Outlining tasks to structure your Microsoft Office Project 2003 plan

Applies to
Microsoft Office Project 2003

The first few tasks of a project are the easiest to create. Add a few more tasks, and you'll probably see a growing lack of structure. This is when you need to start organizing your project by creating summary tasks (summary task: A task that is made up of subtasks and summarizes those subtasks. Use outlining to create summary tasks. Project automatically determines summary task information [such as duration and cost] by using information from the subtasks.) and subtasks (subtask: A task that is part of a summary task. The subtask information is consolidated into the summary task. You can designate subtasks by using the Project outlining feature.). Creating this kind of structure in your project is called outlining (outline: A hierarchical structure for a project that shows how some tasks fit within broader groupings. In Project, subtasks are indented under summary tasks.).

Why outline tasks?

How do I create an outline structure?

How can I view or hide the outline structure?

What do subprojects look like in the task list?

Why outline tasks?

After you enter tasks in the task list, you can organize and add structure to your project by indenting tasks that share characteristics, or that will be completed in the same time frame, under a summary task. In Project, these summary tasks represent your project's phases or subphases. A task that represents a phase or subphase is outdented, while the tasks that make up that phase or subphase are indented, or demoted, beneath it.

 Note   Placing tasks in a hierarchical order does not automatically create task dependencies. To create task dependencies, you need to link your tasks.

If your project consists of relatively few tasks, you may not want to group them into phases. However, for larger projects, phases can visually break up a long task list into fewer, more manageable chunks and can give you an overview of the major steps you need to take to reach your project goals.

For example, say you are planning a kitchen remodeling project. You decide that the main phases will be design, budget, construct, and decorate. You now have a big picture view of the project.

If you take a phase such as construction, you can break it down further into work items, such as selecting a contractor, reviewing and approving the design, obtaining permits, and cleanup.

Each of these subtasks can then be broken down until you have individual tasks that you track and manage.

How do I create an outline structure?

There are two methods for organizing your task list:

  • Using the top-down method, you identify the major phases first, and then break the phases down into individual tasks. The top-down method gives you a version of the plan as soon as you decide on the major phases.

 Note   If you can think of tasks that don't fit under the phases you've defined, then you are probably missing a phase.

  • Using the bottom-up method, you list all the possible tasks first, and then you group them into phases.

On the Formatting toolbar in Project, use the outlining controls (Indent and Outdent) to indicate the hierarchical structure of your task list. By default, summary tasks are bold and subtasks are indented beneath them.

Summary task

Callout 1 The summary task information summarizes the period between the earliest start and latest finish date of all the included subtasks. It does not show the sum of all the subtask durations.

You can also show a project as a summary task in the task list. A project-level summary task displays your entire project on a single row with its own summary task bar.

 Important   Microsoft has released an update to Project 2003 to fix a problem where you cannot remove an indent of a task after the task becomes part of a summary in Project Standard 2003.

How can I view or hide the outline structure?

You can view the structure of the task list by collapsing and expanding the task list and by displaying outline numbers.

When you display outline numbers, you can view the outline structure as numerical codes. Project assigns unique outline numbers for each task based on its level in the hierarchy of the task list.

To view outline numbers, you can insert the Outline Number column in any sheet view (sheet: A spreadsheet-like representation [in rows and columns] of task or resource information. Each row specifies an individual task or resource. Each column [field] specifies a type of information, such as start dates or standard rates.) that displays tasks. To change the outline number for a task, you must move the task up or down in the task list or change its place in the project's outline structure.

It is important to note that when rearranging a task list, the outline numbers for the listed items will change. Outline numbers are updated automatically when you move, add, or delete tasks because they reflect the current structure of the task list.

When you display WBS codes, you can view the outline structure of your project as alphanumeric codes that you have defined for each level of the outline.

There are various ways to hide and show tasks in your project. You can:

  • Hide the summary tasks, so that only subtasks are shown.
  • Hide all subtasks, so that only the summary tasks are shown.
  • Hide all external dependencies (which usually appear dimmed in the task list).

What do subprojects look like in the task list?

If you insert a project (or subproject) into your current project, it appears as a summary task with all its subtasks collapsed by default.

 Note   If you are using Microsoft Office Project Professional 2003, you do not need to create master projects and subprojects. Project Professional 2003 and Microsoft Office Project Server 2003 have built-in reporting and analysis features that replace the need for master projects and subprojects.