Helping you setup, plan and execute Microsoft Project.

Microsoft Project work instructions to help you quickly get up to speed.

microsoft project
Quick Reference Guide for Project Managers

Microsoft Project is a powerful project scheduling tool, however, this functionality can be overwhelming for new project managers. 

Our 8-step quick reference guide covers setup, planning and execution basics to help you successfully deliver projects. 

1.       Create a new project file

To create a new blank project in Project, click the File tab. Click New, and then click Blank Project.

2.       Set the project start date

Click the Project tab. In the Properties group, click Project Information. Select a date in the Start Date box.

3.       Define the project calendar

Click the Project tab. In the Properties group, click Change Working Time. If necessary, update working and non-working days and times for your project.

4.       Save the project file

Click the File tab. Click Save. Browse to file directory. In the File name box, type the project name.

If you are publishing the project to Microsoft Office Project Server 2016, type the name of the project and include any values for custom fields that are required by your organization.

1.       Enter tasksClick the Task tab. In the View group, click Gantt Chart. In the Task Name field, enter tasks. Tasks can also include summary tasks, milestones, and WBS items.
2.       Decide how you want to schedule tasks

In Project 2016, you can now schedule tasks automatically in addition to having Project manually schedule them. Select the scheduling method after you enter a new task by clicking one of the following in the Tasks group:

  • Manually scheduled: With this method, Project won’t move a task after it is created, even when resources are assigned to it, or tasks get linked to it, or if the Project calendar changes.
  • Auto scheduled: Use this method when you want Project to schedule the task based on dependencies, constraints, calendars, and other factors.

TIP: Schedules need to be dynamic to keep up with the changes in your projects. If your schedule is not dynamic then you will have to review the rest of your schedule when you make a change. You will then spend too much time keeping your schedule up to date and will likely stop reviewing changes sometime during your project.

NOTE: New tasks are manually scheduled by default. To make new tasks automatically scheduled by default, click the File tab then click Options. In Project Options, click Schedule and in Scheduling Options for this project, scroll to New tasks created and select Auto Scheduled.

3.       Outline tasks

Create your task hierarchy, including tasks and milestones under summary tasks, which can represent phases or other work divisions. Click the Task tab. In the View group, click Gantt Chart. Select a task (or several tasks), and then in the Schedule group, click the Indent or Outdent button .

TIP: If you created a summary task with a duration, start date, or finish date, then the tasks that fall under the summary task will not be rolled up to this summary task. They’ll be independent of it. This is known as top-down scheduling and is viewed as a poor scheduling technique since the summary is not a true activity but instead a grouping of activities. Instead, logic should be tied to the actual work in the schedule. 

4.       Link tasks to show relationships

Click the Task tab. In the View group, click Gantt Chart. Select the tasks that you want to link, and then in the Schedule Group click the Link Tasks button  . To change the default Finish-to-Start (FS) dependency type, double-click the line between the tasks you want to change, and then select a task link from the Type list.

Four types of logical dependency are allowed,

  • Finish-to-Start: B cannot start until A is finished.
  • Finish-to-Finish: D cannot finish until C is finished.
  • Start-to-Start: D cannot start until C has started.
  • Start-to-Finish: F cannot finish until E has started.

The majority of relationships within a detailed schedule should be finish-to-start because they,

  • Clearly indicate to management the order in which work is to be completed.
  • Is intuitive since most work is accomplished serially.
  • Is easy to trace within a schedule network.

Start-to-start and finish-to-finish relationships, in contrast, imply parallel or concurrent work, which is a valid technique for modelling overlapping of activities. However, an overabundance of these relationships may suggest an overly optimistic or unrealistic schedule. Consequently, overuse may impair schedule usefulness by complicating identification of the critical path. S–S and F–F relationships are also prone to producing unintentional “dangling” relationship logic.

5.       External dependenciesExternal dependencies are needed when there are impacts outside of your control. Therefore, insert an extra milestone for the event in your schedule with a Start No Earlier Than schedule constraint. The constraint will keep the milestone diamond on the date you have agreed to. The advantage is that if your external dependency is delayed, it is immediately clear that this was beyond your control. If the milestone was omitted, it would look like your project team started their activity late which would reflect poorly on you and your team. This is a simple technique that maintains responsibility in the case of slippage, or worse, client escalations.
1.       Add resources to your project

Click the Resource tab. In the View group, click Resource Sheet . In the Resource Name field, type the names of the resources you will use for this project including their standard and overtime rates.

NOTE 1: Ensure Maximum Unit’s remains at 100% and ensure Accrue At remains at Prorated.

NOTE 2: Unless each resource has an individual calendar then ensure Base Calendar is Standard.

