Creating Master Projects and Sub-projects

cropOne of the key skills that we hear about in project management is gaining a handle on multiple projects and viewing the integration among them. This can be a pain point for project managers who don’t have access to an enterprise system such as Microsoft Project Server or Microsoft Project Online, but who still want to create views, reports and snapshots or link project files together (essentially, tying tasks from one project to another file).

I find that the best way to create integrated activities as well as a snapshot report of work over time is to leverage the “master project” in Microsoft Project.

In this article, I’m going to give you a few best practices around creating a master project. And in case you’re wondering, yes, these techniques will definitely scale if you need them to; my company has managed programs and portfolios of $500,000,000 and upwards using master projects.

The Benefits of a Master Project

Why use a master project?

  • Master projects give you the ability to create a permanent collection of projects that can be viewed at any time;
  • When viewing your project list, a master project enables you to view the master project and subprojects all at one time in a list;
  • A master project lets you create consolidated project reporting;
  • Master projects provide a way to link different project files together, meaning you can also link different tasks between project through the master project; and
  • You can establish snapshots (non-linked schedules) so you can historically review progress over time vs. trying to have multiple columns of dates and times within a single file.

Getting Started with Master Projects

Before you begin creating your master project, you need to determine if you want each subproject’s SharePoint site to be available in the master project SharePoint site. If yes, then don’t publish the subproject until the master project is published. Once the subprojects have been saved, checked in and closed — but not published — you’re ready to create your master project. Here’s how:

1. Using Microsoft Project Pro, create a new blank project and select the subproject tab.

2. Navigate to your first subproject and click on it one time only. Then click the circle next to the appropriate mode and select insert.


To add additional subprojects, select a new blank row within the master project and repeat steps 1 and 2.

3. Once you’ve selected all the subprojects you want to include in the master project, click the file tab to save your master project and any changes to the subprojects as needed

4. The dialogue box below will pop up, where you can name and save your master project. Select “No to all” if you’ve inserted your subprojects as read-only.


Now you’re ready to publish or save your master project and create the SharePoint Site.

5. Select the File tab from Projects Ribbon.


6. Click “Publish” if you’re connected to Project Online or Project Server. If you’re working on a local file, select Save As and save the master project file into a local directory. Note that your subproject files also need to be accessible from the file that you’re using as a master, meaning that you should save them in a directory to which you have access.


If you’re connected to an Enterprise version of Project, you’ll publish the changes. Note that you may choose to not save any changes to local files that were inserted.


7. The dialogue box below will pop-up; Select “No to all” if you’ve inserted your subprojects as read only or “Yes to all” if you want to update your local files with your changes.

One of the nice parts about saving and publishing files into an Enterprise version of Project is that you can have Project Server or Project Online automatically create an entire SharePoint site that’s connected to your project. Then, if you decide to link files, documents, deliverables, issues and risks, you can have them connected and available for viewing or assign them to the actual tasks in Project.

8. The following dialogue box will pop up. Select “Publish” if you’re connected to the Enterprise version of Project.


You’ll see the following dialog box to save all local files you’ve inserted.


Once the publishing is complete, you can close and check the master project in. Now you’re ready to publish the subprojects. To do this, you’ll need the URL information from step 8.

9. Open the subproject and then click check out | File & Publish. Or if you’re saving a local version of Project, choose File Save As.


10. The dialogue box below will pop-up; select Publish. Close and check in the project. Repeat those steps for all subprojects.


Creating Snapshots of Projects

One way that you can create historical snapshots of single and multiple projects is to use the master project; but instead of having linked files, choose not to link them. This is an excellent way to take snapshots and — in Project 2007 or higher — gain the ability to compare project files against each other to identify the differences.

Let’s look at an example. Click on the Project tab and select subproject.


Once you’ve selected this, it will bring up the Insert Project dialogue box. Make sure you turn off the checkbox for “Link to project.”


With Link to project turned off, any and all projects will simply be inserted as regular tasks with a summary task for the top level row of the project.


Notice the standard Project file icon isn’t there.

Each of these files are embedded as if you had copied and pasted them; they’re not linked to the original file.

