Webinar Recap: Best Practices for Baselining and Variance Analysis

Please find a transcription of the audio portion of Dale Howard’s Best Practices for Baselining and Variance Analysis webinar being provided by MPUG for the convenience of our members. You may wish to use this transcript for the purposes of self-paced learning, searching for specific information, and/or performing a quick review of webinar content. There may be exclusions such as those steps included in product demonstrations. Watch the complete webinar on-demand at your convenience.


Best Practices for Baselining and Variance Analysis
Posted: 4/10/2018
Presenter: Dale Howard
Moderator: Kyle


First of all, let’s begin at the beginning. What is a baseline? Saving a baseline in Microsoft Project is like taking a snapshot of key, important values in your project. The baseline will capture the original schedule work and cost for every task, every resource and every assignment in the project. And then what Microsoft Project will do is it will measure progress against the baseline to calculate variance during the execution stage of the project. So here’s a key, right at the very beginning. Without a baseline, you cannot analyze variance during the life of your project. So this is important stuff.


So let’s go into a little bit more detail. What data is included in the baseline exactly. For every task, Microsoft Project will capture the current values in the following major task fields. It’ll capture for every task its current start date, finish date, duration, work and cost. That’s for every task. For every resource, Microsoft Project will capture the current values in the following fields: work and cost. Now beyond this, for every assignment and this is what is visible in the task usage and resource usage views, Microsoft Project will capture the current values in these assignment fields: start, finish work and cost. And then in the task usage and resource usage views, Microsoft Project will also capture the time phase; work and cost values for every task, every resource and every assignment. Now it’s also nice to know, though not vital, that Microsoft Project will capture some minor fields of data in the baseline as well. So let me share these with you. For every task, Microsoft Project will also capture in the baseline budget cost amount, budget work amount, deliverable start, deliverable finish…these are only used with Project server and Project online…as well as fixed cost and fixed costs accrual. So those are the minor fields that Microsoft Project saves a baseline for. And then I think it’s kind of interesting to know “what isn’t in the baseline?”. And this always surprised people. Not included in the baseline are the following fields: task name, no information about dependencies or deadline dates or constraints or task type settings or effort driven just to name a few. So those items are not in the baseline. Now what we recommend at Sensei Project Solutions is a  baselining process which we use internally and which we teach to all of our clients. Just this past week I was in a suburb of Cleveland, Ohio teaching a group of project managers how to use Microsoft project with Project online and one of the things I stress to them over the three days is I will never do anything that we don’t do ourselves. I like to use the phrase “we eat our own dog food” We do what we teach you to do. So this is the baseline process that we use internally that we recommend and teach to all of our clients. That is this: save your original baseline for the entire project in the baseline set of fields. Now that particular baseline set of fields goes by the nickname 0. And then we also recommend that you back up the original baseline into of the 10 original additional sets of baseline fields. Thee are the numbered fields, numbered from Baseline1 through Baseline10. So completing the second step will actually allow you to capture a history of your baselines over the life of the project. Important. Let me stress this to you: you must use the baseline set of fields, aka Baseline0, for the operating baseline for the life of the project. The reason for this is, all variance is calculated against Baseline0. And the tracking gantt view displays the baseline schedule from the Baseline0 set of fields. So how do you actually save a baseline? Let’s do the first part and then we’ll show you how to back it up. Saving the baseline is pretty straightforward. You do the following. You click the project tab to display the project ribbon in Microsoft Project. In the schedule section of the project ribbon, you’ll click the set baseline, pick list and choose on the pick list menu, set baseline. Now what that will do is it will display the set baseline dialogue. In the dialogue, you leave all of the default options selected and then you click the okay button.


