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A Microsoft Project task has many options and I am often asked how to choose the correct ones,

Task Mode can be,

  • “Auto Scheduled” or “Manual Scheduled”

and task Type can be

  • “Fixed Work”, “Fixed Units” or “Fixed Duration”.

and Auto Scheduled tasks can be

  • Effort Driven (or not)

You can display these parameters for your tasks as shown here:


In the ElephantPM project management system Microsoft Project is used to produce several different diagrams and reports:

Deliverable Work Flows and Breakdowns

“Auto Scheduled” uses logical dependences to drive the order of tasks. This is essential to produce Deliverable Work Flows and thus is the natural choice for its predecessor the Deliverable Breakdown. Since we will not be making Work estimates or assigning resources in these projects we could choose any task Type, I suggest “Fixed Duration” is as good as any.

Activity Plans

Activity Plan answer the question “Who does what, when?” and are the most complicated project files. We start by entering all the Deliverables and sub-tasks if necessary and then ask three questions:

  1. How much work is this task?
  2. When must it be done?
  3. Who can do it?

We want to fix the Work and Duration (more on fixing the Start and End dates in a minute) and then assign resources.

The correct choice for this is:

  • Task Mode = “Auto Scheduled”
  • Type = “Fixed Duration”, this stops the dates changing when we add resources
  • Effort Driven = “Yes”, this fixes the amount of work in the task when we add resources

(Contrary to the impression given by the Microsoft Project User Interface, the “Effort Driven” feature does not work for Manually Scheduled tasks. Adding or removing resources will change the Work. )

Fixing Start Dates


By default if you set a Start date using the date picker you will create a “Start No Earlier Than constraint”. This is usually what you want because if you don’t enter task predecessors there is no reason for the task to slip.


If necessary you can enter a “Must Start On” constraint in the task information box.


Microsoft Project has an unexpected behaviour; when you remove all resources from a task it sets the work to zero! The simplest this is to write the amount of work down with a pen and type it again after you have removed the resource. An alternative to create a resource called Unassigned Work and move the work from the real resources to it.

Setting the defaults

You can set these value to be the default for new tasks in your projects by

  • File > Option > Schedule