How to Track Actual Costs in Microsoft Project [Solved]

How to Track Actual Costs in Microsoft Project

Project LogoI remember an incident in college when my old roommate, Neil, came back to the apartment and announced his new data entry job.  In his words, his new boss pointed at a stack of paper, then at the computer and asked him to “make them one.”  Well, that’s what I am looking at right now, except instead of a pile of paper and a computer, I am looking at a LOB accounting application and the Microsoft Project desktop application.

First order of business: in true epistemological fashion, identify what I know, what I don’t know, and what I think I know about how Actual Cost is calculated within Microsoft Project.  It turns out that there’s actually quite a bit that I didn’t know about the topic – or that I thought I knew which was actually wrong….hence the next couple of blog posts.

Review: Fixed vs. Variable Costs

Let’s kick this discussion off with a review of how costs are calculated in Microsoft Project.  Essentially, there are 2-5 task level fields that need to be considered:

  1. Cost (also sometimes displayed as “Total Cost”)
  2. Fixed Cost
  3. Actual Cost
  4. Remaining Cost

For what it’s worth, note that Actual Fixed Cost is a field that is available in the Task Usage view but not on a Task view.  Not sure why, but ok.

The rough calculations may be summed up as:

  1. Actual Cost + Remaining Cost = Total Cost
  2. Total Cost – Fixed Cost = Variable Cost (which is not an available field), where Variable Cost is the cost associated with the resource assigned to the task if there in fact is an assignment….

So the key takeaway from this discussion is that Variable Cost + Fixed Cost = Total Cost.  The corollary to that statement, is that if Variable Cost equals 0, then Total Cost – Fixed Cost also equals 0.  That statement is not true…well, sort of not true in some specific circumstances.

Configuration Options

Next, and this honestly was news to me, there are actually some configuration options which affect how Actual Cost is tracked.  In fact, there are three of them:


  1. Actual Costs are always calculated by Project – by default, this is turned on.  When this option is checked, actual cost is calculated by Microsoft Project.  In order for the user to manually enter Actual Cost data, the task would have to be 100% completed.   If the option is unchecked, users may enter an Actual Cost at any point in the task prior to completion.  This option is of particular interest to me as my tentative goal is to integrate this field in some fashion with an accounting application, i.e. to import the Actual Cost data from the external application.
  2. Edits to Total Cost Will Be Spread to the Status Date – This will be the subject of its own blog post, so stay tuned (for more Actual Cost excitement)!
  3. Default Fixed Cost Accrual – which really doesn’t impact Actual Cost, but it does impact how Fixed Cost is allocated across the task, so probably worth mentioning.  This field sets the default for all new tasks, i.e. if I set the Default Fixed Cost Accrual to Start, then all new tasks created will default to the Start setting.  Existing tasks will not be impacted.

For this and the next post, we’ll take a look at what that first option does.  To illustrate this, I have created a simple project with two tasks.  Each task is 10 days in duration and has a Fixed Cost of $10,000.  The project is baselined.


Actual Costs Are Always Calculated by Microsoft Project is turned on.


When I try to edit the Actual Cost, I find that I cannot.  The field is locked while the task is in progress.  If I mark Task 1 as 100% complete, the Actual Cost field will autopopulate with the Fixed Cost value I entered at the beginning.


Once the task has been set to 100% complete, I can manually go in and revise the Actual Cost for the completed task.  In this case, I change the Actual Cost from $10,000 to $15,000.  Note that the total Fixed Cost for the task is also adjusted upward to $15,000.


So far so good.  Everything is functioning as it should.

But what happens if you wish to update the Actual Cost in real time before the task is actually completed?  This would be the case if you (1) had tasks that extended longer than a specific reporting period or (2) wanted to disassociate the in-progress task from the automated calculation (which is essentially % Complete X Fixed Cost).

Let’s uncheck the Actual Cost calculation option.


