Use top-down planning to create summary tasks (or phases)

With the top-down method of scheduling project work, you identify the major phases (or summary tasks) first, and then break the phases down into individual tasks, rather than the other way around.

Sometimes you need the big picture of a project before you can plan the small pieces.

The important thing to keep in mind when creating top-down summary tasks in Project 2010 is that when a summary task is manually scheduled, it will not automatically roll up durations from the individual tasks (sometimes called subtasks).

In this article

Step 1: Create a summary task (or phase)

Step 2: Add tasks underneath the summary task

Step 3: Adjust the top-down schedule

Step 1: Create a summary task (or phase)

The first step in top-down planning is creating high-level summary tasks (or phases) with an estimate for how long these summary tasks will last. The estimate, for example, could be a budget for the length of time that your department can devote to a particular phase of a larger project — without knowing the details of the tasks that fall under the phases.

  1. Click the View tab. In the Task Views group, click Gantt Chart.

    Task View Area image.

  2. Enter a new task. This task will be the summary task for this phase of the project.

  3. Do one of the following:

    • In the Duration field for this task, type a duration (for example, 20d).

    • Enter a start or finish date for a phase if you don't know exactly how long the phase will last.

      If you don't enter a duration, start date, or finish date, you will not be able to create a top-down phase. However, after creating a summary task without a duration, start date, or finish date, you can later add this information to make the summary task a top-down phase.

Note   This type of top-down scheduling is a new feature of Project 2010. In earlier versions of Microsoft Project, you cannot add duration, start, and finish times to summary tasks.

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Step 2: Add tasks underneath the summary task

  1. Enter tasks underneath a summary task (or phase) that you created in the first step.

  2. Select all the tasks under the summary task, and then indent them.

When you create a top-down summary task, the tasks that fall under the summary task are not summed up in the summary task. The summary bar for the summary task is divided, with the lower bar rolling-up the subtask duration values for comparison with how the summary task duration was initially created.

For example, in the following graphic, the lower portion of the summary bar for the Development phase shows that all three subtasks are within the original budget for the phase. The top half of the bar shows the original top-down estimate.

Top down graphic

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Step 3: Adjust the top-down schedule

Once you have created summary tasks and their subtasks have been created, you will inevitably need to adjust them. Fortunately, adjusting a schedule or a phase using the top-down method is as easy as dragging and dropping tasks until the tasks conform to the initial plan or budget of the phase.

Consider the following tips when adjusting a top-down schedule:

To do this

Perform this action

Schedule by an end date

Specify only a finish date for the summary task. Project will attempt to line up the indented or linked tasks with the summary task finish date.

Schedule by a start date

Specify only a start date for the summary task. Project will attempt to line up the indented or linked tasks with the summary task start date.

Move a task that is scheduled beyond the summary task

Tasks that get scheduled beyond the summary task will cause a red bar to be displayed under the summary task bar to let you know that the phase is over budget. You can drag the over-budget task to a point before the start of the summary task to resolve the problem.

Adjust the summary task

If tasks are extended beyond the original budget of the summary task, drag the right edge of summary bar.

Increase the budget

If you're using the summary task to set a simple budget for a phase, you can use the mouse to move the start date or duration.

Other scheduling problem

Project puts a red underline under all scheduling problems. Move the pointer over any underlined task to learn more about the scheduling problem.

Adjust the color of the bars

On the Format tab, in the Gantt Chart Style group, click a style.

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Applies To: Project 2010, Project Standard 2010

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