Background

A user in the Project Online user forum recently asked if there is a visual method in Microsoft Project that he could use to highlight important tasks in the project. The user thought that he might be able to draw a big rectangle around all of the important tasks, including the tasks in the task sheet on the left side of the Gantt Chart view and the Gantt bars on the right side of the view.

Since it is not possible to draw graphical objects in the task sheet portion of the Gantt Chart view, I proposed an entirely different method for highlighting important tasks in a project. This method involves using the Marked field to indicate important tasks of interest, along with using Text Styles to highlight the important tasks in the task sheet, and using Bar Styles to highlight the Gantt bars of the important tasks in the Gantt Chart pane. Following is how to set up and use this solution to highlight important tasks in your projects.

Indicate Important Tasks Using the Marked Column

The first step in this process is to use the Marked field to indicate important tasks. The Marked field is a very special Flag field that can be used in conjunction with both Text Styles and Bar Styles in Microsoft Project. Complete the following steps to indicate important tasks using the Marked field:

  1. Apply the Gantt Chart view.
  2. Right-click on the Duration column header and select the Insert Column item on the shortcut menu.
  3. In the list of available task fields, select the Marked field. Microsoft Project displays the Marked column to the right of the Task Name column, as shown in Figure 1.

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Figure 1: Marked column inserted in the Gantt Chart view

  1. In the Marked column, select a Yes value for every important task.  In doing this, you distinguish important tasks from the non-important tasks, using the Marked field as the way to distinguish between the two.
  2. Optionally right-click on the Marked Column header and select the Hide Column item on the shortcut menu if you want to hide the Marked column.

Use Text Styles to Highlight Important Tasks

After indicating important tasks using the Marked column, the next step is to set up Text Styles to highlight the important tasks in the task sheet portion of the Gantt Chart view by completing the following steps:

  1. Click the Format tab to display the Format ribbon.
  2. In the Format section of the Format ribbon, click the Text Styles button.
  3. At the top of the Text Styles dialog, click the Item to Change pick list and select the Marked Tasks item as shown in Figure 2.

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Figure 2: Select the Marked Tasks item in the Text Styles dialog

  1. Click the Background Color pick list and select the cell background color that you want to use to indicate important tasks in your project.  For example, you might pick the Light Green color in the Standard Colors section of the menu.
  2. If the background color you choose is a dark color such as the Dark Blue color for example, then click the Color pick list and change the font color to White so that the text stands out against the cell background coloring.
  3. Click the OK button.

Microsoft Project automatically changes the cell background color of every important task, such as the tasks shown in Figure 3. For the purpose of clarity, I left the Marked column displayed in the Gantt Chart view so that you can easily see that the tasks with a Yes value in the Marked column are formatted with the light green cell background formatting. Notice also how Microsoft Project applies the cell background formatting to the entire task row for each important task.

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Figure 3: Important tasks automatically formatted with the Light Green cell background formatting

Use Bar Styles to Highlight Important Tasks

If you want to automatically change the color of the Gantt bars for important tasks, then you should complete the following additional steps:

  1. Double-click anywhere in the white part of the Gantt Chart pane. Microsoft Project displays the Bar Styles dialog shown in Figure 4.

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Figure 4: Bar Styles dialog

  1. Scroll to the bottom of the list of items in the Bar Styles dialog.
  2. In the first blank row, manually type the name Important Tasks in the Name column, and then press the Right-Arrow key on your computer keyboard.
  3. With the Appearance cell selected, set up the bar appearance the way you want to see it, including using the same color used in the previous set of steps. You use the Shape, Pattern, and Color fields in the Bars section at the bottom of the dialog to set up the bar appearance. When finished, press the Right-Arrow key on your computer keyboard.
  4. With the Show For… Tasks cell selected, click the pick list in the cell and select the Marked item on the pick list.
  5. Do not change any of the values in the Row, From, and To columns. Figure 5 shows the Bar Styles dialog with the new Important Tasks item added at the bottom of the list. Notice the formatting of the Gantt bars for this new item, applied in the Bars section at the bottom of the dialog.

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Figure 5: Important Tasks item added to the Bar Styles dialog

  1. Click the OK button.

Microsoft Project automatically formats the Gantt bars with the same color as the cell background color used for important tasks, as shown in Figure 6.  Whenever you need to mark additional important tasks, change the Marked value to Yes.  To make an important task un-important, set the Marked value to No for that task.  In either case, Microsoft Project automatically changes the cell background colors and the Gantt bar colors when you change the Marked value for any task.

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Figure 6: Gantt bars for important tasks formatted in green

A version of this article originally appeared on the Sensei Project Solutions blog.