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Exploring the Virtues of Inactivating Tasks

The Benefits of Documenting Nice-to-work Tasks

Microsoft Project (MSP) comes in two editions, Professional and Standard. The Professional version costs almost twice as much as the Standard, but it comes with more features and communication tools. One of Professional’s features is the ability to inactivate a task (or group of tasks) keeping the task information in the plan, but removing the scheduling and cost impact (as well as any related, linked relationships). This may cause some active tasks to be rescheduled depending on predecessor and successor relationships. So, let’s look at some of the details of the Inactivate feature, as well as its’ advantages.

 

The Details

One benefit of using this feature is that you can keep tasks in your plan for which you don’t want to lose the details, even if you choose not to use them. If you decide later you need these tasks (especially after you baseline your plan), you can reactivate them since you haven’t used the delete option. In this way, inactivated tasks remain a part of the plan and can always be brought back if/when necessary. It’s important to note that you can only inactivate tasks that have not yet started, meaning if a task has begun or been completed, the Inactivate feature will not work.

It’s simple to Inactivate a task. Simply select one or more tasks, and click Inactivate from the Task tab’s Schedule section. The selected task(s) instantly turns light gray with strikethrough text, which is not easy to read. Note that if you highlight a summary task to be inactivated, its’ subtasks will automatically be inactivated also. See Tables 1 and 2 below which show a small project plan example before and after using the Inactivate feature.

As you can see, the finish date has been changed from 6/26/20 to 6/18/20, and Task 4 and 5 have been inactivated and now show text that is hard to read. To make the strikethroughs more readable, you might want to highlight inactive lines and “edit” the font color to red, for example. If you later decide to Activate Task 4 and 5, highlight these lines, go back to the Task tab’s Schedule section, and click Inactivate again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Potential Benefits of Inactivating Tasks

There are many reasons, historical or otherwise, why you might want to use the Inactivate feature. You may wish to reduce scope or cut back on quality because you are over budget and/or missing deadlines. Or it may be helpful to create what-if scenario plans to evaluate alternatives in these uncertain times (Note: MSP has a Compare Projects feature found within the Report tab menu). In addition, you might want to inactivate change-request tasks waiting for approval until you need them. If the users or stakeholders happen to change their minds and revert to an earlier version or the original schedule, you can reactivate previously inactivated tasks in a snap. If you happen to have a large project plan with many Inactivate tasks, I would recommend saving paper and tired eyes by going to the View tab’s Data section and selecting the Filter feature, Active Tasks, which result in Inactivate tasks not being displayed or printed.

What do you think? Do you find the Inactivate feature to be useful? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

 

Ronald Smith
Written by Ronald Smith

Ronald Smith has over four decades of experience as Senior PM/Program Manager. He retired from IBM having written four books and over four dozen articles (for example, PMI’s PM Network magazine and MPUG) on project management, and the systems development life cycle (SDLC). He’s been a member of PMI since 1998 and evaluates articles submitted to PMI’s Knowledge Shelf Library for potential publication.

 From 2011 – 2017, Ronald had been an Adjunct Professor for a Master of Science in Technology and taught PM courses at the University of Houston’s College of Technology. Teaching from his own book, Project Management Tools and Techniques – A Practical Guide, Ronald offers a perspective on project management that reflects his many years of experience. Lastly in the Houston area, he has started up two Toastmasters clubs and does voluntary work at various food banks. 

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7 Comments
  1. Yes Ronald, I agree completely and have used the Inactivate feature numerous times for complete documentation integrity and what-if scenarios – comparing EVM and impact on scope, schedule and costs.

    Reply
  2. Hi Ronald,

    I like the idea of inactivating tasks opposed to deleting them. However, when using MS Project Essentials online, it can be hard to tell that the tasks are inactive. The online version of MS Project does not support text formatting and inactive tasks will look like active task. When in the client version of the software, the inactive task will show as light gray and lined out. If another user opens the schedule in the online version, they may not notice that the tasks are inactive. I like to add “Inactive” to the task text to avoid confusion.

    Thank you,
    David Abatangelo

    Reply
  3. I have used inactive tasks when using a schedule template. The template included all our project deliverables with some optional. Since the template included a lot of logic, deleting a task was not an easy option, so inactivating a task was used instead.

    Eventually we found having such a detailed template to cause more problems than benefits, so a simple template with a minimum of tasks was created that allowed the schedule to be slowly built level by level.

    Reply
  4. Another use of this feature is that it allows one to build a generic schedule with all the tasks required for doing similar work in the future. Then for a particular project, inactivate the tasks that will be skipped. I’ve used this for scheduling the building of different infrastructure environments: Dev, QA, UAT and PROD. Penetration testing is an example of a task that is not performed in all environment; I inactivate it for Dev and leave it active for UAT.

    Reply
  5. I am very careful using the “Inactivate” feature as it no longer has the same functionality as when it was first introduced in 2010. Originally, for your example above, since task 10 has only task 9 as a predecessor, inactivating task 9 would have acted to totally remove the link and task 10 would default to the project start date since it has no predecessors. Instead, now (since Project 2013) MS Project does some ‘behind the scenes” manipulation and basically acts as if task 7 is a predecessor to task 10 (although it is not explicitly added). I personally prefer to control the logic myself and have the program act as it originally did, but I understand that this was not the general preference. However, I am surprised that there is not more transparency and explanation regarding this. MS Office help simply (and, to me, erroneously) states “When you inactivate a task, it stays in the project plan, but does not affect resource availability, the project schedule, or how other tasks are scheduled.” and “Inactive tasks no longer affect other tasks or the overall Project plan.”

    Reply
  6. Interesting Topic as we are also using this feature. One other things we have come across is if you want to filter out the inactive tasks in various views and reports etc, some sections of the tool (Reports) only allows you to apply one filter so you may need to create a new filter that combines active tasks only with the condition you need to apply. I wasn’t able to get this filter working quite right using an AND Active Equals Yes but perhaps someone has the solution?

    Reply
  7. Deb, I have also had trouble with Inactive tasks and filters. What exactly were you trying to set-up?

    Reply

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