Want to learn what’s new in Project 2016? Join author Sai Prasad as he explores updates to the latest versions of Microsoft Project in this MPUG webinar now available on-demand.

Microsoft Project calculates the task start and task finish based on many factors: calendar, constraints, predecessors, resources, lags. (Tip: If you want to see the factors affecting the current task, turn on the Task Inspector, as this Microsoft article explains.) Ever since its first version, Project has provided multiple ways to set the task dependencies — via Predecessors and Successors columns, through the Task Information dialog and in the Task form view:

Predecessors and Successors columns in the Gantt Chart view

Task Information dialog

The Task form view

Each of these options comes with benefits. In the first option, you type the IDs of the tasks the current task is dependent on in the Predecessors column and the same applies to Successor columns too. In the second option, you can see the dropdown with task names to choose the task the current task is dependent on and set multiple predecessors in the Task Information dialog. In the third option you can combine the Task form view with the current view to review as well as change the dependencies set.

Any seasoned Project user might complain that the user interface for setting task dependencies far from intuitive. In option one, you need to type the correct task IDs in the Predecessors or Successors columns and review your work through a Relationship diagram or Network diagram. In options two and three the names in the dropdown are sorted alphabetically and not displayed in the order present in the plan. Another confusion this design adds is that when the plan has many tasks with the same name, there’s no way to know which task is part of which phase. In this example, I don’t know whether the first “Determine project scope” task is part of Scope Phase 1 or Scope Phase 2.

However, rescue is at hand. A new feature was added to Project Online Desktop with the March 2017 version 1703 (Build 7967.2139) release. Thank you, Microsoft.

Let’s review the improvements in this update by examining each option we’ve already covered but as it displays in the new release.

Predecessors and Successors columns in the Gantt chart view

The Task Information dialog

The Task form view

Under the new design when you select a cell in the Predecessors column and then click the down arrow, you’ll see a list of all the tasks in your project. The task hierarchy and order matches your project exactly, making it easy for you to scroll to the right task and then select the checkbox beside it. Ellen Lehnert has published an interesting article on why it’s not a best practice to link summary tasks within a work breakdown structure. The new design moves us a step closer towards avoiding this mistake.

What do you think about it? Tell us in the comments below.