2.       Assign resources to tasks

Click the View tab. In the Split View group check Details and select Task Form. Select a task and in the Task Form click on the Resource Name field to assign nominated resources.

TIP: Use the new Team Planner to drag and drop tasks around easily from one person to another within your team, or back and forth in the schedule. Click the Resource tab. In the View group, click Team Planner. You can even create new tasks on the Team Planner, or remove tasks—by just dragging or dropping.

3.       Enter the work hours resources spend on tasks

When scheduling tasks, enter the amount of work (or the amount of labour) needed to complete a task, rather than the duration for the task. Entering work reflects real-world scheduling.

To enter work hours for assigned resources, enter the work estimate in the Work Field and click ok.

4.       Know your task type

As soon as you assign resources to automatically scheduled tasks, Project 2016 determines how to schedule the task based on the task type. (Manually scheduled tasks don’t use task types.) Durations might change as you assign resources to tasks.

  • Fix One Task, Change the Second Task and MS Project will calculate the Third Task.

How task types work

Work, duration, and units (% allocation) are determined by the formula: Work = Duration * Units.

In a . . .If you revise work . . .If you revise duration . . .If you revise units . . .
Fixed units’ taskDuration changesWork changesDuration changes
Fixed duration taskUnits changeWork changesWork changes
Fixed work taskDuration changesUnits changeDuration changes

To set a default task type for the entire project, click the File tab, and then click Options then Schedule.  In Scheduling Options for this Project, scroll to the Default task type box, select Fixed Units (the default), Fixed Duration, or Fixed Work.

To change the task type for an individual task, click the Task tab, and then in the Properties group, click the Task Information button . Click the Advanced tab, and then in the Task type box, click the task type that you want to create.

TIP: To ensure a minimal project duration select a Fixed Work Type, which considers different ways of structuring work, duration and units.

5.       Identify factors affecting task schedules

You can use Project 2016 to help you understand how changes to one task can affect the rest of the project. Click the Task tab, and then in the Tasks group, click Inspect Task. A pane opens on the left showing the factors that affect the scheduling of the selected task.

TIP: You can also see task scheduling information (such as scheduling mode, duration, and start and stop times) quickly by hovering the mouse over the task’s Gantt bar.

6.       Develop a timeline

You can create a timeline by highlighting the critical path by clicking View, and within highlight select Critical.

The highlighted critical path can be added to the timeline by right-clicking over each critical activity and clicking Add to Timeline.

1.       Highlight the critical path

Click the View tab. In the Task Views group, click Other Views then More Views, and then select Tracking Gantt. To colour the text of the critical task names red, then choose Format, Text Styles and select from the list Item to Change and select the Critical Tasks item. From the list Colour, select red.

To insert total slack in the Tracking Gantt, right-click on the column heading where you want it inserted. Choose Insert Column and in the Field name select Total Slack. Critical tasks have zero slack while those with slack ≥ 0 are non-critical tasks, and those with negative slack indicate you are missing the project deadline or one or more hard constraint dates.

Ideally your Critical Path should be displayed in a complete chain from the project start to the project end date. However, there are times when you may experience fragmentation, which is a result of resource unavailability, schedule constraints and deadlines, elapsed durations, task calendars, external predecessors and workload levelling.

2.       Sort the tasks based on objective function – time, cost, over allocated resource

Having highlighted the Critical Path the next thing is to find tasks where the most can be gained by reducing time, cost or resource over allocations, which is achieved by sorting on the objective function – duration, cost or over allocated resource.  

Click the View tab. In the Data group, click Sort then Sort By…, and then select either duration, cost or over allocated, and then click Sort. When you have multiple objective functions select Then By… accordingly.

NOTE 1: Do not renumber the tasks by clearing Permanently renumber tasks otherwise if you check this option you will then lose the structure of your WBS.

NOTE 2: Ensure you sort the detail tasks and not the summary task families by checking Keep the outline structure.

3.       Find the largest objective functionWhen considering options to shorten the critical path any change has to be evaluated against quality, scope and time. The best solutions are those that make quality (Q) go up (h), the scope (S) (h) go up and the time (T) (i) to go down. Unfortunately, there is no such ideal solution and each will cause a trade-off.
4.       Make a change to it

The table below provides ranked ideas on how to shorten the critical path, with the most effective ones first.



Change sequential dependencies into partial dependencies (fast-tracking)Critical tasksO0i


Create parallel paths from a sequential path (fast-tracking)Critical tasks?0i


Split long tasks into shorter onesCritical tasks00i


Change schedule constraintsCritical tasks00i


Shorten lags (waiting periods)Critical tasks00i


Split task bars around Must Start On tasksCritical tasks00i


Decrease estimatesCritical tasksi?i


Reduce scope or delete tasksCritical tasksiii


Add resources (crashing)Critical tasks???

