The Benefits of Using Outline Codes

One of the most important considerations when setting up a schedule in MS Project is the architecture. You might ask yourself the question: In how many ways am I going to have to present these tasks? For example, in federal contracting we often need to schedule to both the Work Breakdown Structure (WBS) and the Integrated Master Plan (IMP). Both of these structures are hierarchical, so how do we manage them? In Microsoft Project, the answer lies in understanding outline codes!

Using outline codes properly can make your schedule much easier to navigate. They also look great in presentations and reports. I’ve created a short video, How to Use Outline Codes in Microsoft Project, which I hope will get you started. You may never go back to using Summary Tasks again!

My video is less than 15 minutes long and you’ll learn how to:

  • Generate up to ten hierarchical structures in MS Project
  • Easily expand and contract levels of your hierarchies
  • View levels by color and/or summarized data
  • Capture outline code views for presentations and reports

Have you used outline codes? What has your experience been? Comment below.


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Written by Eric Christoph

Eric Christoph implemented his first small business accounting system during summer break after his junior year of college. Since then he has worked as a federal contractor and consultant supporting major weapons systems acquisitions, IT sustainment programs, software development projects, and many, many proposals. For the last 15 years he has specialized in Earned Value Management Systems, serving as the Corporate EVM lead for a major defense contractor and co-authoring the PMI Practice Standard for Earned Value Management (Second Edition). Today Eric works with clients developing Integrated Master Schedules and PPM solutions using Project Online.

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  1. Eric —

    What a beautiful and informative video you created about Outline Codes in Microsoft Project. I loved it! Out of curiosity, what tool did you use to create the video so that your image appeared in the lower left corner of the screen? I thought that it was very helpful to see your face while you were doing the demo. Thanks again.

    — eDale

  2. Eric, until your article, I found outline codes almost useless. Thank you. One question, I have milestones for each of my ever 1 events. How would you code these? None of the level 3 (C0#) codes fit. Options seem to be:
    – Do not code milestones (filter them out of the report)
    – Make a C0# code for “Major Milestones” (ugly, but workable)
    – ????

    What is your solution?


  3. Thanks for the feedback. My workaround is similar to your suggestion.

    Different problem. Want a report sorted by IMP levels 1-3 + another text field:
    – IMP Level1 Group on Lvl 1
    – IMP Level 2 Group on Lvl 2
    – IMP Level 3 Group on Lvl 3
    – Text09 Group on Each Value

    This results in a report that doesn’t combine the Group Lvls (repeated groups with each Text09). Any thoughts?


  4. If I understand that correctly, you can set your GroupBy up exactly the way you listed above. The key is that you have to sort your tasks so that it displays correctly, so sort by your GroupBy field then Text9 before applying the GroupBy.

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