The first thing we notice is that modifying % Complete does not in fact update the Actual Cost field.


…but I can manually edit the Actual Cost field at any stage in the task progress.  Hypothetically, I might do this if the Actual Cost for the task was actually being pulled from another application or spreadsheet.  In the below example, I set the Actual Cost to $7,500.  See how the different fields are calculated.


What’s worth noting is that the Remaining Cost is not decremented as I might have expected.  In this case, we had a Cost of $10,000 and an Actual Cost of $7,500.  I would expect the Remaining Cost to go down to $2,500.

That is not the case.  Instead, the Total Cost is increased to $17,500, i.e. the Fixed Cost + the Actual Cost.  What’s also noteworthy is that the Fixed Cost remains at $10,000.  The Total Cost field should display Fixed Cost + Variable Cost, where the Variable Cost is the cost associated with a resource assigned to the task.  But I don’t have a resource assigned to the task, so where is that cost being stored?  Where is the $7,500 within the system?  Call out the detectives (or since this is Texas, the horse-mounted posse), we have a missing value….surely, the varmint couldn’t have gotten very far.

To hunt down our elusive value, we fall back on an old trick that I’ve used in the past to troubleshoot schedules and/or figure out what’s going on behind the scenes.  We export the project file to an Access database, thus exposing some of the internal calculations to further scrutiny.

To export to Access, select the Visual Report option under the Project tab.  Select the Save Data option in the resulting dialog box.


Once I have the data in Access, I can build a quick query to look at the project assignments.


The query yields something like this:


Interestingly enough, I see assignments, even though I definitely have no resources in the schedule and certainly have not assigned resources to any tasks.  My conclusion from this is that behind the scenes, the costs for tasks are actually tracked in phantom assignments.  Those assignments lurk under the radar and are responsible for the behavior observed in the Fixed Cost fields when the Actual Cost is manually entered.

Hence, when I entered $7,500 as the Actual Cost for Task 1, I can see that was recorded in the “Unassigned” Assignment.  This then explains where the Total Cost of $17,500 comes from, $10,000 from the Fixed Cost and $7,500 from the “Unassigned” Assignment Variable Cost gives me $17,500..


How to Track your Project Cost [Solved]

How to Track your Project Cost

Project LogoTo best track costs, you should first create a budget by entering pay rates, per-use and fixed costs for tasks, resources, and if necessary, assignments. Then, specify the estimated work or duration for tasks and assign resources to the tasks. Only when all of these steps are complete can Project calculate the total estimated costs for the project. You may then want to refine your estimates. When you’re done, you save a baseline plan, thereby establishing a budget for the project.

After the project begins, you update task progress—the amount of work done on tasks or the percentage of the tasks that are complete. Project calculates costs for you based on task progress.

 Note   You can also choose to turn off automatic calculation of costs and enter actual costs yourself, in addition to task progress.

By combining the actual costs of completed work with the estimated costs for remaining work, Project calculates scheduled (projected) costs. More importantly, it calculates the difference between the scheduled and baseline costs. It’s this difference, or cost variance, that tells you whether your project is on budget or not.

You can do simple cost tracking by viewing the actual and scheduled (projected) costs for tasks, resources, assignments, and the project.

If you’ve created a budget through a baseline, you can do more extensive tracking by comparing the actual and scheduled costs against the baseline costs.

To determine whether you’re on budget or not, you can view the cost variances between scheduled costs and baseline costs. For example, if a task is budgeted to cost $50, but the task is half-way done and already costs $35, the scheduled cost is $60 (the $35 actual costs to date, plus the $25 expected costs for the remaining work on the task). The cost variance is $10 ($60 of actual cost minus the $50 of budget cost).

By monitoring cost variances regularly, you can take steps to ensure that your project stays close to its budget.

 Note   You can only view cost variances if you’ve entered initial costs and saved a baseline. For instance, if you didn’t enter pay rates for a resource before you saved the baseline, you won’t be able to view cost variances for that resource.

