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How to Isolate Unfavorable Start and Finish Variances in Microsoft Project


In our last post, we introduced the basics of variances and demonstrated how to isolate for unfavorable Work Variances.  It is equally important, however, to analyze how your dates are progressing. If Baseline Work is 1,000 hours, Actual Work is 500 hours, and Remaining Work is 500 hours, then Work is equal to 1,000 hours and Work Variance is zero.  Sounds pretty good, right? But what if you are 8 months into a 10-month project? Assuming an even resource load, you should have consumed 800 hours by now, but your actual work is only 500 hours.

This example highlights the importance of analyzing Start and Finish Variances in addition to Work Variances. If we were to look at the Start and Finish Variances in this 1,000-hour project, we would most likely find that tasks are not starting or completing on time.

Creating a Single View That Isolates Unfavorable Start and Finish Variances

We’ll make a Single View, which is a combination table and filter, so that we can have all of the appropriate information. First, we’ll need a table that contains the relevant Start and Finish date/variance field.

Figure 1 shows the contents of the Variance Table. From the View:Data tab on the ribbon, choose Tables:More Tables. From the More Tables dialog box, click on the table named “Variance,” then click the Edit button. As you can see, the Variances Table shows not only the Start and Finish Variance fields, but also other Start and Finish field that will holp you see how the Start and Finish Variances were calculated.

Figure 1

Variance Table

Since Project does not come with a filter to show unfavorable Start and Finish Variances, we’ll have to build one.*

From the View:Data tab on the ribbon, use the drop-down list next to the Filter icon, then More Filters. From the More Filters dialog, click on the New button in the right side-bar. Name the filter “Date Variances.” On the first line under the Field Name column, select “Start Variance” from the drop-down. Under the Test column, select from the drop-down “is greater than.” In the Value column, type “0d.”

Now, go to the second line. In the And’Or column, select “Or.” Under Field Name, select “Finish Variance” from the drop-down. Under the Test column, select fromt he drop-down “is greater than.” In the Value column, type “0d.” Select the check box Show Related Summary Rows.

Figure 2 shows what the new Work Variances filter should look like.  Click Save, and Apply the “Work Variance” filter you just created from the More Filters dialog box.

Figure 2:

Work Variance filter

Now, let’s build a View that combines the Variance table with the Date Variances filter. From the View:Task Views tab on the ribbon, choose Task Usage:More Views. In the More Views dialog box, click the New button.

In the Define New View dialog box, tick Single View. Click OK. Fill out the fields as follows: in the Name field, type “Late Dates”; in the Table drop-down, choose “Variances”; next to Group. choose “No Group”; in the Filter drop-down, choose “Date Variances.” To add this new view to your View menu, tick the Show in Menu option box. Figure 3 shows the new Late Dates view.

Figure 3:

Late Dates view settings

Once you click OK, you are ready to Apply the new Late Dates view from the More Views dialog. This will allow you to see the tasks with Start and Finish date estimates later than originally predicted. Figure 4 shows a sample of this view.

Figure 4:

Sample of Late Dates view

Closing Thoughts on Variance Analyses

Working with Large Plans

For a large work plan, you may find that looking at variances at the task level provides too much detail. In this case, use the Show Outline Level option to automatically limit the displayed project to the selected number of top levels. From the View Data ribbon, select the Outline function. From here click on whichever number of levels you want to see displayed.

Caution When Interpreting Variances

Whenever you view Variances, you are looking at a “raw” number. These raw numbers can be deceiving. For example, a 5-day variance might be viewed as more serious than a 3-day variance. But what if the 5-day variance is for a task with a Baseline Duration of 250 days and the 3-day variance is for a task with Baseline Duration of 10 days? The 1-week variance is 2% of the total Duration while the 3-day variance is 30% of the total Duration. You may wish to consider the “Percent Variance” before determining which tasks require the most attention.


Now that you know how to analyze a work plan for unfavorable variances, you are ready to stay in control by revising your plan to recover your schedule and complete on-time and on-budget. Successful project management relies on the project manager’s ability to spot trouble early through good tracking and analysis practices.

For a comprehensive coverage of all the features and functions of the Microsoft Project suite, our training guide is available to the public on Amazon.