Microsoft Project 2010 : Tracking Your Project’s Performance and Costs - Understanding the Fields Used in Updating the Project Schedule

3/29/2015 9:13:28 PM

The key with the progress of advance of your project is feedback which you obtain your resources about their progress and then to write this information in your project. If you are using Microsoft Office Project Server, you can set up Microsoft Project Professional to automatically request progress updates from the team. Employees and other resources receive a timesheet-style form to fill out and submit; then after review, you can update your project automatically.


If you are not using Project Server, you have to collect and enter the information manually.

Understanding the Fields Used in Updating the Project Schedule

As you begin building your schedule, you enter information into the appropriate fields: Actual Start Date, Actual Finish Date, Actual Task Duration, %Complete, %Work Complete, and so forth. Plus, as you include resources, Project calculates amounts of work, overtime work, and cost for these resources. Project recalculates your resource workload as you work with and change task conditions such as the starting date or duration during the planning phase. You can plan that you are going to start on a specific date, that it is going to take a specific amount of time, and that you will be finished on that date, but this is just guesswork until the tasks within the project are completed. Tracking is entering your results into the “Actual” assignment fields, such as Actual Start, Actual Finish, Actual Work, and Actual Cost. The various task and assignment data fields are interrelated, so you need to understand those relationships before you enter tracking data.

The term “tracking” is what happens as you manually enter task and assignment actual data or if you use the Project Update control on the Project tab. For example, when you enter the Actual Start date, Project replaces the planned start with your new entry. This might now affect successor tasks, if you start early or late, and Project calculates the changes your actual start date makes to the schedule.

Two things happen in Project when you enter an actual start date:

  • The entry you made in the Actual Start field is copied into the (scheduled) Start field, and Project recalculates the schedule for any successor tasks. Any other dates that are affected are highlighted with the change highlighting color control within the menu sequence Format, Text Styles, Changed Cells Background Color. This helps you to see if you need to make any changes down the road to the schedule, based on your early or late start.

  • Microsoft Project sets the Start field as fixed, meaning that it cannot be recalculated. So after you enter the Actual Start date, Microsoft Project will not change the value. However, you can manually edit that date if conditions require a change.

The same type of reaction occurs when you enter an Actual Finish date, except that Microsoft Project also marks the %Complete schedule field as 100% complete for the affected tasks. You should be aware that Project also updates other fields, such as Actual Duration, Actual Work, and so forth when you enter the Actual Finish date. Now your baseline is the only record of your originally scheduled project, so you can compare actual data to baseline data variances to see what went right and what did not.

There are several different ways of entering the actual values into your project. The following methods are listed in order from least exact to most precise, assuming that all data provided is valid. The method you choose depends on your need for precision and the expectations for reporting and lessons learned analysis:

  • Update the %Complete task field to a fraction between zero and 100% without worrying about any of the actual schedule dates, work, cost, and so forth. Although this is the fastest technique to update tasks, it is also the least accurate because this method assumes actual task activities occurred exactly as planned. This method gives you no information about how well you estimated or any information for future comparisons.

  • Record when a task is started and finished, but do not include how much actual work or actual cost was involved. Microsoft Project assumes the work, cost, and other planned data occurred as originally planned when you enter actual date information. This will at least give you some idea for planning completion dates in the future.

  • Record when a task starts, and then periodically enter estimates, such as Remaining Work and Remaining Duration, when you enter %Complete. This will help you spot tasks that are not making headway as planned and help you make adjustments to get things back on track.

  • Ask resources how much actual work they did during each time period and enter it. This method allows the most information about progress and performance, but also takes up the most time because the data must be entered manually.

  • Use Microsoft Office Project Server to request timesheet reports, and then have Microsoft Project Professional automatically update the fields from the data submitted. This takes much less time and is the one of the best ways to track your schedule progress.


Project uses the term %Complete to mean the percentage complete along the start through finish timeline—that is, duration. You should use the phrase “% Duration Complete” whenever you consider the meaning of the %Complete field.

You might also want to search the Internet for timesheet entry tools that enable your team members to provide actual work information. Some tools enable the project manager to post actual work, cost, and so on into task data fields. Microsoft Office Project Server provides very robust schedule tracking and reporting functionality.

Remember that when you enter data in Project, other fields might be modified by the scheduling engine, so it is important that you understand the potential impact of the method you choose for project status updates. Which method you choose depends on your need for precise information and how much time you can spend tracking your progress. No matter which way you choose to do it, you need to understand how the various fields interact so you should experiment with various methods and techniques before establishing a general schedule updating policy within your organization.
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