If you ever want to compare one version of a Project file to another, simply use the Compare Projects button found on the ribbon. If you’re in Project 2010, it will be found on the Projects tab. If you’re in Project 2013 or Project 2016, you’ll find it on the Reports tab. This screenshot shows Project 2013.


The master project functionality gives you the ability to connect and view multiple files, do resource assignments, link tasks and create snapshots. It’s truly masterful.

A version of this article initially appeared on the Advisicon blog here.

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Tim Runcie, PMP, MCP, MCTS, P-TSP, MVP is one of 6 Microsoft Project MVP’s in North America and has held that title for 17 years in a row.  A seasoned veteran of complex programs, and portfolio management systems, Tim works with companies like Microsoft on next generations of Project, Program, and portfolio technologies.  Tim is an accomplished speaker, consultant, and educator, supporting the project management community for over 25 years. As the President and founder of Advisicon, Tim has written over 38 books on PM methodologies and technologies. Advisicon has recently added a non-profit division focused on helping faith-based and 501-C3 organizations with implementing and training on available business solutions and providing business coaching or process automation with the mission of “Serving those who Serve.” Free resources are available at or on Tim’s LMS,
  1. Good start, you should follow this up with linking and understanding the critical path through all projects.

  2. Kevin, you are totally correct. I would love to expand more on this and it is an excellent intro to the larger topic of integrated schedules, Programs and critical path across multiple schedules.

  3. Nice article Tim. For local projects (no Project Online or Server) only use the unlinked option as linked there is a significant file corruption risk if files are not on your own PC or at least on a disk drive physically in your building.

    The big advantage of unlinked local masters is that they also consolidate resources. For linked master files you either have to add a resource pool as well which doubles file corruption risk, or have Project Online or Server to report on resource usage across your sub-projects.

    I too have planned large programs of projects with Project master files, from Refinery upgrades to complex SAP implementations. They are a great feature.

  4. How can I do the link to sharepoint if I am only using MS Project 2010?

  5. Hi there, you can’t create a master Project using Project Schedules that are stored in SharePoint document libraries.

    You could open them all together in a single window and then do a Master Project in that session. That would give you a quick view across all of the schedules in a single view.

    Hope that helps.

    Warm regards,

    ~Tim Runcie, PMP, MCTS, MCTIT, MVP

  6. This is an excellent intro for creating master schedules in Project Server environment, and a great help as my company launches Project Server to manage large future projects.

  7. Hi Dotti,

    Yes, shading is OK, but it typically doesn’t cover all of the cells, especially if you expose different columns in different views or tables.

    One thing to consider is that if you do sorting or filtering or grouping, that adding a simple graphical indicator for all task that belong to a specific project, will help you quickly visualize what activities belong to which project.

    ~Tim Runcie

  8. Great question Jill,

    I believe their is a limit, but I know I have embedded upwards of 20 files into a Master.

    What I think the real issue is, is the size of the subprojects and the number of custom calculated fields, assignments and also your PC’s horsepower (CPU & RAM).

    I’ve experienced crashing and video refresh issues when these were in play.

    I welcome others who spend more time (not in an Enterprise Environment) to chime in on their experience.

    Hope this helps,

    Warm regards!

  9. Hi Peter, great question.

    You can always delete a subproject from the master and re-add it to the Master Project Later.

    One thing about Master & Sub Projects, is that the data is always the same. Remember the sub-project file you aren’t really deleting it if you (select the row and delete the entire inserted schedule), you are simply removing it from the Master Plan.

    Hope that helps. Reach out to me directly if you want to dig in deeper.

    Warm regards, Tim Runcie

  10. Hi Shail, great question.

    Unfortunately you cannot have a single MS Project File saved into 2 Master Project files. When you go to put the same project schedule into the 2nd Master Project it gives you an error message.

    However, remember in Project Server or Project Online (Enterprise), you have the ability to add Project Level (or file level) custom fields that allow you to group and roll up projects by the same field. This should address your need directly.

    Another key point is that you can build a Master Project and Insert projects into is, view information or edit tasks and then not save the Master Project.

    We also use Power BI for doing other similar levels of groupings of issues, risks (coming from SharePoint, Tasks, Resources etc.

    I hope this helps

    ~Tim Runcie, PMP, MCTS, MCP, MVP

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