So let me get sample project for the webinar today, this is a construction project. It is completely planned, ready to go into the execution stage of the project. In other words, we’re going to go live and begin the work in the project and begin tracking progress. Set Baseline…set Baseline. We see the set baseline dialogue. Ladies and gentlemen, the default options are to set the baseline in the baseline set of fields. This what’s nicknamed Baseline0 and this is why it’s nicknames that: look, the other 10 have numbers after them so most people refer to the first one, as Baseline0. We’ll set the baseline in the baseline set of fields for entire project and i’ll click okay. What Microsoft Project does is a big copy and paste operation where it copies the duration of every task to the baseline duration field and so forth. How do you backup a baseline? This is the part that is non obvious to people. So here are the steps to actually back up our baseline into one of the numbered baseline fields. Again we’ll click the Project tab to display the Project ribbon. In the schedule section of the Project ribbon, we’ll click the set baseline pick list button and then choose set the baseline on the pick list. Again, that will display set baseline dialog. But now here’s the non obvious part: in the set baseline dialog, we’ll choose the option set interim plan. And then we’ll click the copy pick list and we’ll choose the baseline item. In other words, Baseline0. Then we’re going to copy the entire baseline and then we’ll pick the Into pick list and we’ll choose the item Baseline1. That’s the first available set of free baseline fields. So we’ll copy the baseline into Baseline1. We will leave the entire project option select and then we’ll click okay button. So let me show you how to do this. Again, we’ll make sure we’re on the project ribbon. We’ll collect set Baseline. Set Baseline. Here we are, set interim plan. Not very obvious, it it? We’ll click the copy pick list. We’ll copy the baseline. We’ll choose the into pick list and we’ll choose Baseline1. Now, is there any particular requirement about the order of which numbered baseline field we choose? I know some people like to go backwards.They start with 10 and work their way down to 1. I personally like to start with 1 and work up to 10. There’s no real rigid requirement on that, I’ll leave it up to you. We’ll leave the entire project options selected and we’ll click okay. And bingo, we have just saved and backed up our baseline. Now, let’s continue on with this process before we take our first break for questions. So folks, if you do have questions, as Kyle mentioned, please type them in the questions section of gotowebinar side pane.


So the next thing I would ask is: alright, where can we actually view the baseline? In Microsoft Project. there are actually multiple locations where you can view your baseline information. The first is the tracking gantt view. And in the tracking gantt view, you can see your baseline schedule represented by the gray gantt bars. You’ll see red gantt bars for critical tasks, blue gantt bars for non-critical tasks and gray gantt bars for the original baseline schedule. You can also view the baseline in a special table called the baseline table. And there you can see all 5 of the baseline fields for tasks. In addition to this, there is a variance table where you can see only baseline start and baseline finish. There is a cost table where you can see only baseline cost and there is a work table, where you can see only baseline work. I do want to warn you that there is no default view or table that displays the other 10 sets of baseline fields. Baseline1 through Baseline10. If you want to view any of these additional baselines, you would need to create your own custom table or tables for each set of baselines. So let’s go ahead and look at this in the Microsoft Project schedule before we actually stop for round number one of questions. I’m going to go the view ribbon tab to display the view ribbon and then I’ll click the gantt chart pick list button and let’s go to the tracking gantt view. As I noted, you can see red and blue gantt bars along with gray. The gray gantt bars are your baseline schedule for every task in the project. Right now you can see the schedule of every red and blue gantt bar matches it’s gray gantt bar. That’s because we just originally saved the baseline. Now let’s look at a few tables, shall we? I go the tables pick list button. I start off by choosing more tables because the baseline table does not display by default. In fact, let me show you this again. This list right here, this is the quick list of the most commonly used tables but it doesn’t display every table. So if we go to more tables, this is where we can see every table that is available for tasks or resources in Microsoft Project. So here is where we can see the baseline table. When I select it, click apply. Let’s go ahead and pull the split-bar over and we can see all of the columns included in the baseline table. So there we go, widen a couple of columns. So there, as promised, baseline duration, baseline start, baseline finish, baseline work and baseline cost for every task in the project. Now let’s keep looking at tables and we’ll where else the baseline appears. The next thing i’d like to show you is the variance table. Here we see the two date related baselines. Baseline start and baseline finish. Can’t see any of the other baseline field, we just see the two date related ones. If I go to the tables picklist again, let’s take a look at the work table. Ladies and gentleman, in the work table, here’s where we can see the column. The header for the column simply says baseline but if I float my mouse pointer over the column header, it reveals in the parentheses that the real name of this column is baseline work. Can’t see any of the others. If I go to the tables pick list button, I can pick one more, the cost table. Again, here we see a column called baseline. Again, if I float my mouse pointer over it, we can see the real name of this column is baseline cost. So that, ladies and gentleman, is where we can see the baseline information.


