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What Are the Most Important Options Settings in Microsoft Project?

Introduction

Microsoft Project offers three types of options in the Project Options dialog. These option types include:

  • Application Options – These options control how the software looks and works, and they impact every project you open. You only need to set these options once, as they are not project-specific.
  • Project-Specific Options – You can set these options to any project currently open. Because these options are project-specific, you can specify a different options for each project, depending on the type of project.
  • Options for All New Projects – These options impact all new projects created from the Blank Project If you regularly create new projects from a blank project, you definitely need to set these options so that you do not need to set them manually for every new project you create.

Which options are the most important in Microsoft Project? I am hoping this blog post article generates some conversation about what you believe are the most important options settings. In the meantime, allow me to share some of the options settings that I believe are important, or are at least important to me.

To specify all three types of options settings, click the File tab and then click the Options tab in the Backstage. Microsoft Project displays the General page of the Project Options dialog shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1: Project Options dialog – General page

 

General Page Options

There are several options on the General page that I believe are important because they impact the “user experience” with Microsoft Project. The first option is the Date format option, found in the Project view section of the dialog. This option controls how Microsoft Project displays the dates in every project you open, so I believe this setting is especially important. The default setting, Wed 1/28/09, displays the day of the week along with the date. This means that all date-related columns, such as the Start and Finish columns, need to be fairly wide to display the complete date. I recommend that you change the Date format value to the 1/28/09 setting, which displays dates using the short date format. This means that date-related columns do not need to be nearly so wide.

The second option, the Show the Start screen when this application starts option, is important to me personally, but it might be important to you as well. When selected, which is the default setting for this option, Microsoft Project displays the Start screen every time you launch the software. Figure 2 shows the Start screen in my copy of Microsoft Project. When Microsoft introduced this new feature, I found it personally annoying, and disabled the feature as soon as I found the option to disable it. If you do not like seeing the Start screen every time you launch the software, then I recommend you deselect the Show the Start screen when this application starts option. If you disable this option, then each time you launch Microsoft Project, the software immediately opens a new blank project. This is how the software used to work before Microsoft introduced the Start screen as a new feature.

Figure 2: Start screen in Microsoft Project

 

Schedule Page Options

Click the Schedule tab to display the Schedule page of the Project Options dialog shown in Figure 3. This page includes a number of options that control the schedule of the active project, but I believe the most important options are all found in the Scheduling options for this project section of the dialog. Notice in Figure 3 that I scrolled the dialog to focus on the options in this section of the dialog.

Figure 3: Project Options dialog – Schedule page

 

The first important option is the New tasks created option. This option determines whether Microsoft Project creates a Manually Scheduled task or an Auto Scheduled task each time you add a new task to your project schedule. With very limited exceptions, I do not believe you should use Manually Scheduled tasks in your projects because of their very restrictive and inflexible behavior. Instead, I believe you should always use Auto Scheduled tasks to allow the Microsoft Project scheduling engine to work as designed. Because of this, I recommend you change the New tasks created value to the Auto Scheduled setting.

The second important option is the Default task type option. This option determines whether new tasks you add to your project schedule are Fixed Units, Fixed Work, or Fixed Duration tasks. My recommended setting for this option is based entirely on your scheduling needs, and is based which one of three numbers that you want to fix or “lock” in the scheduling engine. I personally like the Fixed Units setting, but a company I worked for recently prefers Fixed Work, and the latest client with whom I worked prefers Fixed Duration. So, for this option, I have no specific recommendation. I simply want to let you to know that this setting is important and should be set according to your scheduling needs.

The third important option is the New tasks are effort driven option. This option refers to the Effort Driven behavior of Microsoft Project. Suppose that it would take one painter working full-time for 10 days to paint a large home. If you add a second full-time painter to help with the painting, the painting time would be reduced to only 5 days. This behavior is what we call Effort Driven scheduling. Think about the majority of tasks in your own Microsoft Project schedules. If you add a helper to a task in your own projects, do you expect that the software will reduce the Duration accordingly? If your answer is yes, then I recommend you select the New tasks are effort driven checkbox. If your answer is no, then I recommend you leave this option deselected.

The fourth important option involves the use of Estimated Duration values, represented by the Show that scheduled tasks have estimated durations and New scheduled tasks have estimated durations options. Both of these options are selected by default, and are responsible for the display of question marks to the right of Duration values, such as 1d? for example. When selected, these two options are very helpful if you primarily use Duration-based planning. Since the question marks only disappear when you manually type a Duration value, these two options help you to spot any tasks for which you have not yet entered a Duration value. If you primarily use Work-based planning, where you assign resources to tasks with a Units value and a Work value and then Microsoft Project calculates the Duration, then these two options are not very helpful. If you primarily use Work-based planning, I recommend you deselect these two options. If you primarily use Duration-based planning, I recommend you leave the options selected.

