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Entering Actual Progress in Microsoft Project: Update Tasks

When tracking information is not obtained through Project Web App, Microsoft Project 2016 allows you to enter five different types of actual task information. These are actual start and finish dates, % complete, actual and remaining duration, actual and remaining work, and actual and remaining costs.  These are interrelated, and Microsoft Project will use whatever actual values you provide to calculate the others.

This post will cover the quickest and easiest way to track manually: the Update Tasks command. The simple rule is change whatever doesn’t match the plan.

Below, we use an example project to serve as an exercise for the main functions of the Update Tasks feature. At the risk of sounding like this is a plug for our book, we do want you to know that all of our Microsoft Project exercise files are available in our training guide, if you’d like to follow along at home.

Tracking with Update Tasks

1     Switch to the Tracking Gantt view.

2    Select a task. In the example, we select Create Statement of Work (ID 2).

3     From Task:Schedule use the Mark on Track dropdown to select Update Tasks.  You will be presented with the Update Tasks dialog box.

Figure 1.

Update Tasks dialog box

Notice that the planned (current) start, finish, and duration for the task are listed but grayed out so they cannot be changed.  Only the actual values can be modified.

4    To produce the following image, we changed the % Complete value to “75” and clicked OK.  Notice that the progress bar is displayed.

Figure 2.

Updated Tracking Gantt bars

5    To open the Task Information dialog for a given task, double click on that task. We double-clicked on Task ID 3, Obtain approval of Statement of Work.

Figure 3.

Task information for Task ID 3

6    Change the Percent complete value click OK.  Notice that the completed task bar for this task once again matches the baseline bar.

Using % complete can be a simple way to track task progress.

Task Information displays % complete on the General tab. Update Tasks is a good alternative to enter % complete in Task Information.  Other useful methods include inserting the % Complete field into the Gantt Chart or applying the Tracking Table in the Gannt Chart view.

7    Choose the Tables dropdown under Task. Then, choose Tracking.  Notice that this includes many key tracking related fields, including %Complete.

Figure 4.

Applying the Tracking Table

8    In the example, we update Task 5, Review project plan with team, to show it went according to the revised plan. It’s optional to update associated milestones because they have no work or duration attached to it. Updating the milestone task will flag it as complete and show the schedule variance between the baseline plan and reality, if there is one.

9    In the example project, Task 8, Define System Environment, is off-schedule. To get the project back on schedule, we got the resource assigned to Task 8 to agree to complete the task in three days rather than four.

To enter this update, open the Update Tasks dialog box and enter an Actual dur: of “3d” and a Remaining dur: of “0d.” Click OK.  Here is the resulting screen: (You may want to zoom in to see the bars more clearly.)

Figure 5.

Tracking by actual and remaining duration

This view was created by applying the Work Table to display the results of the Actual Work and Remaining Work fields.

11  Open Update Tasks for the task once again. As shown in the following figure, Microsoft Project has now populated all the other fields—Actual Start and Finish and % Complete—based on the actual and remaining duration values you provided.

Figure 6.

Completed Update Tasks box

Notice that the current finish (planned finish) date is now the same as the actual finish. In our case, that’s October 21.  This illustrates an important principle familiar to every experienced project manager: reality always wins.  If there is a difference, actual dates override planned dates.

This approach will accurately provide schedule variance information. But if resources have to work extra hours to get a task completed faster, you will have to enter modified planned and actual work somewhere else to get work and cost variance information.

Another approach to using Update Tasks is to enter the actual start and actual finish dates. If a task has an actual finish date, what is its % complete?

12  Verify that you have applied the Tracking Table (View:Table:Tracking).  Select a task. In the example, we select Task 9, Determine current architecture. Enter an Actual Start date of “10/23” and an Actual Finish date of “10/25.” Click OK. The example project looks as follows:

Figure 7.

Tracking actual dates via the Tracking Table

In general, when following the Update Tasks tracking method, you only have to enter two values. The exception is a task that is not complete and did not start on schedule, as in our final example:

13  Select a task. We selected Task 10, Assess processes on the Server. Open Update Tasks.

Let’s say the resource working on Task 10, Julie Pawlkowski, agreed to start on October 24 to help get the project back on schedule. It’s now late afternoon on October 25, and you are updating the plan for a management review Monday morning. You just called Julie and she said she did in fact start on October 24, so she has completed 2 days’ work. Not only that, she thinks it will only take 9 more days to finish the task, not the 10 she originally forecasted.

14    In the Update Tasks dialog box, enter an Actual Start date of “10/25”, an Actual dur: of “2d”, and a Remaining dur: of “9d.”  Your screen will resemble the following:

Figure 8.

Using Update Tasks for a task in progress

14  Click OK to update the task data.  What does the Gantt Chart view tell you about the project schedule?

Figure 9.

Gantt Chart view of task ID10

That covers the Update Tasks feature. Our next post covers alternative methods for entering progress information.