The next topic at hand; what in the world is variance? Variance is the difference between the current schedule and the original baseline schedule of the project. There actually is a general formula that Microsoft Project uses tp calculate variance and the formula is this: variance equals the current value minus the baseline value. So for example, if we were interested in work variance, how is that calculated? For every task, Microsoft Project uses the formula “work minus baseline work” and that will give you your variance answer. So here’s an example. If the work amount is currently 64 hours but our original baseline work amount was 40…64 -minus 40 gives us a positive 24. Now here’s the deal, ladies and gentleman. A positive variance is bad thing. that indicates that the task is either late or over budget. It’s kind of the opposite of what people would assume. So positive variance is bad, negative variance is good because that indicates the project is either finishing early or is under budget. I always tease my students in class by telling them you’ll never actually see negative variance but it is theoretically possible and they look at me like I’m serious and then I laugh out loud. I say “you might have things that finish early or under budget but what we’re used to seeing are things that are going late and over-budget”. So we’re used to seeing things that are positive variance which is bad but not the negative variance which is good. So what is variance? In Microsoft Project, the software does actually track 5 types of variance for every task. It will track and calculate the following : start variance, finish variance—that lets you know whether you’re starting late or finishing late—duration variance, that lets you know where the task is taking longer than planned. Work variance, that tells you if your amount of work is going over budget. And cost variance. That lets you know if you’re going over budget on cost. Now the software does also calculate work variance and cost variance for every resource. So ladies and gentlemen, where can you view the variance information? Again, there are multiple locations where you can view task variance. They are again tracking gantt view where you can see schedule variance. The variance table, which shows date variance. The cost table, which shows the cost variance. The work table which shows work variance. There is no default table that displays duration variance so if you want to analyze duration variance, you have to create custom table for that purpose. Let’s do a demo here. Enough talking, lets get some action going. This is actually the same project I showed you a moment ago. It was ready to go live, to go into production. This is the project now after working in it for about 7 and a half months. This red dash line over here on the right represents the status date in this project. That is how far…we are pretending the project started in August of 2019 and we’re now up through March of 2020. So if I scroll down through the project, you can see all the tasks that are completed. There’s notes on some of the tasks. The project is not finished yet, there’s still a lot more work yet to be done but the project is under way. So let’s go ahead and look at some of the variance that’s in the schedule so far. So if I go to the view ribbon, click the gantt chart pick list button,I can choose the tracking gantt view. So ladies and gentlemen, again here’s where we can see blue and red gantt bars compared with our gray gantt bars. The key for reading this view and understanding it is this: if a red or blue gantt bar slips or extends to the right of its gray gantt bar, that task is either late or it’s going to finish late. So as I start scrolling down through the schedule, all of the blue gantt bars are the completed tasks. They’re darker blue and in Microsoft Project, when a critical task is completed, its gantt bar color will switch from red to blue because blue tasks can no longer be on the critical path. Here’s some red gantt bars again. Here’s some more blue and red. I think you’d agree with me if you were managing this schedule, you got some problems here. This schedule is slipping. So now the big question becomes, you would reasonably ask “Well, Dale, how badly is this schedule slipping?”. So one of the things that I personally like to do in Microsoft Project while I’m in the tracking gantt view, is to go through the tables where I can see all of the types of variance so I can see how we’re doing. So I’m going to leave the tracking gantt view open and let’s go to the tables pick list. The first thing I want to see is date variance. So I’ll choose the variance table. Now let’s pull the split bar over and we’ll look in the column called finish variance. Row 0, finish variance column has 20 days. It’s a positive number, that’s a bad thing. This project, unless we intercede to try to replan it and reschedule it, this project is going to finish approximately 4 weeks late. We’re running a monthly at this point. Now there’s the first type of variance I’d recommend you always look at. Go look at date variance because that’s the stuff you really, really care about. Next, let’s go look at the work variance and we will find that in the work table. So again, when we bring up the work table, drag the split bar over here. The column that you look at is called variance. This project right not, as a whole, is 377+ over our original project baseline budget. It’s not only going late, it’s going over budget on work and you know when a project goes over budget on work, if you have standard cost rates applied to your resources, that means the cost is going over budget as well. So let’s click the tables click list button and let’s look at our cost variance. Let’s see how we’re doing. Row 0, variance column. That’s actually our cost variance. You can see we’re over $50,000 over budget on this project. We’re going late, we’re going over budget on work and we’re going over budget in cost. Now those are the default view and 3 default tables you can use to analyze variance in Microsoft Project. But I personally also like to analyze duration variance. I like to know if any task took a longer duration to complete than what we originally planned. So for the purpose of this demo today, I created a new custom table called “underscore duration”. I do that so it’ll always appear up at the top of any list that we look at. This is not an extraordinary table, you could create it on your own. Here are the columns I included: duration variance, duration, baseline duration, actual duration, remaining duration and percent work complete. So when I look at two 0, duration variance column, I see that this project is taking 20 days longer complete on duration than we originally estimated. And when I start down the list of tasks, this is where I see the tasks where the duration is taking longer. Task number 2 took 5 days longer than originally planned. Task number 4, one day longer. Task number 13, 3 days longer. So if you create your own duration table, custom duration table, that will help you to analyze all five types of variance.