The table below provides ranked ideas on how to lower project costs, with the most effective ones first.



Find cheaper resourcesExpensive resources???i


Reassign to cheaper resourcesExpensive resources???i


Break up a long task and reassign portions to cheaper resourcesLong (critical) tasks00ii


Shorten the project duration to decrease overhead costsCritical tasks??ii


Prevent overtime workResources with a higher overtime rate00hi


Smooth the workloadsResources with erratic workloads???i


Decrease the estimateAny tasks with labour costsi0ii


Reduce the scope or delete tasksAny tasks with costs involvediiii
5.       Consider impacts on quality, scope and time

To evaluate the impact on quality, scope and time of changes made you need to view the new project duration, which can be done in one of two ways,

  • View the Duration of the project summary task
    • Choose File tab, click the Options tab then select Advanced and under Display options for this project check Show project summary task. The Project Summary task forces you to jump to the top of the schedule every time you check a project indicator.
  • View the Current Duration in the project statistics dialog
    • Chose File tab, click the Info tab and in the Project Information drop down, choose Project Statistics. Of the two views, this approach is the best as you can view it from wherever you are in the project without having to jump to the top of the project.
6.       Decide whether you want to keep the changeIf you find the change did not yield the result expected, simply click undo to remove the change.
7.       Repeat steps 3 – 7Continue the process of optimisation until you have solved the scheduling conflict

1.       Save the baseline plan

After your project plan is solidly in place for the finish date, budget, and scope, you can submit the plan for approval. Once it has been approved, save the baseline plan. Click the Project tab, in the Schedule group, click Set Baseline.

2.       View baseline data in a Gantt chart view

Click the View tab, and then click the Gantt Chart button. Click the Format tab, and then in the Bar Styles group, click Baseline. The baseline information is shown as the lower of the two Gantt bars for each task.

3.       View baseline data in a table

Click the View tab. In the Task Views group, click Gantt Chart (or any view that includes columns). Point to Tables, right-click and then select Variance. This table includes fields for baseline and variance start and finish.

4.       Compare baselines

Click the View tab. In the Task Views group, click Other Views and then More Views. From the list select Multiple Baseline Gantt which by default shows you Baseline, Baseline 1 and Baseline 2.

NOTE: You will have to repeat Step 1 for each baseline which needs to be saved to new baseline versions i.e. Baseline, Baseline 1, Baseline 2 …

5.       Format baselines

To see other baselines go to Format > Bar Styles and swap out the baseline starts/finishes for the fields you require.

1.       Manage changes

Managing change involves modifying durations, dates, dependencies, resource assignments, or tasks based on requested changes or new information. Keep the current fields up to date and compare them to the baseline.

2.       Decide your updating strategy

There are two strategies to updating your schedule: updating tasks or updating assignments. The strategy of updating tasks is quick and easy since you only have to enter actual dates and durations which you can do with your mouse. However, this method is less precise than entering actual hours gathered from team meetings and timesheets.

Updating of assignments requires more fields to process and therefore more work for the project manager to collect this information however it is more accurate and better practise.

It is not uncommon for project managers to stop updating their schedules during project execution because they fail to get the necessary team members information needed or are too busy to process the information. If you stop updating your schedule, you will lose the benefits of your schedule since you will no longer have up-to-date forecasts else you won’t be able to perform what-if scenarios to determine a best possible course of action. Since it is better to have a less precise grip than no grip, it’s better to reflect your project at the work package level rather than the activity level.   

Common ways to collect task information include,

  • Team meetings, where each team member is asked for their information, which you then enter preferably during the meeting to reveal new scheduling issues that can be discussed and resolved straight away.
  • To-do list turn-around reports, where each team member is distributed a to-do list that contains empty fill-in fields for status information. Team members are required to complete and return this list usually by the end of the week, by which time they get a new to-do list. For weekly reporting, a to-do list normally covers a two weeks period to show what is coming up, and to allow team members to make progress ahead of schedule.

