Effective Project Management with MS Project – Tracking your project

Footsteps In The Sand ...In the final post of this series, I am going to cover off how to track your projects using Microsoft Project. Over the course of my career I am constantly amazed at the number of organisations that say they have a mature project management process, but don’t track their projects. Tracking of projects is extremely important, if you don’t track a project, how are you going to know…

  • How much it’s cost to date?
  • How much more it’s going to cost?
  • When it’s going to be finished?
  • Is it on schedule?
  • Is it on budget?

To truly say you are managing a project, you need to be able to compare the project progress against the plan as started to see how the project is going and make changes as necessary. In the commercial setting, this is even more important, as typically projects will have a set budget, effort amount and duration. Typically these amounts are set as part of a commercial agreement, or as part of an internal business case. As the project manager you will be responsible for ensuring you deliver against the plan, budgets and delivery dates.


To create a copy of the initial plan to compare against, it is necessary to create a snapshot called a baseline. Baselines take a read only copy of the work, start date, finish dates and duration fields in the project plan that can then be used for comparison purposes.

Out of the box, Project allows for eleven baselines to be captured (Baseline 0 – Baseline 10). The baseline can be created against the whole schedule, or just selected tasks.

Creating a baseline is incredibly simple, however in Project 2007 the feature was buried in a labyrinth of menus, not so in Project 2010, where it is front and centre as it should be.

Project 2007 Project 2010
Tools > Tracking > Set Baseline



Project Tab > Set Baseline



Once the baseline has been created you will notice that all the Baseline fields on you project schedule become populated with a ‘read-only’ snapshot of the data when you baselined.


Baselines can be created for the whole plan, or selected tasks, the latter is particular useful when there is a scope change and a specific part of the project plan needs to be updated. I will write another post covering the specifics of baselines as it’s a massive topic.


Once we have a baseline, the project manager can then start to track against that baseline, marking off the project progress against the original plan. Microsoft Project provides two main ways that you can track a project:

Percentage complete – the % complete of the task is entered directly via the % Complete or % Work Complete columns. Entering a value in these fields will automatically cause the work and remaining work fields to be updated. The problem with using percentage complete is that it’s totally subjective so doesn’t always paint an accurate picture of the project status; a better solution is to use actual values.


Actual values – With actual values, a number of key data points about the task are recorded including the amount of work performed, the amount remaining and when that work occurred. This information is then entered in the Resource Usage sheet as per the screenshot below.


Actuals can be entered as often as you want, the regularity really depends on the size of the project and how small the tasks are that need to be tracked. I tend to update actuals on a weekly basis, which fits in nicely with most organisations weekly status reporting schedule.


One you start tracking against a project schedule that has a baseline, Project will automatically work out the variance in the schedule. The variance is the difference between the current values and the originals held in the baseline and are used by the Project manager to see the status of the project at a glance. Any of the fields that are included in the baseline will have a corresponding variance, so you would have work, duration, start, finish or cost information. In the screenshot below, I have the Work Variance, Duration Variance and Cost Variance columns.


As you can see above, that the project is running over by 6 hours, and is going to be 1.5 days later and cost $1,200 more than we originally had budget for.

Microsoft Project also provides a graphical representation of the schedule variance through a special type of Gantt chart called a Tracking Gantt chart. Notice in the screenshot below, the baseline is shown in black, and the current state of the project is shown in red.


If the plan was tracking correctly, the red lines would be on top of the black ones, but unfortunately it is not tracking well, and we can easily see we are behind schedule.

Once again, I have only really scraped the surface of tracking in Microsoft Project, there are heaps of features including reporting, other columns and views that can assist the project manager is fully understanding where their project is and how it is performing. Hopefully the glimpse I have given you is enough to make you go out and start tracking, or if you already are, rest assure you are doing a great job J

2 thoughts on “Effective Project Management with MS Project – Tracking your project

  1. Pingback: Effective Project Management with MS Project « EPMSource

  2. Pingback: Alus- ja vaheplaanid ja nende võrdlemine « Jan Urva

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