Microsoft Project – auto-scheduling vs manual scheduling

In Project 2010 the concept called User-Controlled Scheduling was introduced. This consists of a collection of features designed to make Project a more flexible planning and schedule management tool. The idea is that you, as the project manager, can have complete control over when a task should happen. If and when appropriate, you can leverage Project’s powerful scheduling engine to help forecast the date of a task based on various factors like dependencies, calendar, constraints, etc. But at any time, you have the flexibility to manually override Project’s automatic calculations to better capture all of the high-level, possibly vague information that you have when you start your project.

Tasks are by default manually scheduled, meaning that you have complete control over their dates. For example, when you start typing tasks the Start, Finish & Duration fields are blank. When tasks are in this manually scheduled mode, Project will not automatically calculate and fill in dates for you.

If you have specific dates for some tasks and just a rough idea for others you can enter the information, even using text in the duration, start or finish columns.

In Project 2010 you can start with high level planning and put duration or dates against a summary task, leaving the details of the subtasks to be filled in later (as opposed to the bottom up approach of the previous versions of Project where you had to start by defining all the specific work items which then rolled-up the total for each phase).

Note in the next screen shot that there is a small blue bar under the Design summary bar – this is the roll-up of all of the subtasks. If the subtasks’ dates are updated, the blue bar will automatically update. This provides a visual way of indicating whether there is buffer time in the schedule.


If one of these tasks end up taking longer than expected, and the subtasks end up exceeding the original dates of the summary phase, the roll-up bar will turn red to indicate a slippage.

Notice the red squiggles under the dates – the new ‘schedule-checker’ highlights potential problems with the schedule. And just like the spell-checker in Word, you can right-click on the squiggle to see some possible corrective actions.

Choosing Fix in Task Inspector will bring up a side pane that will provide information – in this case, the schedule is slipping beyond the original 2 weeks planned for the Design phase and we have the option to extend the finished date.

Another example where manually scheduled mode could be useful is when a task’s predecessor slips.  Instead of automatically moving the linked task, a red squiggle underneath the Finish Date indicates a potential problem.  This gives you, the project manager, a better way of spotting problems and a chance to decide on a mitigation plan.

At any point, if you wish to have Project calculate your schedule for you instead of maintaining manual control, you can toggle your tasks to Auto Schedule mode.  When tasks are Auto Scheduled, Project will calculate and update their dates automatically just like it has always done in previous versions.

Note: Manual Scheduling was not available in previous versions of project so if you are working in compatibility mode you can only use Auto Scheduling.

Find out more about our Microsoft Project training in the London area.

Find out more about our Microsoft Project training in the Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset areas.


About jdonbavand

I am a trainer of Microsoft Office, Microsoft Project and Crystal Reports. I have called my blog "If Only I'd Known That...." because I hear it so many times in training sessions. In fact, if only I had a £100 (or 150 Aussie dollars)for every time someone says "If only I'd known that." ....
This entry was posted in Microsoft Project, Microsoft Project 2010, Microsoft Project 2013, Microsoft Project 2016 and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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