 

Advanced Page Options

Click the Advanced tab to display the Advanced page of the Project Options dialog shown in Figure 4. This page includes a number of advanced options that control the display and schedule of the active project, but I believe the most important options are found in the Display options for this project section of the dialog. Notice in Figure 4 that I scrolled the dialog to focus on the options in this section of the dialog.

Figure 4: Project Options dialog – Advanced page

 

The first set of important options in this section of the dialog control the abbreviations used for time units, represented by the Minutes, Hours, Days, Weeks, Months, and Years options. These options are important because they impact how Microsoft Project displays Duration values and Work values in the active project. I personally recommend that you change these options to display the shortest abbreviations possible, so that columns that display Duration and Work values can be narrower as a consequence. For example, I recommend you change the Days option from the default day value to the d value instead.

Another option in this section of the Advanced page is very important. It is the Show project summary task option. The Project Summary Task is the highest-level summary task in the project, and summarizes the entire project into a single task. Also known as Row 0 or Task 0, the Project Summary task displays the current Start date of the project, the current calculated Finish date of the project, the current Duration of the project, as well as the total Work, Cost, and variance for the entire project. I believe it is vital that you display the Project Summary task in every project you manage; therefore, I recommend you select this option.

 

Summary

There are literally dozens of additional options available in the Project Options dialog in Microsoft Project. These are the options I think are important. At the very least, they are important to me. What do you think? Which options do you think are most important in Microsoft Project?

 

Dale Howard
Written by Dale Howard

Dale Howard is the Director of Education for PROJILITY. He has used Microsoft Project since version 4.0 for Windows 95 and he has used the Microsoft PPM tool since the first version of released as Project Central in the year 2000. He is the co-author of 21 books on Microsoft Project, Project Server, and Project Online. He is currently one of only 28 Microsoft Project MVPs in the entire world and one of only 6 in the United States.

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10 Comments
  1. Dale, Great stuff! I find myself almost always agreeing with you. It must be our gray hair! Thanks!
    Eric

    Reply
  2. Eric — Thanks for your very kind comments, my friend. Yes, I suspect is our gray hair, plus MANY years of experience with Microsoft Project! HA! — eDale

    Reply
  3. This was a very helpful article. I suggestion, you started by indicating 3 categories of options: application, project-specific, all new projects. Unless I missed it, I didn’t follow which of these categories each of your recommendations falls into.

    Reply
  4. Dennis — Excellent question! You see Application options primarily on the General, Display, and Save pages of the dialog, with a few Application options scattered on the other pages as well. You see Project Specific options on the Schedule and Advanced pages of the dialog. You can identify a Project Specific option when it is in a section that contains the words “….options for this project”. When you see those words in a section title, click the pick list to the right of the section title and select the All New Projects item on the pick list. In that section, you now see the All New Projects options. Hope this helps. — eDale

    Reply
  5. Great highlight, Dale. Thank you for that – I will be forwarding this on to all of my colleagues that use MSP. Could we get a couple of links in the applicable paragraphs that lead us to separate articles detailing the differences and nuances of “fixed units vs. fixed work vs. fixed duration” and of “effort driven” as these seem to be some of the more elusive concepts? Thanks!

    Reply
  6. Dale Howard

    Rob — Thanks for your very kind comments, my friend, and for sharing this article with your colleagues. I am very flattered you would do so! Regarding how Task Types and Effort Driven interact, please watch the following MPUG webinar on this very subject:

    https://www.mpug.com/webnlearn-recordings/eliminate-the-confusion-deep-dive-into-task-types-and-effort-driven/

    I did the webinar when I worked for Sensei, but I now work for Projility, just so you know. Thanks!

    Reply
  7. I recently discovered that a setting in advanced options, to switch on and off graphics acceleration, affect the way a comparison report is shown. This is on documented, And to Microsoft support weeks to work it out. Be careful, it is a bug which is not fixed yet.

    Reply
  8. Tom, thanks for sharing your warning.

    Reply
  9. Dale, time-tested suggestions as always. Its amazing how the same settings are always questions we get as we go into clients and new folks to MS Project. Excellent summary, I would not expect anything less from you! Thank you.

    Reply
  10. Tom — Thanks for those very kind comments, my friend! 🙂

    Reply

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