Where can I view cost information?

In Project, you can see costs for tasks, resources, and assignments. You can also see the project cost, which is generally based on these more detailed costs. You can view both total costs and timephased costs, which are costs distributed over time.

There are many different ways to view cost information in Project:

  • To view project cost totals, click the Statistics button in the Project Information dialog box.
  • To view the scheduled, baseline, actual, and remaining costs, (also cost variances), apply the Cost table to a task sheet view. Scheduled costs are displayed in the Total Cost or Cost fields.
  • To see what the total cost of a task will be, apply the Gantt Chart view to track scheduled costs.
  • To monitor costs closely to stick to a budget, apply the Resource Usage and Task Usage views to see the timephased costs incurred to date.
  • To view project cost performance in terms of earned value, apply Earned value tables to any sheet view.

You can see cost details in some views by selecting Costs from the Details item on the Format menu. You can also add specific cost fields to any sheet view by inserting a cost column. And you can display cost fields next to bars in the Gantt Chart by formatting the bars using Bar Styles from the Format menu.

Can you give me an example of cost tracking?

You can enter the task called “Test the program” into your Project plan and assign a contract tester to the task at $40 per hour (assume that the tester’s pay is the only contribution to the task cost). You enter a duration of 10 days (at 8 hours per day), and then save a baseline.

At the end of 5 days, you determine that the task is half finished, and you mark the task in Project as 50 percent complete. On the Task Sheet view, you apply the Cost table and see the following:

  • In the Baseline field, Project displays the baseline cost of the task, $3,200, which it calculated by multiplying your original duration estimate of 10 days (or 80 hours) by the tester’s standard rate of $40 per hour.
  • Because the task didn’t incur any unplanned costs in the first 5 days, the Actual field accurately displays the actual cost incurred to date. In this case, actual work is calculated by the formula Actual Work * Standard Rate = Actual Cost, or 40 hours * $40 per hour = $1,600. (Overtime, per-use costs, and fixed costs are not included in this example, but can be included in an actual cost.)
  • The remaining cost is calculated by the formula Remaining Work * Standard Rate = Remaining Cost, or 40 hours * $40 per hour = $1,600.
  • In the Total Cost field, Project displays the scheduled cost, which it calculates according to the formula Actual Cost + Remaining Cost = Scheduled Cost, or $1,600 + $1,600 = $3,200. Because the scheduled cost equals the baseline cost, the Variance field displays a cost variance (CV) of $0, which means that the task is exactly on budget.


How to Create the Timeline View in Project [Solved]

How to Create the Timeline View in Project

If you use PowerPoint or Visio to create milestone reports, find out how using Microsoft Project 2010 Timeline View instead can save you time and a lot of hassle.

Project LogoDetailed project schedules are great, but when it comes to communicating major milestones, phases, or tollgates to customers, executives, and even the project team, simplicity is key. Despite all the project management systems, spreadsheets, and templates available to project managers, it is still easier to communicate a project timeline with pictures.

Experienced project managers are familiar with the concept of a simple milestone chart or a high-level Gantt chart that depicts the project timeline. Prior to Microsoft Project 2010, I always created a milestone chart using Microsoft PowerPoint or a drawing tool such as Microsoft Visio. Developing a milestone chart in PowerPoint or Visio is an administrative challenge because each milestone needs to be adjusted and tweaked as the project schedule changes. I would waste a good hour moving milestone icons, adjusting dates, and changing the text to properly fit the custom milestone chart. Now I save myself a lot of hassle by using the Microsoft Project 2010 Timeline View (Figure A). Figure A

Timeline View in Microsoft Project 2010 (Click the image to enlarge.)

The Timeline View provides an overview of the project schedule and lets you select only the tasks and milestones that need to be communicated. This is very different from filtering the Gantt chart to display only the milestones and the summary tasks. I can pick any summary task, milestone, or individual task and depict it in the Timeline View. Since the view is automatically created based on the project data, any changes in the dates are immediately reflected in the Timeline View. I save a lot of time and develop a meaningful chart based on changing project schedule data.

