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Microsoft Project

How to Use Task Modes in Microsoft Project

Microsoft Project is primarily a scheduling tool. Project managers can enter start dates, finish dates, durations, and dependencies for each task in a project. Utilizing task modes to control Microsoft Project’s scheduling engine can be a powerful option, when used correctly.

Task modes let Microsoft Project users specify whether tasks are scheduled automatically or manually. The option you pick will determine how much control you have over scheduling. By default, all tasks are manually scheduled.

Let’s look at the differences between these two approaches to task scheduling.

Recommended Article: Complete Guide to Tasks in Microsoft Project

Manual Scheduling

Any time a task needs to be scheduled independently of other tasks in your project, a manually scheduled task will be the best choice.

Manually scheduled tasks are not rescheduled if you change a predecessor task’s start date, finish date, or duration. Manually scheduled tasks bypass Microsoft Project’s scheduling engine, allowing for greater flexibility and control.

Let’s look at an example.

New Tasks button

If I create a few tasks and link them using Microsoft Project’s default “finish-to-start” dependency, the Gantt chart would look like this. The thumb tack icon in the Task Mode column means these tasks have been scheduled manually.

Sample project using manually scheduled tasks

Watch what happens to the start date for task 2, Contact vendor partners for pricing, when I reduce the duration of task 1, Gather customer requirements from 5 days to 4.

Sample project using manually scheduled tasks after changing the duration of task 1

The start date for task 2, Contact vendor partners for pricing is unchanged because these tasks have been manually scheduled.

Automatic Scheduling

Use automatic scheduling if you want Microsoft Project to calculate start dates for each task based on the dependencies, task durations, assigned calendars, and the availability of resources assigned to other tasks in the project.

Auto scheduled tasks will be rescheduled automatically if you change a predecessor’s start date, finish date, or duration. Auto scheduled tasks leverage Microsoft Project’s scheduling engine and provide greater convenience when updating your project plan.

Let’s look at another example.

This time, I’ve switched the tasks, so they’re all auto scheduled. The Gantt bar and arrow icon in the Task Mode column mean that each task is automatically scheduled.

Sample project using auto scheduled tasks

Watch what happens to task 2, Contact vendor partners for pricing, when I reduce the duration of task 1, Gather customer requirements from 5 days to 4.

Sample project using auto scheduled tasks after changing the duration of task 1

Instead of beginning on January 11, the task now starts on January 8. Because task 2, Contact vendor partners for pricing is auto scheduled, it is affected by changes to predecessor tasks.

Task Mode Icons

The Task Mode column is displayed to the left of Task Name in the Entry table in Gantt chart view. If a task is manually scheduled, the icon is a turquoise thumbtack.

Manual task icon

If a task is auto scheduled, the icon is a blue task bar with an arrow.

Auto scheduled task icon

Configuring Task Modes

You can change the task mode setting for one (or all) of your tasks whenever you want to. The method you use will determine the scope of your changes.

Changing the Task Mode for a Single Task

If you want to change the task mode for a single task, select the task then click the Manually Schedule or Auto Schedule button in the Home > Tasks group.

Manually scheduled task button selected in the Task group

Changing the Task Mode for All New Tasks in the Current Project

If you’d like to change the task mode for all new tasks in the current project, click the New Tasks button on the Status Bar and select Auto Scheduled or Manually Scheduled.

New Tasks button with Auto Scheduled tasks selected

Change the Default Task Mode Setting

If you’d like to set the default task mode for all new projects moving forward, click the File tab then select Options.

In the Options dialog box, select the Schedule tab and make the following changes:

  • Select All New Projects in the Scheduling options for this project: box.
  • Select Manually Scheduled or Auto Scheduled in the New tasks created: box.

Click OK to accept the changes and return to Microsoft Project.

Project Options dialog box showing settings for scheduling options
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By Michael Belfry

Working as a full-time training consultant, Michael provides Microsoft Office courses to government and private sector clients across Canada.