Goal: Define phases and tasks

After you understand the work involved in your project, you are ready to create a task list in Microsoft Office Project 2007. The task list is the heart of a project — an incomplete or badly planned task list can seriously hamper your project's progress. Organizing tasks into milestones (milestone: A reference point marking a major event in a project and used to monitor the project's progress. Any task with zero duration is automatically displayed as a milestone; you can also mark any other task of any duration as a milestone.) and phases (phase: A group of related tasks that completes a major step in a project.) gives structure to the project and makes it easier for you to evaluate progress.

The organization of your task list is critical to the success of your project, whether your project has thousands of steps that span years and use standard project management methodologies, or a few steps that span a month and use agile project management (agile project management: A project management method that uses short iterations of up to four weeks, adaptive strategies, and collaboration among team members. Types of agile project management include Scrum, Critical Chain, and Extreme Programming.) methodologies.

 Tip   This article is part of a series of articles within the Project Map that describe a broad set of project management activities. We call these activities "goals" because they are organized around the project management life cycle: Build a plan, track and manage a project, and close a project.

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number 1  Define project tasks     At its core, a project is a set of tasks. Each task represents a piece of work that must be done to complete the project.

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A properly defined task is one that has a clear beginning and end, so that the project manager can easily determine when the task is complete.

Keep the following in mind when you make tasks:

  • For practical purposes, tasks should be at least one day long. In long-term projects, tasks are likely to have longer durations. In short-term projects, they tend to have shorter durations.
  • Generally, it is a good idea to enter tasks in the order in which you expect work to begin on them. However, some projects may require that you group similar tasks together or group tasks by the type of resource that will work on them. In this way, you create phases for your project.

If your organization traditionally views work in certain categories, you can group the work in these categories. Note that if you group tasks, you won't be able to outline them later, because grouping tasks constitutes another type of outlining.

  • The structure of your task list determines the level of detail for your project plan. If you list only the phases of the project and each phase covers a large time period, your plan will be a high-level view of the project. If you list even the smallest pieces of work, your plan will be an extremely detailed one. Most of the time, you want to strike a balance between these two extremes.

One way to help you decide the level of detail for your task list is to consider how closely you want to track your project:

  • If you list every piece of work that must be done, however minor, you need to track each of these tasks and enter progress on them, probably at least once each day. Then you know when even the smallest work item is a little late.

If your organization prefers to break up work around a month-long series of tasks, having more detailed tasks might make sense. Sometimes a shorter series of tasks, such as with the agile approach to project management, can make a project more responsive to changes in scope or resources.

  • If you list and track only the phases of your project, you won't need to update the project very often. Then you won't know when work is running late until the phase is over.
  • Consider how critical the project is, how often you can feasibly get and enter task updates, and what level of task that you need to track to keep a project from derailing.

Number 3  Enter a task into a project     Add recurring tasks and tasks that occur only once.

Number 4   Create phases and subphases in a project    Organize your project by grouping related tasks that complete major steps in a project.

Number 5  Create a milestone     Milestones allow you to create reference points that mark major events in a project. Milestones are used to monitor the project's progress.

Number 2  Import tasks into a project     Import tasks if you already have the task list information stored in another location.

Click all of the following that apply:

  • Link or embed Excel data into Project as a simple way to add tasks to a project that are dynamically linked to Microsoft Office Excel.
  • Import data from another file format into your project. You can import task data from an Excel worksheet, a database, or a text file, and then map that data to corresponding fields in Project 2007. You can also import tab-delimited and comma-separated values text format files into your project file.
  • Import an Outlook task list into Project if you keep a list of tasks in Microsoft Office Outlook and you want to copy the list into the project plan.

Number 6  Add supporting information about a task     Add more information in the form of notes, documents, and links to Web pages.

Click all of the following that apply:

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Applies to:
Project 2007