Do you ever get the feeling you are just using just a small part of an application? Or that there is so much more to explore in a tool? That there might be low hanging fruit, just out of reach, because you never heard of its existence?
I believe that the out of the box report features in Microsoft Project are such low hanging fruit. In this article, I would like to give you my five top ways to get the most out of your MS Project Reports.
Know that there are three types of reports
1. “Classic” reports (available until 2010)
These classics were just called Reports in the older versions of Microsoft Project, but Microsoft has abandoned these reports in versions 2013 and up.
Classic reports were table based and textual representations of your schedule. When creating one of these, the result was a printed out version of your data.
I liked the style and format of these reports, but it was difficult to create a version that represented the schedule like you wanted it to. And let’s face it, stakeholders and management professionals are always more visually inclined when it comes to progress updates.
2. Visual reports (available since 2007)
Visual reports are great! You can extract content from a schedule and further analyze it in your favorite reporting tool: Microsoft Excel! Oh, and you can also use Visio.
By utilizing visual reports, you see your data structured in a way most people are familiar with now a days. The data extract creates pivot tables and pivot graphs in MS Excel. Furthermore, you can create your own customized visual reports. I’ve described in detail how to do this on The Project Corner.
One downside of visual reports is needing Excel, which could be a problem if you are working in a Citrix environment because the virtualization of applications doesn’t quite work when MS Project needs to connect with MS Excel.
3. “Modern” reports (Available in 2013 and up)
The latest addition to reporting options in Microsoft Project is what I like to call “modern” reports. The application received this upgrade in the 2013 version. It’s a new, easier way of generating reports for a single project.
Modern reports provide you with a canvas on which you can create Excel-like visuals, based on either task or resource information. I’ll get back to this later in the article. For now, know that these reports come in a wide variety related to different important schedule related topics. I particularly like the dashboards because they give you valuable information on your schedule in a visual appealing manner.
Use baseline functionality
Without baseline values, any report you create will only hold the current planned and actual values. There are no variance calculations or officially approved data available to use in comparison. This leaves a lot to be desired for good reporting. Therefore, make sure you set the baseline.
Remember that it’s really easy to do. Navigate to the Project Tab, select Set baseline, select set baseline… again, and then in the next menu click on OK. With these simple steps, you’ll at least have set a first baseline, which is much better than no baseline at all.
Here’s a short GIF to show you that it really takes next to no time at all to create one!
If you want to have a little more background, here’s a video describing baseline basics:
Modern reports are easy to use in other office applications
Earlier, I mentioned that the modern reports give you the option to create Excel-like visuals. The cool part here is that any visual you create is exchangeable in other Office applications such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft PowerPoint.
Simply create a visual and select it. Once selected, copy it using CTRL+C and paste it in Word, for instance, by hitting CTRL+V.
You can easily feed your monthly reports (most of the time these are PowerPoint or Word driven) with quality data coming right from your schedule. Here’s an example:
If you look closely at the second image you will see that after pasting the visual in Word, I still have all the rich reporting capabilities as I had in MS Project. Then I can change the look and feel, or add visual elements such as a chart title or data lables.
Update schedule progress regularly
The next step, now that we know how to generate great reports, and have provided a baseline for the original intended schedule progress, is all about updating the schedule. There’s no greater shame than creating the best ever schedule, printing it out, and forgetting all about it afterwards.
Make sure you update the schedule to provide your reports with valuable “actuals.” This set of values is a key aspect, for instance in the Earned Value calculations and graphs, but it also show up nicely in a visual where you describe current resource utilization. See the example below.
Use templates and the organizer
Exploring reports can be a fun exercise, and you might have created a valuable report that you want to share with your co-workers. There are two great (although different) ways share reports.
Templates are useful if you have designed a schedule, including phases, dependencies, task durations, generic resource allocations, etc. When you create a schedule template (File > Save as > MS Project Template *.mpt), you build a blueprint for that kind of schedule. It will include all the data you put into it, including the reports you have built in.
If it’s only the reports that you want to share, you should look into the Organizer. You can find this useful tool by heading over to File > Info.
When using the organizer make sure you have both your source file and target file open. In the Organizer menu, navigate to the second tab called Reports. Select the correct source and target files in the lower half of the menu and copy the required reports to the target file(s).
That’s it for this article. I hope you learned some new tricks when using the out of the box reporting functionality in Microsoft Project.
This is my last article for 2018 on MPUG. I hope you have enjoyed my writing so far and I wish you all a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. I look forward to providing you with new content in 2019 and years to come 😊.
And of course, if you have suggestions for new articles, please let us know in the comments section below. This also goes for any additional reporting tips that you want to share with your fellow readers.
Kind regards and happy holidays!