The cost overview report in MS Project

Cost overview report

The Cost Overview Report shows four areas with cost information about your project.

The upper left corner of the report shows the Forecasted Cost (‘Cost’); this is the actual cost + the remaining cost for the entire project. It also shows the Remaining Cost separately as well as the % complete of the project. Note that this percentage refers to the duration that has past. It does not say anything about the work that has been done, actual cost being incurred or the actual physical product being finished.

Progress versus cost chart

The Progress Versus Cost chart shows if your project is over budget or not. If the blue line is below the orange line, your project may be over budget.

Cost status table

The Cost Status table shows you the Actual Cost, Remaining Cost, Baseline Cost, Cost and Cost Variance for every top-level task (outline level 1). These are your main deliverables in this case. Here we can see for example that the final assembly cost $200,- more (the fixed price painting job) and the preparation cost $ 998 less than we have baselined (cheaper building package and less required man hours).

Cost status chart

The Cost Status chart is a combination chart that show the Actual Cost and Remaining Cost in stacked columns for each top-level task as well as a line for Baseline Cost. In the example it is clearly visible that the preparation costs less than the baseline cost (Actual Cost + Remaining Cost vs Baseline Cost), and that the preparation is almost entirely finished.

The cost overview report in MS Project

Your report?

Do you make use of the cost overview reports or do you prefer another tool (Excel)?
Share it in the comments below.

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Resource usage vs. budget

Resource usage vs. budget

How the costs of the resources evolve (actual cost plus remaining cost) can be tracked using our custom view ‘Resource Usage vs Budget’. In this view, which you will only find in the template, you can see how your project’s resources are using the budget, per Budget Name (hours and materials):Resource usage vs. budget

Get the view and template

Note that this view shows how the use of resources have impact on the budget, for instance work, material and cost resources. There is one cost type that will not be included in this view, which is the fixed cost you have entered on the task level such as outsourced work. The highlight report will show you all the costs against the total budget, that is per main deliverable. (Note: The highlight report also comes with the template in our e-courses!)

What do you think of this custom view in MS Project? Please leave a comment below.

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How to compare costs to the budget

Compare costs to the budget

With our custom view ‘Cost vs Budget‘ you can learn from your actual costs against budget. Note that we only have a budget on the Project Summary task, so for that reason only this task is displayed in this view.


Of course you could expand the Project Summary task, so Summary tasks and tasks will become visible. This way you can see how your budget is or will be spent.

How to compare costs to the budget

Here, the meaning of the possible indicators is slightly different. Our notion is that in terms of comparison against budget, spending less is always considered to be good.


  • Green smiley = value has not changed, or has decreased (under budget)
  • Amber smiley = value has increased, but not more than 10%
  • Red smiley = value has increased by more than 10%

Of course, we still think that if you foresee to spend considerably less than budgeted, this should be communicated so the budget could be freed up and other projects could be started (earlier).

What about you?

Where do you struggle the most when it comes to your budget in MS Project?

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An introduction to cost management

Cost management

Many, many times we see that project timing and project resourcing are managed in MS Project, while project finances are kept in Excel. Using the financial governance capacilities in MS Project is often an unexploited area. This is a waste, because only adding rates to resources will already bring you half way. MS Project can calculate anything for you directly from your schedule.

The trick here is also to keep the right balance between the amount of input and getting valuable output. Remember MS Project is not meant to be accounting software, MS Project is a modeling tool which should deliberately simplify the reality. Accountants cannot permit to simplify. Neither will it serve as an invoicing system.

What will we do in cost management (part of our Pro course)?

In the e-course ‘cost management’ you will enter a project budget for main cost types, compare planned cost against actual cost. Predict eventual cost at project complete based on actual progress, provide burn-down charts and earned value metrics to qualify the project’s performance. All the things required to be able to perform quality cost control.

In Cost Management” (Pro course) we will teach you how to set up a financial governance way of work, that builds on what you already have in your schedule in MS Project.

How are you dealing with costs in your current schedule? Share your experience in the comments below!

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Tip: Use this custom filter when you start updating your tasks

In large schedules it can be useful to filter the tasks for the ones that are likely to require a status update. For this the filter ‘Tasks for updating’ is available that filters all tasks that should already have started on and before the date you enter in the filter. After selecting the view ‘2b  Enter Task Progress’ this filter pops-up automatically.

