MS Project Late Tasks Indicator : Highlight and Track Delayed Tasks

Highlighting late tasks is very a basic and daily task for any project manager. Highlighting the tasks gets the attention of the required people easily. One of the first major tasks in project delivery is writing the projects’ work plan. 

Highlight Late Tasks  MS Project
Late Tasks under View Tab
Once this is done and approved by the stakeholders, the next step is to execute the plan. However, as anyone who has ever been involved in a project knows, things don’t always go according to plan. Priorities and tasks change, resources come and go, and tolerance for changes is required by all those involved in the project.

Due to these constant changes, tracking the tasks is an important part of the project. This is usually referred to as Actual vs. Plan (AvP), and it is one of the main tasks of the PMO and the PM of the project. There are many different methods of tracking the tasks –

  • Spreadsheets
  • E-mails
  • MoM
  • Project work plan applications (Primavera, PS-Next, MS-Project, etc.)

Setting up a baseline in MS Project

Once the work plan has been approved, the first step is to freeze the baseline (the Plan section in the AvP). In MS-Project this can be easily done using the “Set Baseline” feature: Project -> Set Baseline -> Set Baseline –

In this menu choose the “Set Baseline” option button (this is the default), and in the drop down list: chose “Baseline” (this is the default). In the “For” section choose “Entire project” (this is the default), then click on “OK”. Now the dates will appear in the “Baseline Start” and the “Baseline Finish” columns, and they will be used as the plan dates for the AvP.

MS Project Baseline
MS Project Baseline

Project Baseline Options
Project Baseline Options

# Option 1: Use Highlight Late Tasks 

This option is the easiest and most convenient. You can find the option to highlight under the View tab. The highlight features is very unforgiving.  So, even if a task is 0.01 % behind, the task will be highlighted as late.

In order to avoid confusion its always better to let everyone know that MS Project highlight feature is based on automatic calculations and it is not you who is highlighting the tasks as delayed.

Highlight Late Tasks Option in MS Project
Project Plan after using the highlight.

Highlight Late Tasks  MS Project
Project Plan before using the highlight.

# Option 2: Use The Status Indicator Field

The status indicator field provides an alternate way of displaying the status. Right click on any column and insert the Status Indicator Field. 

The status indicator has three statues - This task is on Schedule , Task is behind Schedule and Complete.  The good thing is that the field works for the summary tasks as well. The only drawback I see is that you cannot filter the tasks based on the statuses.

Status Indicator  Field MS Project
Status Indicator 

Status Indicator in MS Project
Status Indicator in Action

# Option 3: Use The Status Field

The status field is also an option. The status field can be inserted by right clicking and selecting Status field. 

The Status field is a text field and has 4 statues.  Future Task, On Schedule, Late and Complete. The status field allows you to filter based on the status. So, you can display just the statues that you want to see.

MS Project Task Status
Status Field

Using the Status field in MS Project
Using the Status Field

# Option 4: Use The Customized Highlight

MS-Project allows the users to automatically highlight the tasks which their Finish date is post their Baseline Finish dates. This requires a short simple customization, which will be explained in this paragraph. The highlight appears as a yellow one, allowing the user to see which tasks aren’t according to their baseline dates.

In order to customize the highlighting, go to the “View” ribbon and click on the drop down list of the “Highlight”. Choose “New Highlight Filter…” –

Custom Highlight MS Project
Custom Highlight MS Project

In the top field, choose the name of the highlight (for example: “AvP”), and then fill in the following attributes – 
  1. Leave the “And/Or” field empty
  2. In the “Field” column choose “Finish”
  3. In the “Test” column choose “is greater than” / “is greater than or equal to”
  4. In the “Value” column chose “Baseline Finish”
  5. Check the “show related summary rows” checkbox at the bottom
  6. Click “Save”
Now the “AvP” highlight filter will appear in the drop down list, and each time that it will be chosen from the list, all the tasks which their “Finish” date is post their “Baseline Finish” will be highlighted in yellow. Note that the filter will need to be re-chosen if you made any changes to the finish dates and you want to see if any tasks are late post changes. 

This will help in tracking the tasks which are late, and need more attention in order to mitigate. Please note that if the “% complete” is 100%, the row will still be highlighted, allowing noting the cause of the late successor tasks. There are a few default highlights which can be chosen, in addition to the customized ones. 

Task Reporting in MS Project

In order to be able to update the status of each task in the plan, a new column needs to be inserted into the plan and customized. The easiest way is to insert a “text” column (for example “text1”): Right click on the header of the column, and choose “Custom Fields” – It is also possible to add the column, and then go to: “Project -> Custom Fields” –

In the menu, click on “Rename” and then give the new column a name such as “Task Status”. Next click on “Lookup” in the Custom attributes section of the menu, and the following menu will appear –

MS Project Custom Fields
MS Project Custom Fields

MS Project Custom Fields
MS Project Custom Fields

Here you can enter the different values you would like to appear as possible choices in the drop down list which will appear in each row. The user will be able to choose one of them for each task. The recommended values are: “Done”, “Not Started”, “Cancelled”, “Late”, and “On Schedule”. Of course it is possible to add any other values you see fit.

In the right column of the values it is possible to add a description of the value. For example: “Late” is if the end date is more than 3 work- days post the baseline finish date. After all the values and descriptions have been inserted, click on “Close” at the bottom right corner of the menu. The user of the work plan will now be able to update the status of each task in the work plan.

How to show slippage or delay in MS Project

One of the default columns in MS-Project is the “Finish Variance” column, which calculates the difference between the “Baseline Finish” and the “Finish” dates in work days (i.e. if the value is positive the task is late, and if it is negative it presents the total number of work days which the task is planned to finish before its planned finish date). 

For example: If a tasks’ baseline finish date is 18-Aug-2017, and the finish date is 14-Aug-2017 the finish variance will be “-4” work days. If the finish date will be changed to 22-Aug-2017 then the variance will be “2” work days. In order to add the column, right-click on any of the headers of the plan and choose “Insert Column”. Then choose “Finish Variance” from the list.

slippage or delay in MS Project
Slippage or Delay in MS Project

This column can be used to see how many days the task is late, and also can be used to see how many total days the entire plan is slipping past its due date. In order to see this, you need to add the Project Summary Task (row 0). In order to do this, go to the “Format” ribbon, and check the “Project Summary Task” checkbox – 

Now you will be able to see the variance of each task, and the entire project in row #0. Ig the highlight filter is activated, this row will be highlighted as well.

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