Being self-taught on a product is all well and good and you will often get by but so often I hear people say that MS project is rubbish and it isn’t. If you have never heard of it before it is a fantastic tool for planning projects timelines, resourcing (so you know people and other resources are available when you need them) and monitoring your progress once the project starts. With this product, the reason people don’t think it is good is often that one of the key features is not being used at all or at best badly. That feature is linking.
What are Links?
Linking is used to set up the dependency of one task on another and is one of 2 features that determine the timings of tasks in a project plan. Without them, if something changes, then everything else would have to be manually updated. With it configured correctly when one task is changed it has a ripple down effect on related steps. There are several ways they can be set up and many different combinations of links that can be created.
A link is represented in the Gantt chart as an arrow between tasks. Once created if the duration of the first task is changed the second task will automatically move. But how do we do create these links? There are several choices listed here.
- Select the tasks to link and click on the Link the Selected Tasks icon. This is particularly useful if you want to link several tasks in order as you can select the block of tasks and they will link one after the other.
- Type the task number of the task you want to do before this one in the predecessors column.
- Double click on the task, select the predecessors tab and choose the task to be done before this one.
- Hover over the task you want to link from in the Gantt chart until your cursor becomes a 4 ended arrow and drag straight up or down to hover over the task you want to link to. The cursor will change to a chain link and the link will be created when the cursor is released.
Changing the Type of Link
There are 4 different types of link available and in addition leads and lags can be used for further refinement.
The link type can be changed in 2 ways
- Double click on the link arrow in the Gantt Chart.
- Double click on the task and select the predecessors tab.
What do the Link Types Mean?
The default link type is Finish to Start. If you require a different type or use of a lead or lag then these must be changed
- Finish to Start (FS)– the finish of the first task determines the start of the second. This is the most common type of link and is used when tasks happen consecutively.
- Start to Start (SS) – the start of the first task determines the start of the second. This produces a full overlap of the tasks with both starting at the same time.
- Finish to Finish (FF) – the finish of the first task determines the finish of the second. This also produces a full overlap but this time both tasks finish at the same time.
- Start to Finish (SF) – the start of the first task determines the finish of the second. This is often used when the date of the first task is fixed and the second task has to be complete just before it starts.
In addition, any of these links can also have leads or lags applied to them to create gaps between tasks or for them to overlap by a specific amount. A negative lag is called a lead. In this description, it is assumed that the lead/lag is applied to the FS link as this is the most frequently used link type.
- Positive lag – creates a gap between one task and the next. Useful when you are waiting for something else to be done before you can proceed with the next step. The duration does not include non-working time.
- Negative lead – creates an overlap between task. This can be anything for a small overlap to a full overlap. It’s often used when you can start the second task part way through the first. The duration does not include non-working time.
- ED lag – ED stands for elapsed days and includes non-working time such as weekends. It is normally used when you need to include drying times between tasks as drying will happen whether it’s non-working time or not.
- % – a percentage lag works out the percentage of the previous task and uses this figure. This means that if the first task changes in duration the lag will alter. It is often used where one task starts 50% of the way through another.
By using the correct link types a project plan can be produced where changes will automatically be reflected in the rest of the plan without any manual intervention. This is far more efficient and is more likely to give you an accurate plan going forward.
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