Certification Insider: Arranging Tasks

For the 70-632 certification exam the difference between summary tasks and lowest-level tasks might be the most important task organization fact to remember. But learning the tricks of the task arrangement trade can help you pass the test — and save you tons of Microsoft Project wrangling over the years.

Tasks without lower-level tasks hold the building blocks of your Project data: duration, work hours, resource assignments, and costs. They are the work packages that make up your project. Summary tasks, on the other hand, are tasks that summarize lower-level tasks. Any task with at least one lower-level task is a summary task in Project. Although you might decide to assign resources to summary tasks once in a blue moon, summary tasks are typically reserved for rolling up values from their subtasks.

The project summary task is another feature likely to pop up on the exam. When you turn on the Show Project Summary Task checkbox (on the View tab of the Options dialog box), Project includes row zero (0) in the task table. This project summary task rolls up the values for your entire project — a great way to see the 50,000-foot view of your project.

The other organizational feature that you might see on the exam is the Autolink Inserted Or Moved Tasks checkbox (on the Schedule tab in the Options dialog box), which is turned on out of the box. With this setting, Project automatically modifies task links as you insert, move, or delete tasks, which is handy when youre constructing your schedule. Once task dependencies are in place, turn off the checkbox, so you have total say over the dependencies in your file. (See “Certification Inside: Configuring Tools and Options” for more information.)

Getting tasks into the order and hierarchy you want is something you do for every project. The rest of this column is a quick tour of time-saving task techniques.

Inserting Tasks

If you identify new tasks or decide to change the way you break down work, you’ll want to add tasks to your schedule. To insert a task between two tasks, click the Task Name cell in the lower of the two task rows. Press Insert and a blank task row appears. Type the task name and press Enter. If the task isn’t at the correct outline level, press Alt-Shift-Left Arrow or Alt-Shift-Right Arrow to indent or outdent the task.

If the inserted task isn’t at the right level (suppose you want to make it a summary task or a subtask to the one above it), select the inserted task. To elevate the task to a higher level in the outline (a summary task), press Alt-Shift-Left Arrow or, on the Formatting toolbar, click Outdent until the summary task is at the level you want, as shown.

Figure 1. Task shifting.

Certification Insider: Arranging Tasks

Moving Tasks

Like the furniture in your cozy abode, you can move tasks within your task list. For example, you might move a subtask to a different summary task or relocate tasks to show them in the sequence that they occur.

To move a task, in the Gantt Chart table, first select it by clicking its ID cell. The pointer turns into a four-headed arrow, indicating that you can move the task. (To move more than one task, drag the pointer across adjacent task ID cells, or to select non-adjacent tasks, Ctrl-click each task’s ID cell.

Now, drag the task or tasks to the new location. As you drag, a horizontal gray line in the border between rows shows where the tasks will go when you release the mouse button.

If you want to move tasks several pages up or down in the list, cutting and pasting is less frustrating. As you’ve probably experienced, Project scrolls faster than grain through a goose, so dragging tasks beyond the visible rows is almost impossible. To copy tasks, select them and press Ctrl-C. Then, select the row below where you want to paste the tasks, and press Ctrl-V.

Copying Tasks

If you have similar sets of tasks in different areas of your project, copying the first set is probably easier than creating them all from scratch. Or, you might copy a meeting task so you don’t have to assign the hordes of attendees.

To copy one or more tasks, first select the task(s) by clicking the ID cell (or dragging the pointer across adjacent task ID cells or Ctrl-clicking nonadjacent ID cells). Press Ctrl-C or choose Edit | Copy Task.

Note: If the command on the Edit menu is Copy Cell, you clicked a cell other than ID. This command copies only the value in the cell you clicked.
To insert the copies, click the task row below where you want to copy the task, and then press Ctrl-V or choose Edit | Paste.

Renaming Tasks

If you want task names to be unique, you’ll have to rename any tasks you copy. A clever application of the Replace command can replace words to change task names from phase, component, or summary task.