In Figure A, I color-coded the specific phases based on the respective project teams. I can also color-code the milestones or individual tasks to reflect complete, on schedule, at risk, or late milestones. Tasks can be depicted as bars in the view or as individual call outs. Adding and removing tasks is simple, and the entire view can be copied and pasted into an email or status report.

Creating the Timeline View

Follow these steps to create the Timeline View:

1. Select the View tab.

2. Click the Timeline checkbox. A blank timeline window will appear (Figure B). Figure B

Blank Timeline View (Click the image to enlarge.)

3. Find a milestone in your project schedule.

4. Right-click the task and select Add to Timeline (Figure C). Figure C

Add to Timeline (Click the image to enlarge.)

5. The milestone will appear on the Timeline View.

Repeat this five-step process for summary tasks, individual tasks, or groups of tasks.

When all the necessary tasks have been added to the Timeline View, you can use the Format menu to color-code the bars or change the way the tasks are displayed (Figure D). Figure D

Format Timeline View (Click the image to enlarge.)

You can also insert new tasks or milestones directly into the Timeline View.

Applying the Timeline View to multiple projects or programs

If you are managing multiple projects within a program or a portfolio, you’ll find the Copy Timeline feature useful when reporting status. After you click the Copy Timeline button, you can paste it into an email, presentation, or other document. In a program, there are often dependencies between projects. By copying each timeline into a PowerPoint slide, additional dependencies can be drawn between milestones.


How does the project start date affect the schedule [Solved]

How does the project start date affect the schedule

When you add a new task to a schedule, it automatically is scheduled to start on the Project Logoproject’s start date. As tasks are added to the schedule and connected to other tasks, the start times of tasks will change, and the last task to finish determines the project’s finish date.

  • To find the Project start date or to change it to another date, click Project, and then click Project Information.

Of course, there are going to be exceptions. For example, tasks don’t move around as other tasks move. Read below in this article to learn more about manually versus automatically scheduled task scheduling.

Before and after creating task dependency

Callout 1 When you create a new project, you first enter the project’s start date. When you schedule a project from the start time, all tasks start at the project start date unless you specify otherwise.

Callout 2 For both manually scheduled tasks and automatically scheduled tasks, with no task dependencies or constraints applied, the project’s duration is the same as the duration of the longest task. In other words, the project finish date is the same as the longest task’s finish date.

Callout 3 Task dependencies, such as the finish-to-start dependency between the first and second tasks (as shown here), can change the project’s finish date.

Nearly all projects should be scheduled from a known start time. Even if you know the date that a project must be completed, scheduling from a start date gives you maximum flexibility.

However, you might want to schedule from a finish date when:

  • You need to determine when a project must start so that it finishes on a specific required date.
  • You are not sure when your project will begin (for example, you are receiving work from another source that could be delayed).
  • Your project management methodology requires you to schedule from a finish date.

As you work with your project that is scheduled from a finish date, be aware of differences in the way that Project handles some actions:

  • When you enter an automatically scheduled task, Project automatically assigns the As Late As Possible (ALAP) constraint to the finish date of the task. You should set other constraints only when necessary (Right-click a task, then click Task Information).
  • If you drag a Gantt bar to change the finish date of a task, Project automatically assigns a Finish No Later Than (FNLT) constraint for an automatically scheduled task.
  • If you change your project to schedule from a finish date and it was previously scheduled from a start date, you will remove all leveling delays and leveling splits from tasks and assignments that have been automatically scheduled. Tasks that are manually scheduled are not affected.
  • If you use automatic leveling to reduce resource overallocations in your project, Project will add a leveling delay after a task rather than before a task (To check leveling settings, click the Resource tab, then click Level Resource).


