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Topics: Scheduling
When do YOU use manually-scheduled tasks?
I have long-resisted the use of manually scheduled tasks in my MS Project schedules. However I've found two instances when they make a lot of sense:

1) When the sequence of tasks is not important, and multiple tasks may wind up being concurrent or juggled around.

2) In a heavily "research" type of task set, where the sequence and outcome of tasks is constantly evolving.

In many (but not all) of these situations, I'll still link dependencies to the summary task.

I'm curious in what other circumstances the manual scheduling option has been useful for people.

-Bob C.
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Bob -

I would question whether you'd get sufficient benefit from use of MSP in doing so rather than a simple Excel spreadsheet which could be easily built with and shared by all stakeholders without the need for costly MSP licenses or requiring you to regularly export content.

Kiron
Another use is fixed date tasks which are outside the control of the PM but constrain other events. For example a planned meeting with an external stakeholder like a regulatory agency or city approval board doesn't move when your supporting activities are off plan. You need to adjust the plan to meet the date or reschedule with the agency.
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1 reply by Mike De Melo
Jun 24, 2022 10:53 AM
Mike De Melo
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In this case would you not just use a constraint = must start on x date
Since manual scheduling provides the flexibility to schedule each task at the date you want it to start, it should be used when a task must be done on a fixed date, and it can't be classified in Start to Finish, Finish to Start, Finish to Finish or Start to Start relation with other consecutive tasks.
Keith & Veronica -

In general, such activities would be the minority of those in a project and standard scheduling engine constraints would cover those.

I always scratch my head as to why Microsoft chose to dumb down MSP with the addition of manual scheduling and why they made it the out-of-the-box default option.

Kiron
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1 reply by Keith Novak
Jun 06, 2022 8:34 PM
Keith Novak
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Agreed, those events are the small minority.

Admittedly, I'm not a Project expert by any means. For convenience, I generally start with the idealized flows for tasks with the known dependencies, but sometimes that results in an over-constrained network where some event can't meet all the dependencies. Some event might have to finish before it starts for example. The "happy-path" plan doesn't work.

In that case, we need to sharpen our pencils. Instead of massaging all the constraints and task flows to make everything fit, I'll sometimes break certain dependencies to eliminate the errors. I know that date doesn't move whatever we do, so I'll lock it down. Then we can work on how to adjust the related chains of events to support.

Is there a better way? Probably. Does it eliminate some functionality that tells us we have schedule errors? Certainly, but if I need a quick, crude, but workable fix, I will dumb down the logic instead of trying to debug it.
Agree with Kiron. All the constraints mentioned in the comments can be accommodated in MSP with auto-scheduling in my knowledge.
Jun 06, 2022 5:45 PM
Replying to Kiron Bondale
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Keith & Veronica -

In general, such activities would be the minority of those in a project and standard scheduling engine constraints would cover those.

I always scratch my head as to why Microsoft chose to dumb down MSP with the addition of manual scheduling and why they made it the out-of-the-box default option.

Kiron
Agreed, those events are the small minority.

Admittedly, I'm not a Project expert by any means. For convenience, I generally start with the idealized flows for tasks with the known dependencies, but sometimes that results in an over-constrained network where some event can't meet all the dependencies. Some event might have to finish before it starts for example. The "happy-path" plan doesn't work.

In that case, we need to sharpen our pencils. Instead of massaging all the constraints and task flows to make everything fit, I'll sometimes break certain dependencies to eliminate the errors. I know that date doesn't move whatever we do, so I'll lock it down. Then we can work on how to adjust the related chains of events to support.

Is there a better way? Probably. Does it eliminate some functionality that tells us we have schedule errors? Certainly, but if I need a quick, crude, but workable fix, I will dumb down the logic instead of trying to debug it.
As a best practice, just for me along the years and it works for each place where I worked on, we always have a start task and end task as the first and last task for each group below summary activities. I never link a task to a summary task. With that said, the other thing is I never use manually scheduled tasks because, at least in my personal experience, it does confuse each time you have to review or modify the whole schedule.
Kiron and Keith made valid points.
Kiron- Agreed, it's an awkward thing and I generally try to avoid them. But there are some occasions where, as part of a much larger schedule, there is a small "weird" group of tasks which might need some special micro-managing (for example at the request of the project technical lead) or other unusual circumstances which require some abnormal tracking & sequencing & attention.

At the moment I am thinking of one case where, working with a software programmer, the sequence of the particular tasks doesn't matter - and virtually every time I meet with him he has decided to switch the sequence around a bit. But since the sequence of these tasks doesn't really matter, and the only key thing is that they are all done by a given deadline, I manually track those tasks and just move them around a lot so that the technical manager knows what is happening (that week) and the overall group of tasks is being micromanaged accordingly. (I know you immediately think "just make them all a single task" but the project technical lead is particularly concerned with the sub-tasks, and has requested micromanaging of this particular programmer and these sub-tasks.)

And since I work in a heavy R&D environment where, for a variety of reasons, tasks get shuffled around on almost a daily basis, there are times when trying to stick to the "hard coded logic" of dependencies becomes more awkward than useful (and just track to the summary task).

But these are rare circumstances which is why I'm curious if/how other people use the feature.

I 100% agree with MS deciding to make it the default option... Seriously???

-Bob C.
I've found the use of manual tasks to be problematic when you start reporting progress, especially at the resource level. Don't be surprised when your manual tasks start showing progress splits.
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