Project Execution

Project Execution with Microsoft Project actually involves a number of actions. No longer are we in the planning phase of the project.  As part of the project management plan, we are now in the project execution phase. 
There is analyzing the critical path using the Gantt chart, setting the initial baseline, and setting a status date for the project schedule.  Of course part of phase requires us to track progress on the various tasks as well as ensure project deliverables are being completed. 
When it comes to progressing your Microsoft Project schedule, meaning reflecting work is being performed, the two methods most commonly used are to update % complete and update Actual Work and Remaining Work.

A project manager will put into action this phase by tracking project performance and comparing it with the original plan (baseline), you can answer questions such as:

  • Are the tasks starting and finishing as planned?  If not, what is the impact on the project finish date and budget?
  • Are resources spending more or less time than planned to complete tasks work?
  • Are higher-than-anticipated task costs driving up the overall cost of the project?
When planning similar projects in the future, will you be able to determine how good you (or the team’s) estimating skills were in prior projects?
Fortunately, Office 365 Microsoft Project is a project management tool that provides different levels of tracking possibilities, which allow project managers to, if necessary, gradually become accustomed to update progress information and deal with resulting the changes in the project schedule. 

Whether we record work as scheduled, or track assignment-level work by time period, tracking work in our project plan via Microsoft Project is crucial in order to understand how project performance is compared to what we said in the beginning.

In this Microsoft Project training webinar various methods of tracking will be discussed and demonstrated.  Resulting changes to the project schedule will also be discussed and dealt with to ensure the project schedule reflects reality.  The Microsoft Project scheduling engine is incredibly robust.  As such it may be daunting to initially learn.  Once a basic understanding is achieved, however, your comfort level with the Microsoft Project tool will increase dramatically!

By the end of this session you will have a solid understanding of how to tack project in your project schedules in Microsoft Project as well as control the behavior of the project schedule.


Analyzing the Critical Path

Whether you are a project manager, resource manager, or a team member, the critical path of a project is a very important part of successfully executing a project.  The critical path is the longest continuous path in a project that determines the end date for that project.
Tasks on the critical path normally have zero float. The critical path method calculates the theoretical early start and early finish dates, and late start and finish dates, for all activities without regard for any resource limitations.
Analyzing the critical path lets the project manager understand the tasks that have the last amount of slack.  Meaning, they can start early or late and not impact the Finish Date of the project.


Slack is the amount of time a task can slip before it effects another task or the project’s finish date. By default any task with 0 slack is considered a critical task.

Optimizing the Project Plan

Once you have entered all tasks, duration, work and resource assignments it is time to double check your work. The dropdown next to the column name provides an auto filter that can be applied to look for missing information or for assignments at the summary task level.
Some things we may look for when optimizing the project plan in Microsoft Project include:
  • Blank resources – all tasks except summary tasks should have a resource assigned
  • Zero Work estimates – all tasks should have a valid work estimate
  • Add milestones to every stage
  • Adjust Work and Duration so they do not always match
  • Zero out Remaining Work on completed tasks and mark milestones as complete
  • Remove unnecessary constraints
  • Save your optimized plan

Baselining the Project

Once you have created the work breakdown structure, added resources and assignments, and optimized your plan, you are ready to set the baseline. A baseline is a snapshot of your project plan. They capture the original estimates of Work, Duration, Cost, Start and Finish dates. Once a baseline has been set in Microsoft Project it should not be overwritten or cleared. MS Project has eleven baselines. If calculating earned value, you can specify per project which baseline value to use in the calculation.

Setting the Status Date

The status date can be used to report project progress through the date selected. If you are tracking earned value you will to set the status date for your project.  Setting the Status Date in Microsoft Project is especially important when using Earned Value project management, as progressing tasks is based on the set Status Date.

Updating Percent Complete

% Complete

The % Complete field is used to track task progress against the duration of the task. If a task has a duration of two weeks, at the end of week one it has a task status of 50% Complete. The project will recalculate Remaining Work and Actual Work based on the % Complete.

% Work Complete

The % Work Complete field is used to track the actual effort required to complete the task. If a task has eight hours of work and I have worked on it for two hours it has a task status of 25% Work Complete.

Physical % Complete

The Physical % Complete field is used in earned value calculations. It tracks how much money has been spent as of a set status date. You have a construction project involving 10 homes. You need to complete the landscaping for all 10 homes in 10 months. Your budget is $10,000 so after 2 months you expect to have spent $2000 and completed 2 homes calculating Physical % Complete as 20%. You realize you have spent $1,500 and only 1.5 gardens are complete. You are behind schedule.

Updating Actual Work

A more accurate method of tracking task progress is to enter the Actual Work for a task. Actual Work can be updated in a usage view on the timephased grid or on by entering a value in the Actual Work field in a task table.