Once you start creating your own project plans, you may need to create a structure of summary tasks and sub tasks by using Project's indenting and outdenting buttons. This article summarises how to do this and describes different situations in Project where you need to be careful how this feature is used.

Indenting to create summary tasks and sub tasks

Generally you would organize your tasks into summary tasks and sub tasks relatively early in the project creation process and before creating links between tasks. This way, you can happily add, delete or change task order until you are happy with all planned tasks without affecting any task relationships.

There are two different approached to creating tasks in a structure containing summary tasks and sub tasks. These are the top down approach and the bottom up approach. In the top down approach you add all the summary tasks first, for example to represent different phases in a project. Then under each summary task you add one or more extra tasks, which represent the tasks to be completed within that particular summary task. Once added you then select these extra tasks, in the upper toolbar or tab area, click the green right facing indent button. This action causes the selected tasks to be indented one level and the task immediately above becomes a summary task with bold formatting.

The summary task shows on the Gantt chart as a black bar with its sub tasks underneath. You can repeat this by adding sets of tasks under each of the tasks originally typed, and indenting the added tasks. Eventually you'll have a series of summary tasks, each with a set of indented sub tasks.

Alternatively you might use the bottom up approach whereby you type in all the project tasks at once in one big list. You can of course add, delete or change the order of tasks until you are happy with the list. You might then decide which tasks are best to indent under particular tasks.

So you highlight a block of tasks and indent. As before, the task immediately above becomes the summary task for the tasks you just indented. Then if you repeat this for all the relevant blocks of tasks, until you've created your summary tasks and sub tasks structure. You can also then visually collapse the entire task list view to only show only summary tasks, or you can collapse in one set of tasks under one summary task, using the blue plus and minus buttons next to the indent buttons.

You can also create summary tasks within summary tasks by indenting further levels. To do this you select the required tasks, click the green right facing indent button, and all the tasks indent one level further to the right, with the task immediately above being converted to a summary task. You can of course outdent tasks as well. So if you've indented the wrong tasks or perhaps indented some tasks one level too many, you select the tasks in question, then click the left facing outdent button. The selected tasks will then move one level to the left, and the summary task immediately above is converted back to a regular task.

Indent issues

If you add additional tasks at the end of a list of tasks, and the tasks above are indented, then the additional tasks will be indented to the same level. If this is not what you want, you could highlight the tasks in question, then outdent them to the required level. If you outdent a summary task, then the task will move one level to the left and all its subtasks will all move one level, maintaining the same summary task and subtask structure. Alternatively you can collapse in all the tasks to only show summary tasks, which will be at the top indent level. Then add your new task or tasks and these will also be at the top indent level.

If you find that a particular summary task is indented too far, and it will not outdent when selected, then selected the most indented task or tasks under that summary task and outdent them, then select the summary task and outdent it. You can also outdent a set of tasks all the way to the top indent level - you know this because the tasks will not outdent any further. Then you could re indent the tasks under the summary task.

These indent guidelines also apply to adding a project rather than a task to an existing project, for example in creating a master project which contains several projects. An added project will assume the indent position of the task above it, even if there are empty lines. If you want to add the project at the top indent level ensure you collapse all tasks first, to show only summary tasks, and then add the project. If you do add the project at a level which is indented too far, then collapse in the added project, outdent it to the correct level and then expand it again.


Hopefully this article has given you a brief insight into indenting and outdenting tasks in Project to create your required summary task and sub task structure. Any errors in indenting levels can be easily corrected by careful use of the collapse and outdent actions. Interested in learning more about Microsoft Project? A really effective way is to attend one of the many training courses available. The best ones gives you lots of hands on experience and can really help you boost your skills in Project.