How to Track Actual work and Actual costs using Project [Solved]

Project LogoHow to Track Actual work and Actual costs using Project

First I will choose the Work Table:


and I will get:


As you can see, in this Table I have work in hours which is based on formula Duration in days X Hours per day. For the Task4, Duration is 7 days, e.g. 7 days X 8 hours per day = 56 hours!

I will put 40% in the % W. complete, and I will get:


40% of 56 hours is 22,4 hours, and you can see this value in the Actual field, and the Remaining is 56-22,4  = 33,6 hours. I will open the Status window for the Task4:


and I will get:


Notice that Actual duration is 2,8 days, and Remaining duration is 4,2 days! Why? Because Actual work is 22.4 hours, Actual Duration is 22,4 hours / 8 hours per day = 2,8 days. And Remaining duration is Duration – Actual duration = 7 days – 2,8 days = 4,2 days.

Now suppose that you want to track Actual work in hours per Resource for each task! First you should open Task usage view:


and you will get:


Now I can double click on the resource name under each Task and I will get:


Here I can put:

  • Work:  How many hours are needed for the Task and Resource
  • Actual work: How many hours are already spent on this Task by particular Resource
  • % Work complete: The percentage of work completed on the Task by particular Resource
  • Remaining work: How many hours are needed to finish the work, beside Actual work on the Task by particular Resource
  • Actual start: When the Resource has started to work on this Task
  • Actual finish: When the Resource has ended (completed) with work on this Task

I will not explain how MS PROJECT 2010 calculates fields because it does it on the same way as it was described in my previous Post.

The most detailed information is to put the exact number of hours spent on the Task by the particular Resource, on a day by day basis. You can do it like this:


and you will get:



I manually put 4, 12 and 20 hours in days, so the Actual work is 4+12+20 hours = 36 hours, Remaining work is 56 – 36 = 20 hours, and % Work completed is 36/56 = 64%

Which method to use? The answer is simple: The most accurate! And of course, consider the time you need to fulfill all those fields!

OK! How to track Costs, or better how to put the real costs in your Project?

For Fixed cost that is easy. For example, choose the cost table in Task Usage (or any other View, for which is applicable the Cost Table):


and you will get:


Now you can change Fixed Cost, for example, from $300 to $400 in Task4. Just retype it, and you will get:


But what can you do with Costs for resources. They are calculate automatically. You can leave them “as is”, and let MS PROJECT 2010to calculate those values based on price per hour, day etc. for the Resource and hours spent on the Tasks. Or  you can put all the costs manually. To do that you should set MS PROJECT 2010 up:


ant then:


Now I can put manually Actual Costs. For example notice that Task4 I have:

  • Total Cost: $22.800
  • Actual: $14.620
  • Remaining: $8.180


I will now put $25.000 in the Actual Cost Field and I will get:


As you can see, Remaining cost is same, and Total Cost is$33.180 (e.g. Actual cost + Remaining).


I will now change my setting again to the:


and I those changes for the Task4 are gone:



How to Sync Project to SharePoint [SOLVED]

How to Sync Project to SharePoint

Project LogoA Project Manager (PM) can use all the advanced scheduling capabilities that exist in Project Professional with all the collaborative capabilities that exist in SharePoint.

Users can now publish a project plan from Project to SharePoint and vice versa.  Any changes made in Project / SharePoint can be easily updated into SharePoint / Project with the click of a button.

So how does this work?  Let’s assume a PM creates a simple project plan in Project Professional, as shown below.


The PM would like to share the plan with his/her team members via SharePoint.  To do this, the PM clicks on the File tab and drills on to Save & Send > Sync with Tasks List (see image below).  After filling out the required fields, the user clicks on Sync, and in a matter of seconds the project plan has been published to SharePoint.



The SharePoint list will look as follows:


Now the team members can view and modify the data in SharePoint, and the PM can synchronize the updates by clicking on the Sync button.  Tip: After the first sync, the Sync button also appears in the Info tab shown below.


