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example) into a project summary task. Any task with tasks below it gets its
duration and cost information from its subtasks, no matter how deeply
nested it might be in the hierarchy.
The structure of phases in an outline is also useful when you need to
reorganize an outline: When you move a summary task, all its subtasks come right
along for the ride!
How many levels can you go?
You have no real limit on how many levels of tasks you can create in an outline
(except perhaps how much memory you have in your computer to
accommodate a monster schedule!). Remember, though: At some point, you have to deal
with assigning timing and resources to each of these tasks — and then track
their progress. Too much detail can make your project plan difficult to manage.
Also, if you find that you build in three, four, or five levels of detail
throughout your plan, consider that you might really be building several projects at a
time. Having too many levels suggests that a few of these project phases
might be more manageable if you break them off and make them projects on
their own — with their own project managers. Unless you want the
maintenance of your Project plan to become a project in and of itself, don’t overdo
the level of detail in your outline; two or three levels are usually sufficient.
The One-and-Only Project Summary Task
Just as a ship has only one captain, only one task summarizes all other tasks
in each project. I strongly suggest that you create a project summary task,
which represents the highest (least detailed) level of information and is often
simply the title of the project, such as New Product Rollout or Space Shuttle
Launch. A project summary task is created when every task in the project
falls under it in the outline and is indented to become subordinate, as shown
in Figure 5-2. You can see in the figure that Implementation Requirements is
the project summary task.
When you think about it, an upper-level headline in an outline is the sum of
its parts; the headline reflects the overall topic for all the items below it. The
project summary task takes this concept a step further: This task rolls up all
the actual data from other tasks into one line item. Thus, the project summary
task’s duration reflects the duration of the entire project. From a monetary
angle, the project summary task’s total cost reflects the total costs for the
entire project. Figures like these can be handy to have at your fingertips —
and that’s one value of a summary task.