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MS Project Tutorial Lesson 3

-- Anjana Srikanth

Now that we have seen how resources are assigned to tasks and costs are assigned to resources, let us take a look at handling contours and overallocated resources. We will also learn to fine-tune our project and prepare it for publication.

  1. Contours
  2. Overallocated Resources
  3. Fine Tuning and Preparing the Project for Publication


Download PDF Version here.


Resources are usually human beings and therefore they bring a lot of unpredictability with them - dates can change, resources may be assigned too much of work or they may have to leave in the middle of a project. We have to leave room for changes in assignments and work distributions.

Project allows you to arrange for resources to start or finish work at different dates, interrupt assignments to allow for work on other tasks and also assign overtime work if necessary - in other words a contouring of assignments is possible. The Task Usage View and the Resource Usage Views offer such possibilities.

What does the term contour mean in Project? It is the shape of the distribution of work within an assignment. Usually, if a resource is assigned 100% to a 40-hour task with no predecessors, the task will begin immediately with 8 hours of work/day for 5 days. This is the default flat work contour where each unit's work is spread evenly across the duration of the task.

Sometimes, you may need to change the distribution of an assignment's work by applying a predefined contour or creating a custom contour for it. Project 2000 includes 8 predefined contours as listed below:

  • Flat: The default contour with an even distribution of work.
  • Back-loaded: Peak activity happens at the end of the project.
  • Front-loaded: Peak activity is at the beginning of the project.
  • Double Peak: A Project that has two major periods of peak activity.
  • Early Peak: the same as the Front-loaded but with a ramp up to peak activity
  • Late peak: a Back-loaded contour with a ramp.
  • Bell: single peak in the middle of the project
  • Turtle: A bell with a ramp up and ramp down.

To change the work contour for an assignment in either Task Usage View or the Resource Usage View, double-click an assignment to open the Assignment Information Dialog box and choose a contour from the Work Contour drop-down list.

Contours interact with task and resource settings as you manage and adjust assignments during the life of the project. The contour shape is preserved with the assignment when you move the task or when the project schedule changes.

When you manually change the work assignments in the Resource Usage View or the Task Usage View, the result is an edited contour. Whenever you edit a contour, Project distributes the work duration and recalculates the units.


A resource is overallocated when the total of its timephased work (work that is distributed over specific periods in the project) exceeds the resource's maximum units. If a resource is already scheduled to be working on a different task, the resource may become overallocated. Sometimes, Project also accidentally includes overallocated resources.

In every resource view, overallocated resources are formatted in red. In the Resource Sheet, Project displays a caution icon in the Indicator column of overallocated resources. Hover over this icon and Project will display a tip to correct this overallocation.

Locating the overallocations:

Combine the Resource Graph with the Resource Form to view assignments and resource information with the resource's schedule. Choose View > Resource Graph and Window > split to open all the above mentioned views. Right clicking on the graph will open the shortcut menu.

Choose Overallocation and ways to resolve overallocations.

You can choose to:

  • To delay a task
  • Split a task
  • Assign additional or different resources

Check the Remaining Availability option in the shortcut menu to check on times available for that resource.

To assign additional or different resources display the Resource Usage View and choose Group from the Group drop-down list to arrange resources in groups.

Project 2000 offers a leveling feature that can resolve resource allocations by splitting or delaying tasks. It uses factors like:

  • Available time
  • Task priority, dependencies and constraints
  • Task ID
  • Scheduling dates

To apply the leveling feature:

  1. Select any task.
  2. Choose Tools > Resource Leveling. This will open the Resource Leveling Dialog box.
  3. Select Level From/To option and use the drop-down calendar to select beginning and ending dates between which Project should search for overallocations. After it identifies overallocations, it delays tasks based on the leveling order selected.

Tasks with constrains like Must Finish On, As Soon as Possible or As Late as Possible are left alone, so also tasks that have already begun.

Three leveling orders are:

  1. ID: Higher ID tasks are delayed (It would be useful to enter tasks in order of importance).
  2. Standard: This is the Default leveling order.
    • Tasks without successors are delayed first.
    • Tasks that are not on a critical path (most important work path of the project) are delayed first.
    • Lower-Priority and non-constrained tasks are delayed first.
    • Tasks with later Start dates are allowed to begin later.
  3. Priority/Standard Leveling Order:
    The only factor of importance is the priority of tasks. Task Priority is set to any value between 0 and 1000 on the General Tab of the Task Information Form. (If you don't want Project to delay a task set its priority to 1000 and use this leveling order).

To level your resources on your own:

Display the Resource Allocation View with assignment delay and task delay fields visible.

  1. Choose View > More Views > Resource Allocation
  2. Click in the Gantt Chart in the lower pane.
  3. Choose View > Table > More Tables and the More Tables Dialog box opens.
  4. Select Delay.
  5. Click Apply
  6. In the Resource Usage Table in the upper pane, right-click on Work Column.
  7. Choose Insert Column from the shortcut menu.
  8. Select Assignment Delay Column in the Column Definition Dialog box.
  9. Click OK.

