Project Management

Identify slipping and unstarted tasks with Microsoft Project filters

Microsoft Project's Slipping Tasks and Unstarted Tasks filters make it easier for project managers to catch shifts in project schedules before missing deadlines.

In a previous Microsoft Project tutorial, I showed how to identify late tasks using the custom Behind Schedule filter. Identifying late tasks is just one useful action that PMs should conduct weekly. If you're examining behind schedule tasks, then you're already on your way to actively managing your plan.

Another important schedule management activity is to examine any unstarted tasks, late starts, and slipped tasks. By examining tasks that haven't started yet or tasks that are forecasting past their baseline start date, you will identify any work that is shifted to future dates. If you don't watch for the shift in your project schedules, you risk missing deadlines. Fortunately, Microsoft Project provides useful filters to identify slipping tasks and unstarted tasks.

Slipping Tasks filter

The Slipping Tasks filter is a pre-built Microsoft Project filter that identifies all the tasks that haven't started and have a forecasted finish date that is greater than the Baseline Finish date. This filter will identify the shift in your project schedule and list all the unfinished and future tasks that have been extended past the Baseline Finish date.

To view the Slipping Tasks filter, in the Formatting toolbar, select the Slipping Tasks filter from the Filter combo box (Figure A). Figure A

Formatting toolbar - Slipping Tasks
All of the slipping tasks will be displayed (Figure B). Figure B

Slipping Tasks filter applied. (Click the image to enlarge.)
In the project schedule in Figure B, the Use Case 1 task had a Baseline Start date of 4/15/2010 and a Baseline Finish date of 4/19/2010. The task is in progress and has an Actual Start of 4/20/2010 and a Forecasted Finish of 4/22/2010. This represents a shift of three days from the original project schedule. The project manager needs to determine if the shift impacts the critical path and its impact to project milestones.

All of the Interface tasks haven't started, but those tasks also inherit the three day shift from previously completed tasks and work in progress. The project manager needs to determine if the variance is acceptable or if additional action is required to realign these tasks with the original baseline start dates.

To clear the Slipping Tasks filter, select the All Tasks filter, and all the tasks will be displayed. The All Tasks filter is useful only if the project manager has an established project baseline and actively tracks actual start and finish dates. I've seen several project schedules where the project manager uses the schedule as a task list and only tracks percent complete. If the project manager doesn't update the actual start date or provide an update to forecasted finish dates, the schedule will always match the baseline. In this case, the filter will be useless. To avoid this situation, I recommend you track your project schedule objectively.

Unstarted Tasks filter

The Microsoft Project pre-built Unstarted Task filter identifies all the tasks that have not started; this technically means the Actual Start date for each task is equal to NA. This includes all tasks in your schedule including future scheduled tasks. I use this filter frequently so I can filter on the Baseline Start Date to identify all the tasks that should have started by the given project status date.

To identify all the tasks that haven't started as of the project status date, follow these steps:

  1. Insert the Baseline Start column into your view.
  2. Select the Unstarted Tasks filter from the Filter combo box in the Formatting toolbar.
  3. Using the Auto Filter button, create a Custom AutoFilter where the Baseline Start Date Is Less Than Or Equal To Your Project Status Date (Figure C).

Figure C

Custom Baseline Start AutoFilter
The result is a list of tasks that should have started by the project status date (Figure D). Figure D

Tasks that should have started by the project status date. (Click the image to enlarge.)

Summary

By tracking your unstarted tasks and behind schedule tasks, you'll have a good idea of the tasks that need action and follow up with the project team members. You should expect to see a few schedule slippages, as the baselined project schedule is a point in time forecast and every task doesn't execute perfectly according to the project schedule.

The key takeaway is to look at the Baseline Start and Baseline Finish dates and compare those dates to the current Start and Finish dates and examine the variances. Then the real "fun" begins as you look to realign the slipped work to the original project baseline.

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About

Dr. Andrew Makar is an IT program manager and is the author of How To Use Microsoft Project and Project Management Interview Questions Made Easy. For more project management advice visit http://www.tacticalprojectmanagement.com.

2 comments
clever4
clever4

Hi, I'm wanting to view a great demo of Project 2007 for a client. The Microsoft one honestly doesn't seems to tell you exactly what it is and what it does. The demo is for someone who's never heard of or used Project before, so the demo needs to be better than the Microsoft one. Has anyone any suggestions? Thanks

amakar
amakar

Are you looking for a custom demo that highlights the benefits or are you looking for a demo that highlight's your firm's skills using the tool? Let's chat.