Tip: Use this custom filter when you start updating your tasks

Tip: Enter a date that is 1-2 weeks ahead, to allow for the possibility that some of the tasks may have started ahead of schedule.

Note: Tracking needs to be done on lowest level activities. Tracking summary tasks will result in many unexpected mistakes in the schedule.

Do you want this filter?

Would you like to get this filter for free? Leave a comment below that you are interested and we will contact you via email so you get this filter!

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Enter resources by using resource sheet

To enter resources in your schedule, the best option is to enter the information in the resource sheet. 

The resource sheet

The resource sheet is one of the views that are organized around resource information. All (resource) views are easiest found by right-mouse-clicking the vertical grey bar left of your screen (see video).

Resource information

You can use the resource sheet to manually enter required resource information like, among others:

  • Resource name
  • Max Unit percentage
  • Calendar

Enter resources by using resource sheet

It’s your turn

Try it out yourself and share your experiences in the comments below!

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Do not misuse constraints

Do not misuse constraints

As constraints will limit the dynamicity, your challenge is to avoid these as much as possible – do not misuse constraints. In some cases though you will need them. Consider for instance the following situations:

  • Place the roof, once the supporting walls are finished – You do not need a constraint, but a task dependency.
  • A task can only start once the resource is back from vacation – For this you do need a constraint.
  • However, when you work with resources in your schedule, let the resource calendar reflect the unavailability. ‘As soon as possible’ will then be when the resource has availability again. This is explained in our Pro course (check our training Resource Management).
  • End report is due on August 1st, at the latest – Plan ASAP and use a deadline to monitor the due date, not with a ‘finish no later than’ constraint, as you would do when preparing for an exam ;-).
  • End report is due ON August 1st. Same as above, no ‘must finish on’ constraint.
  • You expect a delivery from a supplier – you do need a constraint to tell MS Project when you receive the goods and can continue working with these goods.
  • You expect a delivery from another project in your organization – you do not need a constraint. You can make a ‘link between projects’ instead. This will be explained in our Intermediate course (take our e-course Critical Path Management).

Constraints in your own schedule

In which cases do you use constraints in your MS Project schedule?
Share it in the comments below!

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Factor risks in estimations

Factor risks in estimations

The (effort) estimation method weighing the results (see our Intermediate course) gives a reliable estimate with a certain ‘standardized’ risk allowance. In other words, there is a substantial chance of being late (area shown by green arrow).

Factor risks in estimations1

If the circumstances for particular tasks are such that you want to allow less risk on the task, look for the estimate that corresponds with less risk.

Inevitably, allowing less risk comes at the price of assigning more work/lead time to a task.

Factor risks in estimations2

In the image above, the red line is moved to the right, meaning less risk of being late is accepted. Consequently, the corresponding estimate needs to be used in MS Project.

Estimating Best Practices

1. All estimates carry an inherent degree of uncertainty, especially in the early stages of the project where there are more unknowns. It is crucial that you quantify the percentage of unknowns in your estimate and compensate with an equivalent level of contingency (a likely eventuality you factored in based on risk assessment). For instance, if you know from experience that on average 25% of your work is unforeseen, you can factor in this 25% in your estimates.

2. Make sure you factor in all phases and activities (later phases and activities on a higher level, e.g. per phase) of the project. Also include specific time for management activities such as project management, team management, technical guidance, training, etc. if it is not already accounted for.

3. Factor in the effort hours based on the actual resources assigned. If the actual resource doing the task is not the person/skill level that was involved/considered in the estimation session, review if the estimate is still correct. Different skill levels can play a large role.

4. Consider rework. In a perfect world, all project deliverables would be correct the first time. On real projects, that usually is not the case. Work plans that do not consider rework can easily end up underestimating the total effort involved with completing deliverables. This is not to be confused with scope changes. If you produce a deliverable that does not meet all the original requirements, or has a quality problem, then rework may be required. For instance, meet with your colleague that will continue on your work (successor task) and align on the ‘must have’ specs for him or her to be able to proceed.

More about tasks, durations and estimations you can learn in our Intermediate e-course

Risks in your MS Project schedule

How do you consider risks when estimating efforts in your MS Project schedule?

Leave it in the comments below.


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