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Why You Should Add Microsoft Project Visual Reports to Your PM Toolkit

2229783442_e61fb1e53d_oDo you understand how to use Visual Reports in Microsoft Project? In my experience, seldom do project managers use any kind of Project reports — let alone the visual ones — even when they understand how to. To help PMs cross this chasm, I’m going to provide a quick and painless introduction to Visual Reports that goes a bit beyond the basics.

Most books on Microsoft Project cover scheduling and tracking inside out with, perhaps, the odd chapter on reporting. Does this mean that reporting isn’t important? Hardly. It only means that reporting features are easy to understand, so there’s not much to say.

Yet, reports are absolutely critical to the success of a project. They help in analyzing project status and providing intelligence to the project manager, for example. Project managers can fine-tune their approach to keep the project on track by analyzing reports. They can find the right balance between the project management triple constraint — scope, time and cost.

However, good project management is about more than regular planning, tracking and balancing the triple constraint. It involves communication and presentation skills to engage the stakeholders. Reports provide a good mechanism for communication, presentation and negotiation. Using the appropriate reports, a good PM can negotiate with stakeholders and influence important decisions in the team’s favor.

For example, given a moment’s reflection, who wouldn’t understand the following resource work availability report?


Now that you’ve given consideration to the strategic importance of reports, let’s look at Visual Reports, which offer many benefits over the traditional variety.

It’s difficult and time-consuming for most of us to analyze textual data (dates, duration, variances, etc.) to determine the status of the project. On the other hand, a picture is worth a thousand words. it’s easy to grasp the intelligence from colorful graphs, charts and pictures.

Visual Reports are generated as regular Microsoft Excel files because the Project data is exported to an Excel file. The Excel data can be easily sliced, diced and transformed to generate beautiful reports, which isn’t as easily accomplished in Project.

Many people in an organization may not have access to a Microsoft Project license. But almost everyone has an Excel license. So it’s easy to share Excel files with a broad range of stakeholders.

While it’s difficult to customize the traditional reports without a bit of Project knowledge. Visual Reports can be easily customized using Excel.

Traditional reports can be shared with others as printed copies or PDF files (or some other format). These are not the optimum ways of sharing the reports.

Generating Visual Reports

In the previous section, I said that the Visual Reports are generated as Excel files. That’s only partially true. Some of the reports are generated as Excel files while others are generated as Microsoft Visio files. Visio is another powerful tool that comes as part of Microsoft Office. As the name suggests, all the reports are visually appealing. The following is an example of a critical task status report put together in Visio.


















You can generate Visual Reports by going to the Project ribbon and clicking on Visual Reports to get the following dialog box:




You’ll notice that Project provides many out-of-the-box Visual Reports templates. You can select any one of them to generate a report as either as an Excel or Visio file, depending on the chosen template.

Project data is exported as a pivot table when you generate a Visual Report using an Excel template, allowing you to “play” with the data to get it looking just the way you want. You can modify:

  • Colors in the charts;
  • Chart types;
  • What data is included in the chart; and
  • What timeline and period is reflected.

Plus, you can set up a visual comparison of different data values.

The modification and customizations of Visual Reports is limited by your imagination and Excel knowledge.

You can also generate a new template by clicking on the New Template button (shown in the first screenshot below), or you can edit an existing template by clicking on “Edit Template” button (shown in the second screenshot below).

Praveen_Malik_Visual_Reports_figure_2 Praveen_Malik_Visual_Reports_figure_3

I hope you’ll consider adding Visual Reports to your project management toolkit. They can really help you improve project performance and communication to influence decisions in your team’s favor.

Have a unique use for Visual Reports? Share your story with the MPUG community in the comments below.

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Written by Praveen Malik

Praveen Malik, PMP, has two-plus decades of experience as a project management instructor and consultant. He regularly conducts project management workshops in India and abroad and shares his project management thinking in his blog, PM by PM.

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  1. Thanks for this interesting approach. I have used Visio extensively to create timelines that are linked to MS Project data and can be updated as the schedule moves. I will be interested to go in and use your insight to edit the existing reports.

  2. Thanks Bob.

  3. How do you share an excel visual report file? When I save it and someone else tries to open and play around with the date, it says it is missing a cub file.

  4. I have run across the following issue using Visual Reports. It was reported to us from one of our users. We have created a reporting structure that saves the file in MS Access. We generate the report using Weeks as the level of usage. This uses data from MS Project and is then updated in MS Excel to generate the reports. We noticed an issue when we crossed years from 2019-2020. The normal sequence for weekly reporting would be 12/23/2019, 12/30/2019, 1/6/2020, 1/13/2020. Viusal reports created the following sequence going over the new year. 12/23/2019, 12/30/2019, 1/1/2020, 1/6/2020, 1/13/2020. It added an additional date of 1/1/2020.

    We use this reporting structure across multi projects and all of the MDB’s have the extra date. I went back to reports that were generated across 2018-2019 and we have the same issue. Do you know of any fix for this issue? I have googled the issue and also searched on Microsoft Support and this issue has never been reported. Thoughts???? I have opened a report with our help desk to contact Microsoft support but have not received an answer as of yet.

  5. Hi Bob,

    I may be completely way off but let me hazard a guess – the program might be using a custom field that is incorrectly calculating the date.

    Hope you get a speedy response from MS support. Please do share your findings.




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