Select the tasks that you want to rename. Press Ctrl-H (or choose Edit | Replace) to open the Replace dialog box. Make sure that the Search box is set to Down so Project searches from the first selected task through all subsequent tasks in the list.

In the “Find what” box, type the word or words that you want to replace. In the “Replace with” box, type the new term for the copied tasks. Click Replace for each occurrence of the term. Don’t click Replace All, because that command replaces the word in all tasks in the file.

Deleting Tasks

To delete a task, select its ID cell and then press the Delete key. For a subtask, Project deletes only that task. If you delete a summary task, Project deletes the summary task and all of its subtasks. If you want to delete a summary task while keeping its subtasks, move the subtasks to another summary task or outdent them to the same level as the summary task.

Modifying a Task’s Outline Level

Changing a task’s outline level is easy. Use the following techniques to change outline level:

Drop a task to the next lower level. If you create a summary task and its subtasks all at once, the tasks start out at the same level. To turn the tasks into a summary task and subtasks, simply indent the subtasks. Select the task or tasks you want to turn into subtasks, and then press Alt-Shift-Right Arrow or, on the Formatting toolbar, click Indent. If the task is at the same level as the task above it, the task indents to the next lower level in the outline, while the task above it turns into a summary task.

Promote a task to the next higher level. Moving a task higher in the outline is perfect when you want to disconnect a task from its summary task (for example, to delete the summary task without deleting the subtasks). Or perhaps you’re changing how you break down work. Select the task or tasks and press Alt-Shift-Left Arrow or, on the Formatting toolbar, click Outdent. If the outdented task was one of several at the same level, it turns into a summary task. A summary task immediately above the outdented task turns into a regular task.

Think You Know Tasks? Test Yourself!

You’re the project manager for a new residential development project. You’re using Project’s outlining features to set up your work breakdown structure. You’ve decided to change the work breakdown for the street construction and you want to delete the Street Construction summary task. Which of the following procedures removes the summary task without deleting its subtasks?

A: Delete the Street Construction summary task. Then, select the subtasks that belonged to the Street Construction summary task and click Outdent on the Formatting toolbar.

B: Select the subtasks that belong to the Street Construction summary task and press Alt-Shift-Left Arrow. Then, delete the Street Construction summary task.

C: Select the subtasks that belong to the Street Construction summary task. Click Outdent on the Formatting toolbar. Then, delete the Street Construction summary task.

D: Select the subtasks that belong to the Street Construction summary task and press Alt-Shift-Right Arrow. Then, delete the Street Construction summary task.

Scroll below the book ordering information to read the answer to this quiz.


Order the MCTS Self-Paced Training Kit (Exam 70-632): Managing Projects with Microsoft Office Project 2007.

To learn more about Microsoft certification, read, Microsoft Project Management Certification: How to Get Started.”






The Answer to Test Yourself!

Correct answer: B and C

A is incorrect. Deleting the summary task first also deletes its subtasks.

B is correct. Pressing Alt-Shift-Left Arrow promotes tasks to the next higher outline level. By promoting the subtasks to the next higher level, you can delete what was the summary task without deleting its subtasks.

C is also correct. Clicking Outdent on the Formatting toolbar promotes tasks to the next higher outline level.

D is incorrect. Pressing Alt-Shift-Right Arrow indents tasks to the next lower level. However, in this case, the subtasks are at the lowest level, so this keyboard combination does nothing.


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Written by Bonnie Biafore

Bonnie Biafore is the author of O’Reilly’s Microsoft Project: The Missing Manual (2007, 2010, and 2013 editions) and Microsoft Press’ Successful Project Management: Applying Best Practices and Real-World Techniques with Microsoft Project. She’s recorded Project Essential Training (for 2010 and 2013), Project Management Fundamentals, Managing Small Projects, and other courses for lynda.com. As a consultant, she manages projects for clients and wins accolades for her ability to herd cats. She has also written a humorous novel about hitmen and stupid criminals. You can learn more at Bonnie’s website or email her at bonnie.biafore@gmail.com.

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