How to Sync Project to SharePoint

If the same data is modified both in SharePoint and Project, the PM will be prompted with a conflict resolution dialog next time there is a Sync operation.


A few important things to notice are:

· Summary tasks are supported in the synchronization

· Most custom fields can be synchronized, and can be added via the Manage Fields dialog (click on Manage Fields button shown on the image above in the Info tab)

· This feature only works with SharePoint Foundation and SharePoint Server 2010

· This feature only works when Project Professional is not connected to the server



Microsoft Project Tips and Tricks

Microsoft Project Tips and Tricks

Define Percent Complete
White Paper
Microsoft Project has three measures of Percent Complete: Duration percent complete (%Complete), Work Percent Complete (%Work Complete) and Physical Percent Complete (Physical%Complete).  They all mean different things. The white paper attempts to explain the differences.

What Percent Complete Should I be?
White Paper
This is probably the most common question people ask and I am amazed  why they  do not know the answer.  The answer is really a question: “What %complete did you plan to be?”  A percentage is dividing two numbers.  What is your numerator and denominator? The denominator is the key and the units have to be consistent.  Once you understand the three definitions of Percent Complete and if you are accountable to your baseline or forecast, then you can answer the question by reading the white paper.

Stoplights (Red Amber Green – RAG Indicators)
White Paper
This is pretty much up to you and are related to how much progress is being claimed on a project compared to where it should be.  This white paper explains a little bit about putting stop lights in a Project file.  You can gather some more information about “Expected Complete” for use with this calculation by reading the white paper on “What Percent Complete Should I Be”

Earned Value “S” Curves
Want to make an “S” curve for your Earned Value data? Watch these demos:
Exporting MS Project 2003 data to Excel
Preparing the Excel Data
Creating an “S” Curve in Excel is really a matter of using that Excel chart wizard.  Just remember to keep the cumulative and discrete data on two separate axes and all is well.

Schedule Status
Marching through a schedule plugging in a %Complete will not accurately status your schedule. As a matter of fact, it will more than likely damage the schedule logic. Think about the status date in relation to the task time line.  You need to concern yourself with the Actual Start date, remaining duration and remaining work.  They are the important parameters.

The four shalls:

There shall be no task with a start date left of status date with 0% Complete, establish a new start date if necessary.
There shall be no task with a finish date left of the status date that is not 100% complete, establish a new finish date if necessary.
There shall be no task with a %Complete>0 with a start date to the right of the status date, you did not do the work in the future.
There shall be no task claiming 100% Complete with a finish date to the right of the status date, the latest this task can finish is the status date.

If you do those four things, you probably have 80% of it covered.

Predecessor and Successor Relationships
White Paper
Most people understand the meaning of a Finish to Start relationship.  Others expand their scheduling prowess to include other dependency types such as Start to Start and Finish to Finish relationships.  This white paper discusses the relationship among these dependency types and why it is important to have traditional dependencies as well.

Risk Register and Schedule/Budget Implications
White Paper
The attached white paper discusses bi-directional tracing of risks between the Integrated Master Schedule and the program Risk Register. There are plenty of items to consider, it is more than placing an ID from a spread sheet into the schedule. There are implications to how the schedule costs, and the schedule work packages reflect the risks.

My COM Add Ins do not work
White Paper
Many times items such as the Analyze Time Scaled Data in Excel just do not seem to work properly.  This is common with the Project Compare utility as well.  The attached document shows you how to re-add (or jump start) these feature in MS Project.

Project Day Numbering
White Paper
Project presents schedules by calendar date and this cannot be changed. It is still possible to show a schedule with a horizontal time scale of “Day 1, Day 2” and individual task dates with start and finish dates given as “Day 1” or “Day 2”.  This white paper explains how to do it with two Text fields and two formulas. Project 2010 is not as  fussy with this scenario.

Project Logo