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Cost Variance Report

How to show the difference between projected and actual project costs

If you track costs in your project plan, OnePager can help you build a timeline or Gantt chart which makes it easy to see which tasks are on budget, and which are not.

Cost variance project reports in OnePager look great, and they're easy to build with a 15-day free trial:

Month-by-month cost variance of a project plan 15-Day
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  1. We'll start with a basic project plan. This example uses Microsoft Project, but you can just as easily use Planisware, Primavera P6, or Smartsheet.

    Microsoft Project plan with costs

    There are three key fields in this project plan:

    • Cost: This is the actual cost of each task.
    • Baseline Cost: This is the original budget for each task's cost.
    • Cost Variance: If there is any difference between budgeted and actual expenses, the cost variance will show it. Initially, the cost is in line with the budget, so there is no variance. This will change later in this example.
  2. Import your project plan, alongside the costs, into OnePager. If you don't already have OnePager, you can get a free trial. You can set up your report initially like this:

    Import your project plan into OnePager.

  3. Initially, we get a Gantt chart that looks like this. So far, not much cost information, but that's about to change.

    OnePager Project Gantt Chart.

  4. To import cost information, go to Home > Chart Properties > Rows/Swimlanes and then to the Text Columns section. This will let us bring in a column for the different costs that we want to track:

    Import cost and cost variance information from Microsoft Project.

    In this case, we'll set up a column for "Cost" and a second column for "Cost Variance" so that we can compare them side-by-side.

  5. Click OK, and this cost information will appear in the project report:

    Gantt chart with cost and cost variance information.

  6. Now, let's go back to Microsoft Project and create some cost variance. We'll change the actual costs of the first two items so that one is above the budget and one is below. This causes the cost variance to change:

    Cost variance in Microsoft Project.

  7. To update your OnePager report, go to Data > Add Snapshot. Our first snapshot was on October 5th, so we'll add a second snapshot on November 23rd, OnePager will re-import the cost information and display it in the project report:

    Revised costs in the project report.

  8. This is pretty good, but we can make the cost variance report even better by color-coding each task based on its cost variance. To do this, go to Home > Chart Properties > Task Bars and click the Manage Rules button for conditional formatting:

    Color-code the project report based on cost variance.

    With these simple rules, tasks that are over-budget turn red, while tasks that are under-budget turn green. Tasks that have no cost variance stay gray.

  9. The report immediately becomes a lot more colorful, and a lot more informative based on these simple rules:

    Cost variance on the Gantt chart

  10. You can also add an overall budget status indicator to the left-hand side of the chart, next to your financial figures. To do this, return to Home > Chart Properties > Rows/Swimlanes. Click on the Left #3 tab for Text Columns, enable it, and then click on Manage Rules:

    Add a status symbol to track budget

  11. We can set up rules to display a green checkmark when the task is at or below budget, and a red X when the task is over budget:

    Symbol columns track budget status

  12. Here's how the chart looks now with the status indicators on the left:

    Cost Variance Report with Status Indicators

  13. If you need to view how your cost has varied over time, you can go to OnePager's View tab and click back and forth between your different snapshots, like this:

    Month-by-month cost variance of a project plan

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