Microsoft Project Example – Let’s create your first real project in a just few steps

Creating a project plan in Microsoft Project isn’t difficult at all.

This article will teach you how to create a simple project plan using a real project example.

Some basic configuration before you start

Before you create a schedule, you need to make two important changes in your settings:

Setting change 1: Make Auto Scheduling the default

o to File –> Options

Microsoft Project Example:Program options

Make sure to set Auto Schedule for new tasks:

Microsoft Project Example: Making auto schedule the default

What does Auto Scheduled mean?

It means that new tasks will be scheduled automatically based on your project start date (or end date). More specifically, Project will determine the optimal start and end date for each task automatically, which is what we want (why would we use a computer-based scheduling tool if we would not want to automate the scheduling? Read more about manual vs. automatic scheduling in Project.)

Close the window. At the bottom left corner of the screen it should look like this:

Microsoft Project Example: Indicator that automatic scheduling has been enabled

Setting change 2: Enable immediate calculation

We want Microsoft Project to re-calculate the project schedule immediately after we make a change. This ensures the data you see is always up to date. Unless you run a mega-project, leave the setting enabled.

Now, let’s schedule a simple project!

Our sample project: We are setting up our own business. We have picked a business idea and now we need to go from writing a business plan to a fully established business. For these steps, we are going to create a project plan.

Step 1: Create a new project

Microsoft Project Example: Create a new project

Choose Blank Project.

You will see a blank window.

First, let’s create a Project Summary Task. This is like an overall “wrapper” task that contains our entire project.

Microsoft Project Example: Create a summary task to cover your entire project

Here’s what you should see:

Microsoft Project Example: What it looks like when you have created a project summary task

Give your project a suitable name:

Microsoft Project Example: Giving your project a suitable project name

Don’t worry about the duration and the dates – we’ll take care of this later.

Step 2: Enter a project start date

You need to tell Project the date at which the project officially starts.

To set the project start date, open the Project tab and click Project Information:

Microsoft Project Example: Opening the Project Information dialog

Enter the project start date (in our example: 14th September 2020):

Microsoft Project Example: This is where you set the start date of your project

Note: You can decide whether you want Microsoft Project to schedule your project forward from a specific start date or backward from a desired end date. If you already have committed to a golive date and want to know by when you need to begin work, then chose Schedule from Project End Date to trigger the backward planning. For this example, we want to base our schedule on a start date of 14th September 2020.

Press OK after you’ve entered the project start date. You can see now the start date for our tasks is 14th September 2020.

Step 3: Enter the list of tasks

In this project, we need to accomplish the following tasks:

  • Create business plan
  • Get business license
  • Set up bank account
  • Get funding
  • Pick a business location
  • Set up office equipment and furniture
  • Hire team
  • Run promotion

If you look at the list, you notice that the tasks must be performed in a specific order. There are also some dependencies between the tasks.

For example, we can’t get a bank account without having a business license. We also can’t get funding (i.e. a bank loan) without having a business license. And of course we need the money to hire people for our store. So, everything is connected with each other.

Now let’s enter those tasks into Microsoft Project.

Enter the tasks into the table next to the Gantt view:

Microsoft Project Example: List of tasks in the Gantt view, before they were linked

At this stage, Project doesn’t have all the information it needs to create a schedule. It doesn’t know how long each task is going to take. Therefore the Duration column has a question mark and the start and finish dates aren’t correct yet.

Let’s continue. You now need to “link” all tasks in the right order and enter the estimated durations.

Step 4: Enter task durations

Now, tell Project how long each task is going to take. What you enter here is the duration of the task, which is not the same as the effort. Duration is the total timespan until a task is finished. Effort (in Project, effort is called Work) is the amount of actual working time.

Enter the estimated duration in the duration column. Tip: you can either use the up/down ar- rows to change the values or enter for example “3d” to specify 3 days or “2w for 2 weeks of duration.

 

Step 5: Link tasks in the right sequence

As I mentioned before, tasks should be performed in a specific order. And we want to show this order in Project. Let’s link the tasks one after each other.

There are two ways how you can link tasks:

  • The first method is to enter for each task which other task should come before it. That is, by defining a “predecessor”.
  • The second method is by using the “link” button from the menu

I’ll show you both methods now.

Let’s look at the first two tasks: Create business plan and Get business license.
We could do both at the same time, since we don’t necessarily have to have a business plan to apply for a license. But we want to focus on our business plan, get it done, and then work on the next task. So getting a business license should follow after creating business plan.

To tell Project that getting business license comes after create business plan, you can simply enter create business plan as a predecessor for task Get business license (in the Predecessors column).

The tasks are organized in a way similar to Excel using row numbers. These row numbers are used to identify tasks.

Do the following: In the predecessor column, enter “1” for task #2 (Get business license):

Microsoft Project Example: Entering the predecessor of each task

Watch the result: Task “Get business license” is now scheduled right after task “Create busi- ness plan” (look at the blue task bars).

Did you notice that your change immediately changed the Gantt chart on the right side? Also note that Project skipped the weekend because our calendar settings defined that there should be no work on weekends.

Next, we still have to arrange the other tasks in the right order. To do so, I now show you the other way of linking dependent tasks. There is a shortcut in the menu. Select the remaining tasks in rows 2-8, as I have done below:

From the Task tab press the link button (watch what happens to the Gantt view!).

Microsoft Project Example: Button for linking tasks

Our tasks are now arranged in the right order, and the Gantt chart is updated:

Microsoft Project Example: Updated Gantt chart with tasks arranged in sequential order

Pro tip: If you have a lot of tasks and you schedule is very wide and want to jump to the respec- tive task in the Gantt view, just right-click on the task and choose Scroll to Task. This will pull up the corresponding task bar.

Microsoft Project Example: Use the Scroll to Task option to quickly scroll to the selected task in the work breakdown structure
Microsoft Project Example: Use the Scroll to Task option to quickly scroll to the selected task in the work breakdown structure

Step 6: Add a milestone to your schedule

In every project you have certain milestones you are working towards. Milestones are certain points in time where some goal must be achieved. For example, a document must be prepared or a component must be finished. We haven’t included any milestone yet, so let’s do that now.

To mark the point where we’ve fully set up our business, create a new milestone named ‘Business fully set up’. How?

You create a milestone by changing a task’s duration to zero (zero days).

Milestones are shown as a grey diamonds:

Microsoft Project Example: Gantt chart with a milestone

I didn’t mention this before, but of course you need to schedule the “milestone task” right after the last regular task (Run promotion). For this, you need to enter a predecessor for the milestone task.

The milestone we entered also marks the estimated finish date of the project.

Excellent job! You have now created your first schedule in Project.

If you want to dive deeper into Project, take a look at my e-Book:

Adrian Neumeyer

Hi! I'm Adrian, founder of Tactical Project Manager. I created the site to help you bring your projects to success. In the past I've worked as an IT project manager for 10 years.

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