First of all, a little bit of background information about updating the baseline. After adding new tasks through a change control procedure, we recommend that you update the baseline to capture the information about the new task. We also recommend that you should not re-baseline the entire project unless your company methodology allows you to do that. I said there would be two requirements: 1, so many changes to the project that it’s a different project. 2, you’ve got the formal sign off from your sponsor and stakeholders that it’s okay to re-baseline the project. We just don’t normally recommend you do that. Now the reason is if you re-baseline your entire project, you will destroy all of the historical variance up to that point in the project and you will reset all variants back to 0. It makes it appear like your project is totally on track and on budget even though you know it isn’t. So…and in fact I can tell you a number of years ago, I had a student in one of my classes who told me that the project managers at his company were re-baselining their projects every week to fool their boss who thought that they were all perfectly managing their projects. No variance in anybody’s projects. He also told me he didn’t stay there very long. The moment he found that out, he knew that these people were lying with baselines and fooling their boss and he ended up…he found a new job and resigned as a consequence. So how do you actually update the baseline? Here’s the process we recommend you follow. You’re going to insert the new tasks, set task dependencies, assign resources to task and then estimate either work or duration for the tasks. Then you’re going to format the new tasks using a unique cell background color. That is a best practice methodology our company recommends. Then you’ll select only the new tasks added to the project. And then the schedule section of the project ribbon, you’ll click set baseline and set baseline, that’ll display the set baseline dialog. And then step 5, you will leave the baseline item selected up at the top of the dialog, you can see that in my PowerPoint. Then in the “for” section, you will select the option called selected tasks. And then in the roll-up baselines section of the dialog, you can optionally select to all summary tasks. And then you click okay. Now, this checkbox down here, to all summary tasks, will have the effect if selected of updating schedule baseline information on the summary tasks that belong to the new tasks. They’ll update on to the summaries that would be like the deliverable level, the phase level for the selected tasks and ultimately on the row 0. What that will do is it will make the variance disappear that is being caused by the new tasks being added. Most companies want to use “to all summary tasks” so if you don’t want the new tasks showing as variance to the whole schedule, you’ll select the checkbox “to all summary tasks”. Other companies, however, say “nope, don’t care where the variance comes from. Whether it’s from new tasks or other tasks slipping, I want to see all the variance in the schedule”. So if that’s your company, what you do is deselect the checkbox “to all summery tasks” and what that means is the variance caused by the new tasks in the schedule will show and will be added into the overall variance in the project. So folks, I did want you to know also that when following this process, after you click the okay button, you will end up seeing one more dialogue. It will be a warning asking you if you want to overwrite the baseline. The dialogue is too severe, you’re actually updating the baseline, you’re not overriding it so the answer to that is yes.


Now let’s continue on. So now, how do we back up the new state of our baseline? What I would call our upended baseline. And again, what you’ll do is in the schedule section of the project ribbon, you click set baseline, set baseline. In the dialogue, you’ll choose set in their own plan and then here’s what you do: you again will copy what’s in the baseline. But this time you’ll copy it into Baseline2. Every change control process that you do, you can follow this process to update your baseline for the project and then back up the new updated baseline into one of the additional 10 sets of numbered baseline fields. Here is the hard reality and I know why there was a question, “is Microsoft ever going to give us more baselines? The reality is, Baseline1 would contain your original starting baseline values. Baseline2 through 10 will be after change control procedures. And when you hit 10, you’re out of baseline numbered fields. So at that point, I would go back and go back to number 2. I would never, never touch Baseline1

because that’s your original starting baseline but you would just have to go back and do 2 through 10 a second route theoretically.

