Hidden Gem Fields in Microsoft Project

We find that many project managers aren’t making the most of Microsoft Project, only using the most basic fields: tracking dates and progress for tasks, but not much else. Microsoft Project is a powerful application, and while the majority of users may never use the majority of its features, we’ve identified a few hidden gems that people find really useful once they know about them.

The four fields we’ll cover in this post are dynamic, meaning that Microsoft Project will calculate the values for you, even if you continue to track only the most basic information. This means that you can take advantage of more capabilities without really having to do any additional work.

This simple project plan highlights the hidden Microsoft Project fields that we think are the most important. Fields are color-coded so that you can see which of the basic fields drive the values of the new fields (click to zoom in):

Hidden Fields

  • Overallocated (purple): If you have resources assigned to a task and one of those resources is assigned more hours than they are normally scheduled to work, the task will appear as overallocated. This is your cue to add more resources or to extend the duration of the task so that your team isn’t burning the midnight oil.
  • Outline Level (blue): Your left-most tasks are outline level 1, while second-level indentations are outline level 2, and so forth. If you want to use conditional formatting so that your project reports show top-level phases as big while minor detail tasks are small, this is the fastest way to do it.
  • Summary (yellow): A close cousin to the Outline Level, this field will tell you whether a task has sub-tasks underneath it, regardless of how far it has been indented. If you want to quickly create a high-level report or, conversely, if you only want to see the intimate details of your project, the Summary field will give you immediate results.
  • Status (green): Many of our customers use the Status field to quickly create project status “stoplight” reports in OnePager Pro. Microsoft Project looks at start/finish dates, today’s date, and how far along things are (% Complete), to calculate one of four statuses for every task in your plan:
    • Late
    • On Schedule
    • Complete
    • Future Task

Even a brand-new Microsoft Project user can take advantage of these “freebies” and make their OnePager Pro reports really top-notch. Do you have another handy field that you’d like to add to the list?

This entry was posted in Best Practices, Microsoft Project Tips, Project Reporting by Safford. Bookmark the permalink.

About Safford

Safford is a versatile technology professional with a solid history of empowering emerging growth companies in a broad array of industries. His employment history includes energy industry consulting at Quorum Software, Senior Manager of Client Services and Technical Sales at telecom service aggregator GetConnected, and Vice President of Strategic Partner Management at electronic payment processor IP Commerce. Prior to his tenure as OnePager's COO, Safford was the company's Vice President of Marketing and Alliances. Safford holds a BA in Psychology and management from Rice University.

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