Background Information

Many years ago, it was my privilege to work for seven months with a group of schedulers at a large company in New Orleans. At the time, the schedulers were using the new Microsoft tool named Project Central, which became the forerunner to Project Server and Project Online.

In their Microsoft Project schedules, these schedulers primarily used Fixed Duration tasks. To report task progress, their team members were using the Timesheet feature in Project Central, reporting actual progress on a day by day basis.

A struggle that these schedulers faced was how to determine whether the progress on a Fixed Duration task was falling behind schedule or not. For example, suppose that a team member was expected to work 8 hours/day on a Fixed Duration task, but the team member is only reporting actual progress of 6 hours/day. On a Fixed Duration task, the Finish date will not slip when progress is behind schedule.

A trick that I taught these schedulers many years ago is worth repeating. I believe you will find this article to be relevant to you if you especially if you have the following requirements:

  • You primarily use Fixed Duration tasks in your projects.
  • Your organization is using either Project Online or Project Server.
  • Your team members report task progress on a day by day basis using the Timesheet page in Project Web App.

Consider % Complete and % Work Complete

To determine whether task progress is falling behind schedule on a Fixed Duration task, there are two fields that you must consider:

  • % Complete
  • % Work Complete

The % Complete field represents the percentage of the Duration completed or “used up” during the life of the task. The formula used by Microsoft Project in the % Complete field is Actual Duration/Duration x 100%. As you can see by this formula, it helps us to think of the % Complete field as the % Duration Complete field instead.

The % Work Complete field represents the current percentage of progress on work completed during the life of the task. The formula used by Microsoft Project in the % Work Complete field is Actual Work/Work x 100%.

To know whether task progress is behind schedule on a Fixed Duration task, you need to compare the % Complete field against the % Work Complete field. Here is how it works:

  • If the % Complete value is greater than the % Work Complete value, then task progress is falling behind schedule. For example, suppose that the % Complete value is 50% and the % Work Complete value is 25%. This means we have completed 25% of the planned work in 50% of the Duration of the task. In a situation like this, the team member either needs to work harder during the second half of the task or the Finish date of the task will need to slip.
  • If the % Complete value is equal to the % Work Complete value, then task progress is on schedule.
  • If the % Complete value is less than the % Work Complete value, then the task progress is ahead of schedule. For example, suppose that the % Complete value is 25% and the % Work Complete value is 50%. This means we have completed 50% of the planned work in only 25% of the Duration of the task. In a scenario like this, the task will probably finish on time as scheduled, but it might be possible for a task to finish early.

Understanding Fixed Duration Task Behavior

Before I show you the solution, let’s first look at how Fixed Duration tasks behave when actual task progress is entered on a day by day basis. Because the Duration is locked or fixed on a Fixed Duration task, we can assume the following:

  • The Duration of the task will not change, and all work is evenly distributed across the Duration of the task.
  • When Actual Work is entered on a Fixed Duration task, Microsoft Project will redistribute the Remaining Work across the Remaining Duration of the task.

Figure 1 shows a project with three Fixed Duration tasks after two weeks of progress in the project. The team members assigned to these tasks have submitted their progress each week using the Timesheet page in Project Web App. Each week the project manager has approved all these updates and has then opened the Microsoft Project schedule to review the progress in this project.

Figure 1: Gantt Chart view of Fixed Duration tasks

In the Gantt Chart view of the project shown previously in Figure 1, notice the following:

  • The Duration of each Fixed Duration task is 20 days.
  • Each task has a single resource assigned to work full-time on the task.
  • The red dashed line is the Status Date line, representing the last day of the previous week’s reporting period.
  • Task progress on each task is current, as shown by the dark blue stripe running up to the Status Date line for each task.

As you examine the Gantt Chart view shown in Figure 1, you can see that it appears that all three tasks are on track to finish as scheduled. Unfortunately, this is not the case at all.

Figure 2 shows the Task Usage view of the same project. In the time phased grid (timesheet like grid on the right), you can see both the Actual Work submitted by team members to date, plus the Remaining Work for each task. The Remaining Work, by the way, is shown on the Work row during the weeks of August 20 and 27.