I want to demo a change control procedure to this project. So let me go back to my entry table. Let’s pull the split bar over here and we have had a crisis in this project. Where task number 65 is located, we need to insert 5 new tasks. Here’s the problem: the pouring of the second floor slab, one of our staff and I’m going to pretend we’re the general contractor here…one of our staff noticed some irregularities in the slab and is suspicious that we’ve got a bad pour and that may need to come out and re-pour the second floor. I’m going to use the insert key on my computer keyboard and I’ll press 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5 to insert 5 new tasks and here are the new tasks. Emergency concrete inspection and that’s going to be a milestone. And then the next task is completely remove second floor slab and we estimate that’s going to be 4 days…oh and by the way, you know what, let me get back to my regular gantt chart. No wonder it was looking so funny. So here we go and then we’re going to form the second floor.

Form the second floor and that we think will be 5 days and then we’re going to pour the second floor slab and that’ll be a4 day pour. And then we’re going to cure the second floor slab again and that’s going to be a 7 day duration. Okay so that gets the new tasks in so now I’m going to select from task number 64 down through number 70…64 to 70. And let’s go to the task ribbon and what I’m going to do is break any links that exist in that section and now re-link them. So let me just show you here on my project. Now I’ve got this new block of tasks added to the schedule and linked with dependencies. Okay, now we’re ready to assign resources to tasks so I’m going to go to task number 66. Here’s a trick for you: if you right click on any task, you can display the assigned resources dialogue by choosing assigned resources on the shortcut menu. Alright, so here we go. Completely remove second floor slab. What we need is the Dale Co Labor crew. Dale Co. Labor crew. So let’s go ahead, we’ll assign the labor crew to that task. Then I’m going to close the dialog. Now, I want to show you another trick that you can do with assigning resources. What I want to do is to assign the same people who did task number 60. I want the same people on task number 60 to do task number 67. I want the same people. So watch this everybody, here’s the fast way to make this happen. I’ll go to the resource names field for task number 60 and I will do a copy, control C to copy and then I’ll go to task number 67 and I’ll do a paste. Bingo! What I’m doing here is copying  assignments. Now let’s go, task number 62, we’re going to copy those resources and we’re going to put them on task number 68. Bingo, just copying and pasting assignments. And then let’s go to task number 63, task number 63. Going to copy that resource and we’ll put them on task number 69.

Is that clever or what? Now for those of you who are already typing a question, will this cause any problems in your project? No, not going to cause you any problems. We’re just copying assignments, the software will work fine in that regard. Alrighty, so let’s pull the split bar back over here to the right edge of the duration column. And now what I want to do is…let’s bring up the cost table and we’re going to go here to task number 66 and you know what folks, there is a penalty that we are applying to our concrete subcontractor. $50,000 penalty. $50,000 penalty for goofing up the concrete work on the second floor. So I’m going to put the penalty in the fixed cost column, that’s where you can put things like fines, penalties or any other cost that are not related to the resource cost of the resource working on the tasks. Now, whenever you put something into the fixed cost column, I do recommend that you always add a note to explain why. So I’m going to put in $50,000 fixed cost penalty for bad concrete pour on second floor. Bingo, there we go. We document what that is all about. Now, let’s go back to the entry table, back to the entry table and what I need to do now is select all of the new tasks so I’m actually going to select the row ID numbers here. They are 65 to 69 and when I go to the task ribbon, here is our company’s recommended best practice…we recommend you format the cell background color with a color that would represent new tasks added through Change Control. You can use any color you want, there’s two I don’t recommend you use: yellow, don’t use yellow because that’s used with highlight formatting. And don’t use a very light blue because that’s used for change highlighting. So you can choose anything other than yellow or very light blue. I personally like choose the light green, that is the standard colors section. There we go, now it makes it very obvious, very obvious that these are new tasks added through Change Control. Now we’re ready to update the baseline. So here is how you update your baseline. This is literally the process that we follow at Sensei, what we recommend to all of our clients as well. You select the new tasks. You go to Project, set baseline, set baseline…you will choose selected tasks and then optionally select the checkbox to all summary tasks. Now, at our company, the mandate is all variance needs to be displayed regardless of its origin. Whether it’s from tasks going late or over budget or because of new tasks being added through a change control procedure. So our company says we don’t select this checkbox. Now by the way, when I say our company, I’m pretending that I’m the general contractor. At Sensei most of the time we do select to all summaries but I’m pretending that at our general contractor company, we want to see all of the variance that is caused to the project regardless of its source. So I’ve deselected “to all summary” tasks, we’re doing selected tasks only. We leave the baseline item selected. I’ll click okay. Then Microsoft Project will warn me that the space lines already been used. You want to overwrite…that’s the part that’s too severe, I’m not overriding, I’m upending. So I’ll click yes. Now, there’s the baseline.


