In this segment of our Microsoft Project Training webinar series Amanda Kuhlman instructs users on the Task Planning part 1 with Microsoft Project.

Task Planning with Microsoft Project

As is the case with all Microsoft Project Training it is good to start with the fundamentals. Especially if using Microsoft Project is something new to you.
When it comes to Task Planning, this particular topic is the process of defining the tasks (list), of everything that needs to be done in order to complete the project. Including all tasks required to complete the deliverables of the project.

This is part one of Task Planning with Microsoft Project, and in this session Amanda will walk us through:

  • Entering Tasks
  • Entering Work and/or Duration
  • Setting task dependencies
  • Setting constraints and Deadlines

There is plenty of ground to cover in this Microsoft Project Training video and we hope you learn some valuable information!

Task Planning Details

Lets first make note that Microsoft Project allows us to control the scheduling of tasks in two different ways:
Manually Scheduled: Think of manually scheduled tasks as a placeholder task you can create without affecting the rest of the plan. As you know more details, you can add those details to the plan.

Automatically scheduled: When you create these tasks, Project assigns a duration, start and finish date values to them. Project updates calculated values in response to changes in the plan.

Work with automatically scheduled tasks to take full advantage of the powerful scheduling engine in Project.
Work Breakdown Structure (WBS)

The WBS is a hierarchal arrangement of project tasks that organizes the project into manageable work. It consists of:

  • Summary Tasks: Made up of and summarizes the subtasks indented below it in the plan’s outline. Usually mark deliverables
  • Tasks: Steps required to complete work. Tasks will have predecessor/successor. Will have assigned resource
  • Milestones: Any task with zero work and zero duration will become a milestone. Milestone typically mark a significant event, such as the completion of a deliverable

We typically Organize tasks so they help you and your stakeholders think in terms of major work items, stages, or phases.
Summary tasks

  • help outline the plan. Organize groups of closely related tasks into an outline by using summary tasks.
  • A summary task is made up of and summarizes the subtasks indented below it.
  • When the summary tasks are sequenced over time, the highest-level summary tasks are called phases.

For example, it is common to divide book publishing projects into Editorial, Design, and Production phases. With an outline applied, you can then expand or collapse the outline to show just the level of detail

With an outline applied you can expand or collapse the outline to show just the level of detail you wish to view.

Summary tasks are automatically scheduled by default. The duration of an automatically scheduled summary task is calculated by Project as the span of working time from the earliest start date to the latest finish date of its subtasks. If you adjust the duration, the summary task is switched the manually scheduled.

Task Names:

Best practice for task names is to:

  • User short phrases that are easy to understand
  • Organize
  • Don’t repeat Summary Task name in sub task unless it adds clarity
  • If resources will be assigned, don’t include resource names in the task name.

Enter milestone tasks

In addition to entering tasks to be completed, you might want to account for an important event for your project’s plan, such as the end of a major phase of the project.

To do this, you will create a milestone task.

Milestones are significant events that are either reached within the plan (such as the completion of a phase of work) or imposed upon the plan (such as a deadline by which to apply for funding).

Because the milestone itself doesn’t normally include any work, milestones are normally represented as tasks with zero duration.

To visually distinguish milestones, their Gantt chart symbol appears as a diamond rather than a bar.

However, you can flag any task of any duration as a milestone.

Work and Duration

  • Work and Duration do not represent the same thing.
  • Work is very often entered in hours, and represents the number of hours required to complete a specific task
  • Duration represents the overall amount of time it may take to complete a task.

Example: It may take a Team Member 20hrs to complete the work for a task, however, due to other project commitments it may take 5 days duration for the Team Member to complete the 20hrs of work.

Task Scheduling

Tasks are scheduled according to the formula:

Work = Duration X Units

A change in one of these variables will effect one of the other variables. You can choose which part of the equation to lock down by using task types.

Task Types

 Fixed Units – a task in which the assigned units (resource allocation) is fixed, any changes to the amount of work or duration will not affect the units

 Fixed Work – a task in which the work is a fixed value, any changes to duration or units will not affect the work

 Fixed Duration – a task in which the duration is a fixed value, any changes to work or units will not affect the duration

Entering Work and Duration

 Once that all tasks have been entered with work and duration estimates provided for each task.

 Project allows us to drive our schedule either by work (effort) or duration.

Duration-based planning

Duration-based planning (driving the schedule by duration) is a scheduling method that is easier to manage, estimate and track.

Estimates are provided as durations (1 day, 4 days, etc.), and the Work is calculated as you assign resources.

You typically use Percent Complete to track the progress of the project.

To enter Duration values, simply type your estimate in the Duration column for each task.

Task durations:

  • Can range from minutes to months
  • Usually worked with on the scale of hours, days and weeks
  • Ability to give tasks a duration is one of the benefits of using Project over a simple checklist or to-do approach

Project automatically sets all new tasks that have a duration value to the start at the project start date whether tasks are manually scheduled or automatically scheduled.

Project draws a Gantt bar in the chart potion of the Gantt chart view. The length of the bar represents the task’s duration.

Project uses standard values for minutes and hours for durations: 1 minute equals 60 seconds, and 1 hour equals 60 minutes. For the durations of days, weeks, and months, you can use Project’s defaults (for example, 20 days per month) or define your own values in the Project Options dialog box.


  • Setting of 8hrs per day, entering a two-day task duration (2d) is the same as entering 16 hours (16h)
  • Setting of 20 days per month, entering a one-month task duration (1mo) same as entering 160 hours, (8 hours per day x 20 days)
  • Setting 40 hours per week, entering a three-week task duration (3w), is the same as entering 120 hours (120h)

Effort-based planning (Work)

  • With effort-based planning we specify Work estimates for tasks, and project calculates the Duration as you assign resources.
  • When tracking you are collecting Actual Work and Remaining Work.
  • These data-points make it easier to understand the exact causes as to why you schedule may be slipping or costs coming in higher than planned.
  • To enter work values, simple type your estimate in the Work column for each task.