3.       Track tasks

When updating tasks do the following,

  • Ask and collect the following data,
    • On what date did you start the task? (Actual Start)
    • On what date was the task finished? (Actual Finish)
    • How many business hours have you worked on the task as per the status date? (Actual Duration)
    • How many business days do you need to finish the task after the status date? (Remaining Duration)
  • Set the Status Date and the Current Date for updating by selecting File and then Info then Project Information.
  • Click the Tasks tab, highlight the activity and click Mark on Track and select from one-of-two options.
  • Option 1: Mark on Track
    • MS Project automatically updates based on current and status dates selected.
  • Option 2: Update Tasks
    • Update the following fields,
      • % Complete
      • Actual duration
      • Remaining duration
      • Actual start
      • Actual finish
      • Include any pertinent notes
    • Check that the schedule has updated correctly
    • Prepare status and forecast reports

4.       Track assignments

When updating assignments do the following,

  • Option #1: Ask and collect the following data,
    • What percentage of your deliverable is complete? (% Complete)
    • On what date did you start the task? (Actual Start)
    • On what date was the task finished? (Actual Finish)
    • How many total hours have you performed to date for you task? (Actual Work)
    • How many hours remain to complete your task? (Remaining Work)
    • Set the Task Type to Fixed Work
      • Remember Work = Duration * Units
      • When updating tasks, you want the duration to change, therefore, a task type of Fixed Duration is not appropriate and since you want to understand how the duration changes the appropriate task type is Fixed Work since the resources working on the task will usually remain the same. 
    • Set the Status Date and the Current Date for updating by selecting File and then Info then Project Information.
    • Click the View tab, and click Other Views and then More Views. Select Tracking Gantt view and apply the Tracking table by right-clicking in the top-left corner of the table and select the Task tab.
    • Enter the gathered information
  • Option #2: Issue To-do lists and process turn-around reports
    • Check that the schedule has updated correctly
    • Prepare status and forecast reports

5.       Track costs

As previous except apply the Cost table and customise as necessary.


1.       Select a view

Project 2016 has some old views and some new views to help you see project information and report it to others on your team or organization. Click the View tab. In either the Task Views group or the Resource Views group, select the view you want to use. There are many views, but the most useful ones include:

  • Team planner view   Move tasks easily from one person to another within your team, or back and forth in the schedule. You can create new tasks in the team planner or remove tasks – just by dragging them.
  • Timeline view   Place tasks, subtasks, or milestones onto a single timeline at the top of most views. You can copy the timeline into Word, PowerPoint, Excel, or Outlook. You can instantly create attractive project reports this way. Click the Timeline check box to see how the timeline works.
  • Gantt Chart view   View project tasks in a combination view, with columns on one side and bars along a timeline on the other side.
  • Calendar view   See project information in a familiar monthly or weekly calendar format that can be printed.

2.       Add a column

Adding columns to a view is one of the easiest ways to create the view that meets your needs.

Click the View tab. In either the Task Views group or the Resource Views group, select the view you want to use. Right click on a column header to the left of where you want to insert a new column, and then click Insert column. Type the name of the column you want to insert.

TIP:  You can also insert a custom column as easily as a built-in column. For example, if you want a column called “Deliveries”, type that name when you insert a new Text column. If you want the new column to contain only numbers (to specify the number of deliveries), then right click the column name, point to Data Type, and select the type of data that the column should contain.

3.       Customize a view

Customizing views beyond adding columns has been made considerably easier in Project 2016. Whether it’s the Team Planner, Timeline, or classic Gantt Chart, all formatting options are available on the Format tab.

Select the view you want to customize, and then on the Format tab click the type of view element you want to change, such as the bar styles on the Gantt Chart, callout text on the Timeline, or the gridlines and timescales of any views.

TIP: If you want to filter, sort, or group tasks prior to printing, Click the View tab, and then in the Data group, click the Sort, Filter, or Group options.

4.       Print a view or report

Set up the current view the way that you want it to look when printed. Click the File tab, and then click Print. A preview of the view will be printed appears on the right.

TIP: Click in the preview part of the view to see the actual size of the view as it will be printed.

5.       Generate a report

Click the Reports tab, and then in the View Reports group, click one of the following:

  • Dashboards Create dynamic reports based on your project data.
  • Resources Better manage your teams work by analysing reports around resource data.
  • Costs Keep control of your project costs by analysing reports around cost data.
  • In Progress Analyse how your project is going so far.
  • Visual Reports   Use visual reports to see your project’s data as a PivotTable report in Excel 2016 or a Pivot Diagram view in Visio Professional 2016.
  • Compare Projects   Use a compare projects report to view a report that displays changes in the current project compared to another project.

1.       Create a final report

Click the Project tab. In the Reports group, click Visual Reports to see your project’s data as a PivotTable report in Excel 2016 or a Pivot Diagram view in Visio Professional 2016.

You can also view basic reports that don’t require Excel or Visio. Click the Project tab, and in the Reports group, click Reports. Double-click a report category, and then double-click the predefined report. Enter any requested information. A preview of the report appears. To print the report, click Print.

2.       Save a project as a template

After completing a project, you should leverage what you’ve learned in the project by making it a template for future projects. Click the File tab, click Save As, and then in the Save As Type box, click Template.

Finding Something Interesting ?