Now, let’s do the backup. So I’ll go back into the set baseline dialog and to do the backup, I’ll choose set interim plan. I’ll copy the baseline and this time I’ll copy it into Baseline2 and I will do that for the entire project and click okay. Now, let’s analyze variance to our schedule. So here we go. Let’s go back to the tracking gantt view. We’ll scroll down here, here’s where the new tasks are. Let’s start looking out here. Look, the new tasks are right on schedule, see? They’re right on schedule but everything that is a successor to the new tasks is now slipping even worse. See that everybody. Now let’s go through the same process again, going through the tables. Let’s go to the variance table. Let’s see how badly we are slipping if I pull the split bar over to the right…we’re now almost 40 days late…almost 2 months late because of what the concrete subcontractor did. So we’re 39 days late. If I go to the work table, if I go to the work table…look here, we’re almost 500 hours over our budget. Let’s go to the cost table. Look, we’re now $133,000 over our budget on cost. Let’s go back to our duration table and then the duration table…there it is. We are now 39 days long on duration. Now, for the purposes of this demo, I’ve actually created two other custom tables. So I wanted to show them to you. The first table stores the task information that is in Baseline1. Remember, that’s the backed up original starting baseline. So, let’s go look, let’s go look down here. Here we are…task 65 to 69. See these N/A’s right here? That means no baseline has been safe for these tasks. Why? They were not in the original project schedule. All this other baseline stuff, that’s what we originally started with but you can see, the 5 new tasks, there’s no baseline information because they were not there in the very beginning. So that’s what’s in the Baseline1 set of fields and then if we go to new Baseline2 table, this will show you the information that is in the Baseline2 table. You can see 65 through 69, look! Here’s the baseline information. That’s what got backed up after we updated the baseline into the Baseline2 set of fields.


