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I'll be back in January 2012 with more tips, tricks, musings and even a few gripes about Microsoft Project and knowledge worker teams.
Recently I had reason to use one of the cooler new features in Project 2010, Inactivate Tasks. I briefly explored the Inactivate Tasks feature back in April 2010, here. I liked the feature then, and I like it even more now. This feature is available in Project Professional 2010 only, and not in Project Standard 2010.
I was looking at a fairly simple schedule created by a team manager who had a small number of resources, a small number of tasks, and just two phases into which he needed to organize the work.
The tricky bit was that the manager was trying to size the phases to end by some externally-driven dates that were not yet stable. He wanted an easy way of representing two possible schedules, depending on when the first summary task might need to end. Here's a simplified view of the schedule we started with:
TIP Click the screenshot image to see a larger view.
The question we could not answer is exactly when the first summary task, which I've labeled "Sprint 1," would have to be completed to meet an externally-driven deadline. We did know that it would likely be some time in the first half of February, however. In fact we could see that if we could move the task "work package D" to Sprint 2 if needed, we'd have an easy way of adjusting the duration of Sprint 1 to end earlier if needed.
The most obvious way to accomplish this would be to just move (cut and paste) the task "work package D" from the first to the second summary task, and then relink it correctly. However I saw this as an opportunity to use the Inactivate Task feature to good effect. First, I copied (not moved) work package D to appear in both summary tasks (tasks 5 and 7 below):
This is clearly not correct, but hold on we're not done yet. Next, I inactivated the second occurance of the task "work package D" (task 7) so only one active occurrence of it remained (task 5):
By inactivating the task, I've kept its information in the project plan but the task has absolutely no impact on the overall schedule. As I reported back in April 2010, inactivating tasks lets me "line out" tasks and leave them right in the project plan. Inactivated tasks are visible in the plan but have no scheduling effect on the plan, including critical path, cost, or resource availability.
In this use of the feature, I've created a simple little toggle to represent work package D either in Sprint 1 or in Sprint 2. Here it is inactivated (task 5) in sprint 1 but now activated in sprint 2 (task 7):
I've used a simple example here to illustrate how representing a task in one summary task or another affects the summary task's duration. I could use the same technique to account for some variable budget or resource capacity as well. The key thing is that I think of the pair of duplicate tasks ("work package D" in this example) as a toggle--if one is active, the other sould be inactive. This is quickeer and perhaps a little less error prone than physically moving the task from one summary task to another or back again.
Hands-on with Project Step by Step
To read more about this blog entry's subjects in the two most recent editions of Tim Johnson's and my Project Step by Step books, see the following cross-references.
Project 2010 Step by Step: "Inactivating Tasks," pg. 175 and "Troubleshooting Scope-of-Work Problems," pg. 311.
Project 2007 Step by Step: None! This feature is new in 2010 Professional.