency will force the start date of a task to a later date if the predecessor takes longer to finish.



The only thing I changed between the top and bottom image was the duration. Because task 1 was linked to task 2 (start-to-finish), the second task got a different start and finish date. Great!

Now for that exception I mentioned earlier:

There are some tasks that should have a calendar (a “start no earlier than constraint” as it is officially called). These are tasks that have external predecessors. For example, you need approval of the board, and they meet only once a month. The first possible date they get together will be your constraint. Make sure you add a note to that task, that way you will know why you added that constraint.

That’s it for now, stay tuned for my next flaw: Capacity as Activity.  Leave a comment below and I’ll be sure to respond.


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

Related Content

Webinars (watch for free now!):
How to Determine the Right Scheduling Approach for your Project
Digging Deeper – Learning More about Using Constraints

7 Incorrect Ways to Use Microsoft Project: Not Using the Baseline Functionality
7 Incorrect Ways to Use Microsoft Project: Forgetting to Set a Status Date


Next Webinar

Microsoft® Project Do's & Don'ts: Incorrect Calendar Association

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. Hi Nirali,

    That doesn’t sound like expected behaviour, what version of Project are you using? And could you share a file with us to look into it some more. I think that it might be related to the options menu and the way the critical path is calculated, but there should always be a critical path I agree.

    Kind regards,

  2. Michael,
    Thank you for reaching out, in regards to your question. Yes the tool supports this scenario, and I described something closely resembling it on a blog post:

    Credits go to Nenad Trajkovski of course, he wrote most of the article.

    If you need to learn the tool fast it might be wise to find some online e-learning courses or a book. Although I would always recommend taking a formal training course to get fully proficient.

  3. Hi David,

    The Originally entered start date should be captured by a baseline. If the task finished earlier, it also (probably) started earlier. Why don’t you want to capture the earlier starting date if that is true?

    The Baseline option gives you the visibility of the original intent as well as what has actually happened. If you rely on the original start date in reporting I would advice you to change the report to look at baseline start date vs actual finish date…

    There is a lot of great content on baselines on MPUG.

    Please let me know if this sounds like a plan,
    Erik van Hurck

  4. Hi Kandasamy,

    I would say that you should use the “selected tasks” feature when updating your project. It’s a button you can press. and you should select the tasks you do want to move and not the ones that you want to keep at their place.

    But just like the question David has,,, I am curious to know why you do NOT want to move a task to a day in the future if there has been NO work done on it yet… Isn’t it the reality that the task can not be done in the past ergo should be done in the future?

  5. Hi Meenal,
    To my knowledge there is no option to link tasks (Predecessors/successors) to other date values.

    Can you let us know what the scenario is that you are thinking about? Maybe there are other options to explore.

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