One of the biggest changes made to Microsoft Project 2010 is "Manually Scheduled mode" for new tasks. This articles describes what this means for task scheduling and how it affects project planning. Tasks in Project 2010 are manually scheduled by default but you can change this to auto schedule as in previous Project versions if you wish.

How Auto scheduled tasks work

In previous versions of Project, tasks were always auto scheduled. This meant that if you enter two tasks with durations 2 and 3 days and link them together, Project shows the tasks linked with an overall duration of 5 days. Auto scheduling occurs if you then CHANGE the start or duration of the first task.

So if you do change the start date or duration of the first task, Project moves the second task on the Gantt chart to accommodate these changes. Adding resources to the tasks and then changing the assigned resources can also result in further changes to task durations. This is auto scheduling at work.

If you do want Project 2010 to auto schedule all new tasks in the current project, you click on the New Tasks button on the far left of the status bar at the bottom of the screen and select Auto Scheduled. You can also set the default to Auto Schedule for all new projects via Project Options in the File tab. However by default Project 2010 uses manual scheduling.

How Manually scheduled tasks work

In Project 2010, new tasks are Manually Scheduled by default. You can think of a manually scheduled task in Project 2010 as a regular task without any constraints. So if you drag a manually scheduled task on the Gantt Chart it simply moves to the new position - there are no constraints applied to lock it to the new position.

A manually scheduled task also will not move positions once first setup within task relationships, so if you change a predecessor task duration or start date, the manually scheduled task will not move subsequently.

When you create a new manually scheduled task, you first enter a task name. Project assumes nothing about start date or duration so the task does not appear in the Gantt chart until further details are added. When you enter task start or end dates, black markers appear on the Gantt chart and when you enter duration the coloured bar is displayed. So you can tell which tasks are manually scheduled by these distinctive markers.

Because manually scheduled tasks do not have constraints, they can be useful when you want to add tasks in fixed time/ date slots. For example you can add a task to deliver a 2 day training course on a certain date without having any details about resources.

You can link two manually scheduled tasks in the same way as an auto scheduled task and the second task is moved on the Gantt Chart to start when the first task finishes. However if you then CHANGE the start or duration of the first task, for example by dragging it several days forward on the Gantt Chart, the second task will NOT move - it does not auto schedule so it stays put.

Manually scheduled Summary Tasks

Another example of a manually scheduled task is the use of a manually scheduled summary task set with a particular duration. If you then add and link auto scheduled tasks under the Summary task you can keep an eye of the progress of that part of the project. If the linked tasks extend further than the Summary task, a red warning bar appears to alert you. If the linked tasks are less duration than the summary task, the warning task is blue.

To summarise, Project 2010 introduces more task scheduling options with manually scheduled tasks which let you tie tasks into specific time or date slots without the need for constraints. And once built into a project plan with task relationships, any change in task scheduling will not affect manually scheduled tasks.

Interested in finding out more about Project 2010's secrets? Want to learn much more about Project 2010? One of the best ways would be to attend a training course and really push your learning to further heights.