To add delay to a task:

  1. Select any assignment for the task you want to delay.
  2. In the Leveling Delay Field in the lower pane, enter the duration of the delay.

To delay an assignment:

When you delay an assignment, you are effectively delaying the time when the resource begins working on an Assignment after the task's start date has been set.

  1. Select the assignment that you want to delay in the Resource Usage Table.
  2. Enter the duration for the delay in the Assignment Delay Field.


So far you have dealt with tasks, resources, assignments and costs in detail. Your project design is almost complete, leveled and ready for presentation and you are waiting for the go ahead to implement the project.

Just before you make that all-important presentation it would be useful to step back and evaluate your work.

To zoom in on the overall quality and finesse of your project, Microsoft Project 2000 provides you with a number of tools.

You can:

  • Display a summary of all the important statistics using the Summary table display
  • Use filters to zero in on the information you want to view
  • Sort and group information
  • Identify and implement strategies to reduce duration and costs

The Project Statistics Dialog box provides summary information about your project.

At the top of this box you will see the current start and finish dates. When you initially save a project, Project's Planning Wizard prompts you to save the project with or without a baseline. Now, what is a baseline? It is a project plan with original estimates for tasks, resources, assignments and costs. With it, you can compare task, resource and other updates as the project work is completed. These variances help identify potential problems in the project.

In the Project Statistics Dialog box, Actual row gives you current dates while the variance row displays the variance between baseline and scheduled dates.

This Dialog box gives information about duration and costs too.

Changing Timescales

The default timescale in the Gantt Chart view are weeks and days. If you choose to get a broader picture of the project you can zoom out the timescale to months and weeks. Clicking on the Zoom Out button on the Standard Tool bar will allow you to select the set of time units of your choice.

Collapsing the task outline

Display any view showing the task lists.

  1. Click the Show Drop-down arrow on the Formatting Tool bar and select an outline level to view. These outline levels display subtasks indented in various ways.
  2. To get back to normal viewing of all the tasks, click the Show Arrow and select All Subtasks.


Filtering allows you to impose certain conditions on the way in which you want to display your information at any time. You can choose to hide information that you don't want to view or highlight the information that is important to you. The Auto Filters are most suitable for this need.

To apply an Auto Filter:

  1. Choose Project > Filtered For > Auto Filter.
  2. Click on one of the drop-down lists to view the various headings and select the one you want.
  3. Once the table is filtered the column headings and filter drop-down arrow turns blue.
  4. To include additional filter conditions use the drop-down list to select other headings.
  5. To turn off the Auto Filter select Project > Filtered for > Click Auto Filter to turn the feature off.

You can also filter tasks using the predefined filters that Project provides you with. You can use them to filter tasks like milestones, summary tasks, critical tasks, resource-specific tasks and incomplete tasks.

Sorting and Grouping

Changing the sort order of your data organizes them in a clearer manner. You can sort by ascending (default order), cost, priority, Start and Finish dates. For resource lists, standard sorts are available for name, ID and costs. You can apply multilevel sorting using Project > Sort > Sort by to open the Sort Dialog box.

In addition to sorting resources or tasks you can categorize them into groups. For example, your resources may belong to different categories like management, support or training.

To create a custom group:

  1. Display the Gantt Chart View or Resource Sheet View and select View > Table.
  2. Select Project > Group by and choose from the cascading menu of existing group definitions.
  3. To add a new group definition choose More Groups to open the More Groups dialog box and create a group of you choice.

Viewing Costs

The Summary Table gives you a quick look at cost and work.

  1. Display the Gantt Chart or other list views.
  2. Choose View > Table > Summary. Columns for duration, start, finish, cost, work and percentage of completion are displayed.

Reducing Costs

After opening the Summary Table and viewing the costs you can open the Gantt Chart View along with the Task Form and select a task in the Gantt Chart.

Right- click on the Task Form and select Resource Cost settings to take a look at the complete list of costing fields.

As we learnt in Lesson 2, resource and fixed costs add up to total costs. Among these two cost types, the resource costs are usually the higher costs in any project. Reducing resource costs (without compromising on quality), keeping a watchful eye on any task that may go over the budget and doing away with tasks that are quite unnecessary are sure ways to reduce project costs.

The all-important sets of tasks in any project - those that are vital to the completion of a project are the critical ones and their path or sequence is referred to as the critical path. These tasks may not allow interruptions but it makes sense to look at ways to shorten this critical path.

To view critical tasks:

In the More Filters Dialog box, select Critical from the list of filters and click on Highlight. All critical tasks will appear in a different color from the other tasks.

To reduce the critical path:

  1. Overlap tasks
  2. Schedule overtime
  3. Break large tasks into smaller ones
  4. Identify and correct any errors
  5. Reduce the scope - complete all planned tasks within a timeframe

Download PDF Version here.

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MS Project
Lesson 1
Lesson 2
Lesson 3
Lesson 4
Lesson 5

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