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Do’s and Don’ts: Use Actual Start and Finish Dates

You know that setting a baseline is important for tracking and reporting. It is equally important to enter each tasks Actual Start and Finish dates, particularly if different than the Baseline dates.

In the figure below I have modified a table to show the Baseline, Actual and current Start and Finish dates. The Baseline has been set but Actual dates have not been entered.

Do's and Don'ts: Use Actual Start and Finish Dates

At this point entering any percentage of schedule or work completion will copy the current Start date to the Actual Start. The assumption is that if an Actual Start was not entered the task started on schedule. See the figure below.

Do's and Don'ts: Use Actual Start and Finish Dates

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Since tasks can be started earlier or later than planned the Actual Start must be entered to model reality. The next figure illustrates the task starting a few days later than planned.

Do's and Don'ts: Use Actual Start and Finish Dates

Notice that the Baseline and Actual dates enable the comparison of the planned schedule to what really occurred.

Do enter Actual Start and Finish Dates along with a set Baseline. Model reality for accurate tracking and reporting!

Related Content

Webinars (watch for free now!):
Differences Between a Healthy Project and a Healthy Schedule
Project Talk – ‘Timing Is Everything!’ – Working with Timesheets and Tasks Updates in Project Server

7 Incorrect Ways to Use Microsoft Project: Date-Related Planning
You Produced a Great Schedule…Now What?


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Written by Sam Huffman

Sam Huffman first gained insight into Microsoft Project while working as a member of the MS Project development and support team. He has maintained his depth of knowledge of MS Project with each release and is a leading authority in the use and features of MS Project, Project Server and Project Online. Since the early 1990’s Sam has honed his instruction skills by delivering training programs to thousands every year. Sam is a frequent content contributor to the Microsoft Project User Group (MPUG) and speaks to groups often about MS Project, Enterprise Project Management and the discipline of Project Management. He was awarded Microsoft Most Valuable Professional from 2010-2017. Check out his blog on MS Project.

The softcover version of my newest book Microsoft® Project Do’s and Don’ts is now available for purchase! It is portable, brief and to the point so you can find help when you need it. Through tips, best practices and examples it will help you jumpstart your project!

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  1. Hi Sam,
    I have a schedule with a baseline start and baseline finish.
    I updated to the client this schedule to show new Start Date and Finish Date

    However, (construction site), their are varying Actual Start and Actual finish dates from my “revised” start and finish dates.

    How can I update “Actual start” to compare to “Start date” (i.e. dont change start date) and not to mention, not to affect “Baseline dates”.

    Suffice it to say, I am behind, but need to properly represent this.

    Please advise,

  2. Question, probably not totally related, but it has been bugging me, for some reason this plan I am working with has a setting where If I plug in an actual finish, it would change the finish column to the same date, thus not allowing for a diff date from planned and actual.. is there a setting to untied this two columns? appreciate your work and tips.

  3. MS Project is designed to compare Actual Start and Finish dates to the Baseline Start and Finish. When an Actual Start or Finish date is entered, the (planned) Start and Finish dates are changed to match the Actuals (reality). This is one of the reasons that a Baseline is so important – they are static when set and thus allow for comparisons to actual dates, work and cost, reporting, variance analysis and schedule management.

    Good luck in your projects!

  4. Hi, I have a problem with dots showing the actual start of a task instead of the left-hand end of the bar.

    I have a series of tasks linked with FS relationships, and baselined. If I enter Actual Start as later than scheduled, then the bar (and successor tasks) tracks to the right as one would expect.

    But if I insert an Actual Start date earlier (say, Monday) than the date that is driven by the finish of the predecessor task (say the following Wednesday), the bar starts immediately after the end of the predecessor task (Thursday), but has some dots leading up to it (Thursday) from the Actualk Start date of Monday. So instead of seeing a task bar starting on the Monday, running through to (say) Friday, I see some dots from Monday to Thursday, then a bar for Thursday / Friday. The bar looks 2 days long instead of 5 days long.

    I’d send a screenshot, except that I can’t see how to in this Comment box!

    Any suggestions how I can get the task bar to be shown for the full 5 days Mon – Fri, even though it started earlier than was expected by the finish of the previous task, and the FS dependency included in the baseline schedule?


  5. Is there any way were I can put % Complete as 100%, but planned start/finish and actual start/finish remains at “NA” ?


  6. Kelf,
    I am unsure what the purpose of your question is, but I know of no way to complete a task with no dates associated.


  7. I have a baselined plan and I can’t updated some of the tasks with Actual Start dates. I can update the Actual Finish date and it auto populates the start date. Why are some of my tasks not allowing me to enter the Actual Start date?

  8. I have the same problem as Brenda did, i can’t put in a correct “Actual Finish Date” and i have a Baseline. Why is it preventing me from putting in a date earlier than planned and baselined if that is in fact “Actual” delivery date? I get this error: “Resources are assigned outside the original dates for task xyz” i can change it to before the task even started, but not 5 days before it was to be completed or I get this error. I don’t understand that? I literally can complete the Actual Finish Date as say 1/2/17, when it was planned for 1/18/17, but I can’t change it to 1/13/17 the real date I want. Task plan and actual start was 1/12.

    Thank yoU!

  9. Kelly and Brenda,
    There are too many variables here for me to have an answer for you!

    I encourage you both to take a look at a few articles that pertain to the issue you are bringing up. Try this query in your browser: “task finish date not accepted”. You’ll get some very good explanations of the scheduling and tracking variables and how they interdependent they are.

    You could start by copying the url that follows into your browser. The article it refers to explains the basics so you can dig deeper to resolve the problem you are having.



  10. Hi Sam,

    While working with software systems’ projects I quite often have to update the planned start and planned finish dates. What I want to do is to record the reason for every of such revision. What do you suggest me to do?

  11. Hi Asif,

    I do this all the time. The only way to record revisions I’ve found is to put a note in the task with the changed info, e.g., “2/16/18 – changed duration from 8 to 10 days causing finish date to move to 2/27…”

    If you are using Project Server, it does save revisions, but the compare project feature is too clumsy to use for this purpose.

  12. And the number of historical revisions Project Server saves is limited.


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