MS Project – 5 Top Tips when Inputting Progress

A Project Plan is is not a plan if it is not kept up to date. Here’s my 5 Top Tips to ensure what you input is actually accurate.

So, you’ve created your plan and it’s amazing (obviously you’ve used the tips in my blog MS Project – 5 Common Mistakes when Creating a Plan!).  But now its time to dish out the work and input the progress.  But how do you ensure that you’re keeping your plan up to date accurately?   No need to look any further, here’s my top tips to ensure what you report is actually the truth. 

1 – Use Task Lists

Use your plan to create your task lists and then dish those task lists out to your team.  Each resource needs to know exactly what you expect of them and when.  But don’t stop there…ask your team to update their task list with their progress and give it back to you.  This does a couple of things:

  • It forces the resources to actually read the task list.  We all know there is that one person that is going to leave it under a stack of papers on their desk and actually do what they think they should. 
  • Your resources will be more disciplined when they have to justify what they have worked on for the 40 hours in the week. 
  • It will save you so much time.  If you create your task list directly from your plan keeping the unique ID, then you can very quickly refer back to the specific tasks in your plan saving you having to aimlessly scroll through finding out which tasks you need to update progress on.

2 – Ask for more than just % complete

When it comes to updating tasks, you need more than just a percentage complete, you need to be asking 3 things:

  1. Percentage complete
  2. Hours spent on a task
  3. Hours expected to complete the task

Let me tell you why. 

Its Monday and Bob has a task, his task is to create a drawing and he has 80 hours (2 weeks) to complete it.  You ask him at the end of the first week his percentage complete and he says “About 50%”, you enter this into your plan.  The task now shows that 40 hours have been spent, and there is a further 40 hours left. 

Now let’s ask Bob our 3 questions. Here are his answers:

  1. Percentage complete
    • “About 50%”
  2. Hours spent on a task
    • “50 hours” Bob worked overtime this week. 
  3. Hours expected to complete the task
    • “40 Hours”

So, Bob actually worked for 50 hours on the task and he is expecting that he will need 40 hours to complete it.  All of a sudden, your 80 Hour task is now a 90 Hour task.  You’ve just increased your task by 10 hours! But, Bob is not 50% through the task, he is actually 56% of the way through. 

Also, you’ve actually spent 50 hours to date not 40 hours. If you transfer that 10 hours into money, let’s say you pay Bob £20 per hour, that’s £200 on one task you won’t have accounted for in your spend to date.   If you have a big team then purely asking for a percentage complete could mean that your actual spend to date is miles away from for the truth and your remaining spend available is a lot less than you thought! 

3 – Move Uncomplete Tasks

There are always tasks that don’t get completed when expected, but what do you do with them? Here’s my golden rule Don’t leave incomplete tasks in the past. 

Why? Well, you cannot go back in time to complete it can you?   You will complete it in the future; therefore, your plan needs to reflect that.  The best way to move all of your uncompleted tasks into the future is to simply let MS Project do it for you. Here’s how:

Once you have inputted all of your % complete using the method above, using the Project Tab on the Ribbon, in the Status group, chose Update Project

Using the dialogue box, chose Reschedule uncompleted work to start after and chose your date (this will default to your status date)

This will move any uncompleted tasks after this date so you know exactly which tasks still need to be completed and you can plan then appropriately. 

4 – Don’t complete Tasks in the future

You may be a super Project Manager and be running well ahead of plan, great! But make sure your plan reflects it.  If you complete a task that’s not due yet, then move the task to when it was actually done.  This will benefit you in two ways:

  1. Against your baseline you will show that you are ahead of plan (more tasks have been completed than planned) 
  2. Your follow-on tasks will move to reflect that they can start sooner, if these tasks are on the critical path, then your Project end date will be brought in.   What a better way to impress your boss! 

5 – Re-Level your resources

If you are happy that you have updated your plan correctly, then your final step is to re-level your resources.  You have moved late tasks back and / or brought some tasks forward to reflect your actual status, but don’t forget to level your resources.   All that task jiggling could mean that you have overallocated a resource leaving you in a pickle.  Equally, you may find you have some resources are underallocted.  The best way to avoid this is to re-level your resources.  

Bonus Tip

One of my pet hates is how people re-baseline their plans.  Time and time again I see Project Managers re-baselining simply because they are running behind plan…No, just No!

If you are off plan, then you need to firstly accept it, and then review your plan to see if you can work smart to get back to baseline.  The only time you should re-baseline your plan is if you have scope change AND this scope change has been assessed and agreed by your stakeholders (generally via a change board).