Microsoft Project Scheduling Tips and Tricks

Would you like to spend LESS time in Microsoft Project / Microsoft Project Online while maximizing the benefit you get from it? Are you enthusiastically nodding your head up and down right now? Although Microsoft Project is a fantastic tool, I don’t think any of us has the time to invest hours upon hours creating and managing a schedule. Believe it or not, it’s possible to create a solid schedule AND maintain it throughout the life of the project without killing yourself in the process. Implementing the best practices listed below can help you do just!

Over the next several weeks, I’ll be posting weekly about each of the different steps and their associated best practices. You will learn tips and tricks for setting options, setting dependencies, assigning resources, updating your schedule and much more! For now, I’ll list the 8 basic steps and start with an explanation of the first one, Define the Project.

  1. Define the Project

  1. Enter the tasks and deliverables

  1. Enter the estimates

  1. Set the dependencies

  1. Enter any deadline dates

  1. Define and assign resources

  2. Set and maintain baselines

  1. Track your progress

Define the Project

It is probably the simplest step but one that is often overlooked. There are some settings and options that need to be set before you ever enter tasks into the schedule. Well, technically, they don’t “have” to be set but your scheduling life will definitely be easier if you they are set up front. Remember, folks, the idea here is to spend the LEAST amount of time possible in Microsoft Project while gaining the MAXIMUM benefit from it.

To define your project, you want to capture some basic information in Project; You’ll need to access Project information and Options to do this.

Project Information Settings

  • Project Start Date: Microsoft Project assumes the project starts on the day you create the schedule, which is often not the case. To set the start date, simply go to Project Ribbon and click on Project Information.


  • Project Calendar: If you forget to select the correct project calendar and then go back and change it later, it may recalculate your tasks and move things around in an unpleasant, albeit logical, way. Avoid that by choosing the right calendar in the beginning, before entering tasks. To set the start date, simply go to Project Ribbon and click on Project Information.


Project Options

  • To access the Microsoft Project options, click File –> Options and select the appropriate options listed below.


  • Task Mode: Although you can choose either, I strongly encourage you to set the default Task Mode to Auto Scheduled. This will make your schedule more dynamic and easier to manage. To set your default task mode to Auto Scheduled, go to File –> Options and select the Schedule Tab and you will see the Task Mode option about halfway down.


  • Task Type: Task types can be tricky to understand and I’ll post more about them in Step 3: Entering Estimates. For now, I’ll just tell you where to go to set this default: File –> Options and select the Schedule Tab and you will see the Task Type option about halfway down.. Note: changing this setting will not change the task types of existing tasks, only new tasks. If you primarily estimate in person hours, set the default to Fixed Work; otherwise, set it to Fixed Duration.


  • Calendar Options: If you are not using the standard project calendar (8 hours a day, 40 hours a week) then consider adjusting your calendar options. The calendar options tell MS Project how many hours equal one day. By default, 1 day = 8 hours. If you have a project calendar that schedules work only 6 hours a day, MS Project will think you are not working full days on the tasks and may calculate durations to be less than 1 full day. Ok, if you got totally lost on that explanation, I’m sorry. I’ll write a whole post explaining it later but for now, just make sure your calendar options match what you have in your Project Calendar. To change calendar options: File –> Options and select the Schedule Tab and you will see the Calendar Options towards the top.


There are many other options you can select but these are what I like to call “the biggies”.

Happy Scheduling!