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The Trouble with Deadlines

Deadlines seem to exist in every project. How do you depict them? Are they constraints? Are they impacting your schedule? Do you have an early warning system that informs you they are not being met?

Project’s Deadline feature can help depict the deadline and provide warnings when the deadline is surpassed. When utilized, it provides a visible clue that a task should complete on or before the date represented. If the deadline date is surpassed, a warning appears in the task’s Indicators field alerting you to the conflict. In the figure below, note the Deadline date and that one task has exceeded its Deadline, resulting in a warning.

Microsoft Project Deadlines

Unfortunately, Project also will define the errant task as Critical, even if it is not on the Critical Path. This can be a problem if Critical Path Analysis is important to your organization:  an argument can be made that the Deadline driven schedule and Critical Path Methodology are mutually exclusive techniques. If you require deadlines and still need your critical path, you may want to abandon deadlines and constraints for the concepts of “Due Dates” and “Due Date Dashboards”.

“Due Dates” involve customizing a table with 3 new formula and date driven fields with graphical indicators and creating a milestone-type Gantt bar representing the due date in the Gantt Chart. In the figure below, I have highlighted the fields and graphics to illustrate the appearance of “Due Dates” in the schedule prior to any task schedule slip.

Microsoft Project Deadlines

The next figure illustrates the appearance when the schedule slips. Notice the graphical indicator has changed. This is indicating that the task finish and due date are approaching each other.

Microsoft Project Deadlines

You can look at “Due Dates” in any fashion that you wish. The same project is shown below but now the “Current Date” and the “Due Date” are approaching each other. Again, the indicator changes to reflect the upcoming date conflict.

Microsoft Project Deadlines

Here are the steps to create a “Due Date Dashboard” such as the one in the figures above:

1. I created the “Due Date” field. I chose to use the “Finish1” field and renamed it “Due Date”. I then inserted the field into a table.

Microsoft Project Deadlines
2. I created the “Status: Due Date From Finish” from the “Text1” field, inserted the field and then gave it a custom formula and graphical indicators. I first check to see if a “Due Date” exists. If it doesn’t, the result in the field is “N/A” and a dash will be shown as a graphic indicator. If a “Due Date” has been entered, I check to see if the task finish date is within a 3 day buffer. If it is not within the buffer, the result is “Green” and a Green Ball will be shown. If the “Due Date” is within the buffer, it is “Red” and a Red Ball will be shown. See the figures below for details.

Microsoft Project Deadlines

Microsoft Project Deadlines



3. The “Status: Due Date From Today” field was created from the “Text2” field and is generally the same as the previous example, only using the “Current Date” instead of the task finish date in the formula. The figure below contains the specifics.

Microsoft Project Deadlines

Microsoft Project Deadlines



4. The final step is to create a Bar Style to represent the new “Due Date”. Using the Format tab, I chose Format…Bar Styles to enter the dialog for formatting existing bars or creating new bars. Note that since only one date is depicted as a “Due Date” that the bar is drawn from and to the “Due Date”.

Microsoft Project Deadlines


If you can keep your project current, “Due Dates” and the “Due Date Dashboard” can give you early warning on schedule slips and their impact to the project.

If you connect to Project Server, Project Online or other enterprise system, please coordinate with the administrator prior to implementing this or any technique using custom fields!

Did you enjoy this article entry? Do you have a question about it? If so, you can use the comment box below.  Thanks!

Sam Huffman
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. Really like your article. I tried it on a real simple scale, putting DueDates on only the high level summary tasks. What resulted was blanks for every summary task except the last one which showed a red for due date from finish, and green for due date from today. Based on the fact I got at least one red or green, I assume I copied the formulas properly. I didn’t understand all of the formula – what is the significance of ‘4294967295’

  2. Great question!

    The 4294967295 is the number representing “N/A”. If you were to test for “N/A” the formula would error out because it “masks” the number. The formula is a way of working around the issue.

    Regarding the summary tasks: The idea is to use the due date for a task containing resource assignments, or at least a “working” task and have a 3 day buffer to work with in meeting the due date.

  3. Sam, neat idea!
    do you think that Deadlines corrupt the critical path calcualtions on a non resourced network? we use what we call a double deadline from the last line item to the next to the last line item to show schedule margin.. do you think the dealine feature is negatively affecting the results?

  4. Mark – your comment leads me to believe that your organization has built process around your use of deadlines. I would be careful here, particularly if this is working for your PM team. Project’s calculation of the Critical Path could indeed be corrupted from use of the Deadline feature, but so can constraints, particularly Must Start and Must Finish. If you stay with Deadlines, have a look at my “Deadline Dashboard” article on my blog and in the MPUG archive of articles on the subject. Great resources for you!

  5. Sam,
    I really enjoyed your article (and working with MS Project).
    Have one question in your article you say “1. I created the “Due Date” field. I chose to use the “Finish1” field and renamed it “Due Date”. I then inserted the field into a table.”. I do not understand what it means when you say “I then inserted the field into a table”. Can you help me understand what table you’re referring to? I want to try the deadline and/or due date feature.
    Thank you

  6. Sam,
    Enjoyed the article. By reading the question Roland left it appears that we have the same question.

    I have a question about Step 1. You said that you inserted the “Due Date” field into a table. How did you insert the field into a table and what table are you referencing? I assume your example is in MS Project 2010. I am using MS Project 2007 so my dialog box for Custom Fields looks different than your example.

  7. Roland and Mike:
    In 2010 and 2013 inserting the field is inserting the column just created. This could be in the Tracking Table or whatever table you wish to use. In 2010 / 2013, the right hand column in the Entry Table is the Add New Column feature. You click on the column heading and this feature offers all of the columns available. Find the new “Due Date” column and you can then drag the column wherever you want it in the table.

    If I remember correctly in Project 2007, show your Entry Table, then right click on a column header and choose Insert Column, find your new column in the drop down list to insert it into the table.

    Good luck and enjoy seeing your due dates!

  8. Hey Sam. How are you doing. I tried copying the formula into the Formula box but it keeps giving me a syntax error. Please can you give a tutorial on how to input the formula. Thanks

  9. Philip,
    The error should indicate where the formula failed. Can you identify what it was specifically?



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