Figure 2: Task Usage view of Fixed Duration tasks

In the Task Usage view shown previously in Figure 2, Henry Baum was originally assigned to work 40 hours/week on the Task A task. However, during the first two weeks of work, he only performed 20 hours of Actual Work each week. Because this is a Fixed Duration task, notice how Microsoft Project rescheduled the uncompleted work into the last two weeks of the task. In order to complete his work on schedule on the Task A task, Henry Baum will need to work 60 hours each of those last two weeks. Based on what I see in this project, I would say that the Finish date for the Task A task is in jeopardy!

Also in Figure 2, notice that Mickey Cobb’s work on the Task B task is on schedule since she worked 40 hours/week each of the first two weeks. Notice that Pancho Boie’s work on the Task C task is ahead of schedule since he worked 50 hours/week each of the first two weeks. Based on what I see in this project, I would say there is a possibility that Pancho Boie may finish early on this task.

Creating the Solution

Based on what I have presented so far, it is obvious that you must use the Task Usage view to determine whether the progress is behind schedule on a Fixed Duration task. A reasonable question to ask would be, “How can I use the Gantt Chart view to determine whether the progress is behind schedule on a Fixed Duration task?” To do this, you must create a custom view by completing the following steps:

  1. Open a project schedule containing Fixed Duration tasks and then apply the Gantt Chart view.
  2. Click the Format tab to display the Format ribbon.
  3. In the Bar Styles section of the Format ribbon, click the Format pick list button and select the Bar Styles Microsoft Project displays the Bar Styles dialog shown in Figure 3.

Figure 3: Bar Styles dialog

  1. Scroll down the list of bar styles and select the Progress item near the bottom.
  2. Change the name of the Progress item to % Work Complete and then press the Right-Arrow key on your computer keyboard.
  3. In the Bars section in the bottom half of the dialog, click the Shape pick list and select the third item on the list (it is the upper-half bar style), as shown in Figure 4.

Figure 4: Bar Styles dialog – Shape pick list

  1. Click the Color pick list and select a color to represent the % Work Complete value for each task, such as Green, for example.
  2. In the To column (where the CompleteThrough value is currently displayed), click the pick list and select the % Work Complete Figure 5 shows the finished % Work Complete item.

Figure 5: % Work Complete item completed

  1. In the top half of the dialog, select the Manual Progress item in the list.
  2. Press the Insert key on your computer keyboard to insert a new blank row.
  3. In the new blank row, enter % Dur. Complete in the Name field and then press the Right-Arrow key on your computer keyboard.
  4. In the Bars section in the bottom half of the dialog, click the Shape pick list and select the fifth item on the list (it is the bottom-half bar style), as shown in Figure 6.

Figure 6: Bar Styles dialog – Shape pick list

  1. Click the Pattern pick list and select the Solid pattern (second item on the list).
  2. Click the Color pick list and select a color to represent the % Complete value for each task, such as Purple, for example.
  3. In the Show For … Tasks column for the selected item, manually type Normal, Not Manually Scheduled in the field.
  4. In the Row column for the selected item, leave the 1 value entered in the field.
  5. In the From column for the selected item (where the Task Start value is currently displayed), click the pick list and select the Actual Start
  6. In the To column for the selected item (where the Task Finish value is currently displayed), click the pick list and select the % Complete Figure 7 shows the finished % Work Complete and % Dur. Complete items.

Figure 7: Completed items in the Bar Styles dialog

  1. Click the OK button.

Your Gantt Chart will now show you the progress bars for both % Work Complete and % Complete in each Gantt bar, allowing you to compare them visually. If the % Work Complete progress bar is less than the % Complete bar, the progress for that task is behind schedule, and the Finish date may be in jeopardy. Figure 8 shows the customized Gantt Chart view. Compare the top progress bar (% Work Complete) with the bottom progress bar (% Complete) for the Task A task’s Gantt bar. You can clearly see that progress is behind schedule on this task.

Figure 8: Customized Gantt Chart view

To further complement this custom view, you might also consider adding the % Complete and % Work Complete columns to the Entry table on the left side of the view. You might also consider creating a custom filter named something like Progress Behind Schedule that will display only those tasks where the % Work Complete value is less than the % Complete value.


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