Now you know why I asked Kyle to reserve an hour and a half for this presentation because we are digging about as deep into baselines as you can possibly get. So, here is our warning, do not delete baseline data after you have saved your original baseline for the project, do not delete unneeded tasks from the project. The reason is, when you deleting baseline tasks, you are destroying baseline data. The end result is you will cause a positive variance in your project but with no way to explain why you have this positive variance. So after saving the original baseline for your project, the proper method to remove unneeded tasks is to cancel them using the in Inactivate button. Using this method will preserve the baseline data and it will cause a positive variance in your project but with an electronic paper trail that will explain why there is a positive variance. So let me go ahead and get my third sample file open. We have not actually started this project. The project I’ll show you here has been baselined. I’ll show you. There’s the original baseline and there’s the backed up baseline on a different date. Right before we go live, our project stakeholders have decided that they don’t want to put the third floor on the building and I realize that’s probably really, really fake but here’s what we’re going to do. I want to show you first the wrong way, the wrong way to remove unneeded tasks that are baseline and then I’ll show you the right way. So here’s the deal: tasks number 65 through 69, this third floor work, our project stakeholders have said we’re not going to do those tasks after all. So what I’ll do, I’ll select the tasks, right-click and I’m going to do it the wrong way everybody. I’m going to delete them. And then what I need to do now is I’ll select number 64 through 66 and let me link them so we get everything back in the schedule. Now let’s look at some variance and see what’s going on in the project. So if I go to the tables pick list and I choose the variance table again, I have a negative variance but how can I explain that? The tasks that would explain it are gone. Now I could tell people “oh, that’s because I deleted the tasks but I don’t see them anymore”. I don’t know that that’s really right. Let’s keep going here, let’s go to the work table. All right, in the work table we now have a work variance of -120 hours and yet again, no way to explain it. How do I know that that’s right? Then I go to the cost table. What do you suppose we’re going to get here folks? Go to the cost table, drag the split bar over…look, we’re $20,000 under budget on cost, again a negative value. These numbers aren’t adding up, what’s going on? So now, let me show you the recommended best way to handle this going. We’re going to do exactly the same thing except I’m going to cancel the unneeded tasks. All right so here we go. First thing I want to do is, I want a zoom here, zoom in on the time scale and let’s go down and I want to select tasks 65 to 69. So let’s go down here, 65 to 69, let’s get these tasks in view. I want to show you folks, this is absolutely amazing stuff. So we’re going to cancel all of the third floor concrete work. So here’s the correct way to do it. Now, I do need to caution you. This button I’m about to click called “activate” is only available if you have the Professional version of Microsoft Project… only if you have the professional version. If you have the standard version, you can simulate this and I’ll show you in just a moment. So when I click activate, the tasks that are canceled out now have the gray font color strike through font formatting. That shows our historical electronic record. Also, the gantt bars out here to the right are shown with a hollow solid white gantt bar color. If you don’t have the Professional version, if you have the standard version of Microsoft Project, what I recommend you do instead is change the durations to 0 for each task. Change the duration to 0 for each task. And then out here I would recommend you change the symbols from the black diamond to some other symbol. Let me see if I can get right on that…here we go. I personally like to use something like this, maybe a circle or a star. I’ll use the circle here and maybe I’ll even change the the color of it here. There we go. Okay, so, that’s the work around everybody. Set the duration to 0, that will cancel all the work and all of the cost then change the symbol for the milestone to something other than a black diamond and then lastly I would recommend you also do this. Highlight the rows that you’re canceling and use the strikethrough font formatting. Now here’s where you can get to it. You click font dialog launcher, that’s this little arrow in the lower right corner of the font section. Again, this is only if you’re using the Professional version of Microsoft Project. Bring up the font dialog launcher and use the strikethrough and maybe even make the color gray…excuse me, I did the wrong one there. Make the color of the font a gray. Here we go. There, see, that gives you the same result. I realize it’s way more steps than I just demoed using the inactivate button but that my friends is why I recommend you use the inactivate button instead. So let me go back and I’m going to use the inactivate button. Now, let’s analyze variance again. Let’s go ahead and we’ll go up to the top of the project and we’ll go to the view ribbon and look at the variance table. We now have a -16 finish variance but when I scroll down through the project, here’s my electronic paper trail, there’s the electronic paper trail. There’s the canceled tasks. That’s why we have the variance. And if I go to the work table, I can see we’re 121 hours under our original budget. I’ve got a paper trail, here it is, right down here. See these numbers? They add up to 121.2. And then if I go to the cost table, look, $20,000 under our budget for cost variance. And look, here’s why: these numbers here? These numbers will add up to be the $20,252.50. So, that is our recommended best practice process for canceling tasks that have been baselined. Now, let me stress to you this: while you are in the planning stage of the project, feel free to delete tasks while you’re in planning. You can go ahead and delete tasks, you don’t inactivate. Just delete them because they’re not needed. But once you’ve saved a baseline, you’ve captured the original starting schedule of the project in your baseline, you should not delete unneeded tasks. If you have the Professional version, you can use this button called the inactivate button, cancel the unneeded task. If you’re using the standard version of the software, you can change the durations to 0. That’ll cancel all of the work and all of the cost, change the milestones from black diamond to some other symbol and then change the font formatting to maybe gray strike through or something like that. That preserves your electronic paper trail.


Ladies and gentlemen, let me say thank you for coming to our webinar today. It has been my pleasure to visit with you about baselines and variances, thanks everybody.


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Written by Dale Howard

Dale Howard is currently a Senior PPM Consultant with Arch Systems, Inc. His hair and beard have turned white because of using Microsoft’s project management tools for more than 20 years. Dale started his career using Microsoft Project 4.0 for Windows 95 and began using Microsoft’s PPM tools when they introduced Project Central in 2000. Dale is the co-author of 23 books in Microsoft Project, Project Server, and Project Online. He is currently one 0f 26 Microsoft Project MVPs in the entire world and one of only 4 Project MVPs in the United states.

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  1. I wish Microsoft would add some more Baseline Fields, such as Baseline Task Name and Baseline of Custom Fields. The only way to know if a user has changed a Task Name or Custom Field value, is to save a copy of the file after setting the baseline, and comparing the files later on (rather than just comparing fields like we do with Baseline Work vs Work, etc…)
    Deltek’s Open Plan application has this Baseline feature, and it’s very helpful on large schedules over time.

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