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How Do You Link Tasks in Microsoft Project?

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There are several different ways to set task dependencies in Microsoft Project.  This post will cover how to link tasks using the following techniques:

  • Through the Task menu in the ribbon
  • Dragging the link from one task to another
  • Linking tasks in a split screen
  • Through an entry table
  • Through the Task Information dialog box

Setting Task Dependencies through the Task Menu

  1. Click the Task Name column header to select all tasks in the project and then from Task:Schedule click the Link Tasks icon [Link Tasks Icon]. Your screen will resemble the following:

All tasks linked

Figure 1 All tasks linked

Notice that by linking all the tasks in this way, the project’s duration may have immediately increased. Ideally, the new project finish date would be acceptable to the client, but it’s far more common for project managers to have to look for ways to speed up the schedule. The way the tasks are linked above, all tasks in Phase One must be completed before any task in Phase Two can begin. You might decide this is unrealistic and that you could speed up the project by doing Phase One and Phase Two at the same time.

  1. To do so, double-click the black line linking the bars for Phase One and Phase Two. The Task Dependency dialog box will appear.

Phase link

Figure 2 Phase link

  1. Click Delete to remove the link. This changes the example Gantt to the following:

Unlinked phases (summary task)

Figure 3 Unlinked phases (summary tasks)

Another way to remove the link is to click Phase One and ctrl-click Phase Two to select the non-contiguous tasks. And then, from Task:Schedule click the Unlink Tasks icon [Unlink tasks icon].

  1. Let’s say that even though you have saved some time (the project duration is now 36 days instead of 54 days), you realize this work schedule is impossible. According to this logic, we can review the proposal (Task ID 7) before we’re done writing it (Task ID 2). Click Write proposal and ctrl-click Review proposal to select only those tasks and then click the Link Tasks button to link them.

This would change your screen to the following:

Figure 4 Corrected link logic

The process of shortening a project by doing tasks at the same time (in parallel) is called fast-tracking. Fast tracking is the most common method used for shortening a project because it appears to be less expensive than the only alternative, crashing. Crashing requires applying additional resources to critical path tasks to shorten individual tasks. Unfortunately, risk increases when tasks are done at the same time.

  1. Click the Undo button in the upper left corner of your screen.

Note: Microsoft Project 2016’s default when linking tasks is to create a finish-to-start task dependency since it is the most common type of task dependency. You can begin by selecting the type of dependency, or start with the default link and change the dependency type later. In the long run, it may be less work to link groups of tasks finish-to-start and modify the exceptions rather than establish all task dependencies individually.

For those unfamiliar with these different task dependencies, our last blog post covered this very subject.

Dragging the Link Line from One Task to Another

  1. Place your mouse pointer over task so that the cursor turns into a four-way arrow.
  2. Left click your mouse and drag the link line to the Gantt bar for a different task. In our example project, linking TaskID2 to TaskID7 would change the Gantt chart to the following:

Link path (linking by mouse)

Figure 5 Link path (linking by mouse)

  1. Release your left mouse button. You have successfully linked the tasks in a finish-to-start manner.
Task dependencies rely on the order you selected. For example, if you had selected Review proposal (Task ID 7) first in the previous exercise and dragged its link line to Write proposal (Task ID 2), Review proposal would be shown as the predecessor of Write proposal.

NOTE

Linking Tasks in a Split Screen

  1. From Task:Properties select Details to see the Split Gantt Chart view.
  2. Right-click in the Task Details Form (bottom pane). You will see several options, one of which is Predecessors & Successors. Click Predecessors & Successors from the menu. Your screen will resemble the following:

Split screen view for linking tasks

Figure 6 Split screen view for linking tasks

  1. Click in the Predecessor Name field and then click the dropdown arrow to see the list of tasks in the project.
  2. Select a task in the Gantt Chart (top pane). Notice that its predecessor and successor are listed in the Task Details Form (lower pane). From this pane, you can delete predecessor or successor tasks or add new ones.
When working in this split view, changes made in the Task Details Form (lower pane) are not implemented until you click OK or hit Enter twice in succession (with no changes between hits).

NOTE

  1. Double-click the window divider to remove the split, or click the Details icon again.

Linking Tasks in the Entry Table

  1. Move the vertical divider bar to the right until you can see the entire Entry table. You can assign predecessors (only) by typing the task ID number in the Predecessors field for a task.

Using the Task Information Dialog Box

  1. Double-click any task name to see the associated Task Information dialog box, or select a task and click the Information icon found in Task:Properties.
  2. Select the Predecessors tab to assign a predecessor or modify the type of dependency. Click OK to close the dialog box.

Task Information dialog

Figure 117 Task Information dialog

Concluding Remark

By default, Microsoft Project sets a Finish-to-Start task dependency regardless of which method you use. Our next post will cover how to customize these links.  Included will be establishing a different type of dependency, setting Lag or Lead time, and determining the proper order for the tasks.

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