Avoiding Uneven Swimlanes when Microsoft Project’s WBS is Inconsistent

Most of our Microsoft Project users like having OnePager Pro automatically group swimlanes by one of the outline levels tied to the WBS of the project plan. For example, grouping by Level 1 Summary Name will create swimlanes based on the top-level parent task, whereas grouping by Level 2 Summary name will create swimlanes based on summaries one level lower.

But what happens if your WBS in Microsoft Project isn’t set up so that every outline level matches up to where you’d like to see a swimlane? Take this Microsoft Project plan for example:

Here, Phase 1 and Phase 3 are pretty clear-cut, but if you want to have Phase 2 broken into two swimlanes (Phase 2A and 2B), the outline level won’t work as-is. Here’s what OnePager’s swimlanes look like when you group swimlanes by Level 1 Summary Name:

Gantt chart with both swimlanes and bar colors based on Level 1 Summary Name.

This is a nice-looking chart, but we only get one combined swimlane for Phase 2 because that’s the summary task at outline level 1.

If we go down a level to group by Level 2 Summary Name, things don’t look much better. We get the breakout of Phase 2A and Phase 2B that we want, but that comes at the expense of the swimlanes for Phase 1 and Phase 2 that are now broken up too much:

Gantt chart with both swimlanes and bar colors based on Level 2 Summary Name.

In short, there is no way to get clean swimlanes from the Microsoft Project WBS in this case because the levels aren’t set up in a way that matches how we want our swimlanes to be grouped.

It can be tempting to start indenting and out-denting your WBS to “force-fit” it to match what you want in OnePager, but we don’t recommend it. Other people may start manually merging and splitting swimlanes by hand. You can do this in OnePager, but it’s a lot of work too, and it’s really not necessary.

Instead, leave your swimlanes and your WBS alone and use a text field to drive your swimlanes instead instead. Back in Microsoft Project, we’ve added Text 30 to the far-right of the project plan. For each task that we’re planning to import, Text 30 reflects the swimlane in which we want it to appear:

You don’t need to fill in every single cell under Text 30. Only the tasks that are being imported into your OnePager chart will need a swimlane value.

Now, change your swimlanes to use Text 30, and here’s what you get:

Gantt chart with both swimlanes and bar colors based on Text 30.

This same method works in Project Online and Project Server using enterprise custom fields instead of local Microsoft Project text fields.

So, the next time your swimlanes don’t group the way you want them to, consider using a text field, and you should be able to get the results you want quickly and easily.

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About Safford

Safford is a versatile technology professional with a solid history of empowering emerging growth companies in a broad array of industries. His employment history includes energy industry consulting at Quorum Software, Senior Manager of Client Services and Technical Sales at telecom service aggregator GetConnected, and Vice President of Strategic Partner Management at electronic payment processor IP Commerce. Prior to his tenure as OnePager's COO, Safford was the company's Vice President of Marketing and Alliances. Safford holds a BA in Psychology and management from Rice University.

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