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Start/Finish vs Schedule Start/Finish vs Actual Start/Finish RRS feed

  • Question

  • Hi,

    I'm new to MSP 2013 and I'm confused on the way MSP handles Start/Finish dates. While I understand the rational of it adjusting the schedule so you see how actual dates impact the schedule, I find it confusing that there are multiple columns with different labels performing the same function?

    "Scheduled Start" would lead you to believe this is your initial planned start date and remains static while "Actual Start" would be, well, the Actual Start date. So one value by definition would be different than the other, yet when any of these dates, "Scheduled Start", "Actual Start", or "Start" are changed, they all change to the same value.

    My questions are:

    1. Why do the "Scheduled Start", "Actual Start", and "Start" dates all change to the "Actual Date" when entered?
    2. Is there a scheduling technique or purpose for this to work this way?
    3. Also, since the "Scheduled Start" date changes, how does MSP 2013 handle Earned Value?

           Since Earned Value calculations rely on your Planned Value which would be based on the Budgeted Cost of Work Scheduled          and the Earned Value which is the Budgeted Cost of Work Performed vs. the Actual Cost of the Work Performed at "a point          in time," how could it provide a reliable figure if the scheduled date is moving? Is it using the "Baseline Start/Finish"?

    I hope you can answer this for me or direct me to a resource that can. Thank you for your consideration.

    Marc      

    Friday, February 20, 2015 6:02 PM

Answers

  • Marc,

    When Project was first released there were only two basic start field, Start and Actual Start (in addition of course to the Baseline Start field and a few others). With the release of Project 2010, a manual scheduling mode was introduced. That's when things got a little more confusing. Instead of leaving the Start date as is, the Start field was converted to a text field and the old Start field was renamed as Scheduled Start. When in auto-schedule mode, both Start and Scheduled Start are exactly the same.

    Now to answer your questions. To keep it simple, let's assume you are using auto-scheduling.

    1. In order to keep the schedule dynamics intact, it is necessary to update the Start field to agree with what really happened, namely with the Actual Start date. If you do not enter anything into the Actual Start field, Project automatically assumes the task started as scheduled, on the Start date.

    2, Yes, Project does its scheduling based on the current plan which is represented by start, finish and other data. Once the project starts, that current plan must be updated so the actual date values come into play. As noted in the lead in paragraph, Scheduled Start and Start are the same for auto-scheduled tasks.

    3. Earned value is based on the actual values and the saved baseline data. The "point in time" you refer to is the timescaled data as of the status date.

    Hopefully, this clear up at least some of your confusion.

    John

    • Marked as answer by Marc Rosario Friday, February 20, 2015 11:42 PM
    Friday, February 20, 2015 8:17 PM

All replies

  • Marc,

    When Project was first released there were only two basic start field, Start and Actual Start (in addition of course to the Baseline Start field and a few others). With the release of Project 2010, a manual scheduling mode was introduced. That's when things got a little more confusing. Instead of leaving the Start date as is, the Start field was converted to a text field and the old Start field was renamed as Scheduled Start. When in auto-schedule mode, both Start and Scheduled Start are exactly the same.

    Now to answer your questions. To keep it simple, let's assume you are using auto-scheduling.

    1. In order to keep the schedule dynamics intact, it is necessary to update the Start field to agree with what really happened, namely with the Actual Start date. If you do not enter anything into the Actual Start field, Project automatically assumes the task started as scheduled, on the Start date.

    2, Yes, Project does its scheduling based on the current plan which is represented by start, finish and other data. Once the project starts, that current plan must be updated so the actual date values come into play. As noted in the lead in paragraph, Scheduled Start and Start are the same for auto-scheduled tasks.

    3. Earned value is based on the actual values and the saved baseline data. The "point in time" you refer to is the timescaled data as of the status date.

    Hopefully, this clear up at least some of your confusion.

    John

    • Marked as answer by Marc Rosario Friday, February 20, 2015 11:42 PM
    Friday, February 20, 2015 8:17 PM
  • John,

    Thanks for your reply, it is very useful and helped clear up some of the confusion.

     Just for clarification,  there is no way (auto-schedule or manual schedule) for the  "Schedule Date" to remain static?  If not, then MS Project 2013 will continually adjust the schedule in auto-schedule mode based on the Actual Dates entered  and the only way to compare the original planned schedule  is by comparing the current dates with the original "Baseline  Start / Finish  Dates",  correct? 

     Also, is there any way to locks cells after the actual date is entered?

    Thank you again for your help.

    Marc

    Saturday, February 21, 2015 12:03 AM
  • Marc,

    You're welcome and thanks for the feedback.

    No, once the plan is up and running, the schedule is dynamic. Oh, you could turn off calculation, but that serves no real purpose except possibly if you are doing a lot of updating on a very large schedule and don't want the plan to continually be calculating, but then again, how would you know if the updates are valid if the dynamics of the schedule are not in play.

    The whole purpose of the baseline fields is to preserve the original plan, or multiple interim plans thereafter, such that the current plan can be compared, and earned value metrics calculated, compared with the original, or an interim, plan.

    Project is not like Excel, field cells cannot be locked. I'm not sure why you would want to lock the actual dates, the word "actual" means that the information is reality and once it happens, that won't change. Oh, someone could come along and inadvertently change an actual date, but that would be extremely unlikely and if such an error did occur, the likelihood of that being noticed is very high.

    John

    Saturday, February 21, 2015 12:21 AM
  • John,

    Thanks again for clearing this up for me.

    As you surmised, the reason I wanted the cells locked was in fact to prevent the dates from changing. The reason being, I used Oracle Agile PPM for managing projects in the past and both Scheduled & Actual dates were locked after they were entered. I've accidentally changed dates in MSP and while I did realize it, I wasted a lot of time figuring out what happened.

    At any rate, thanks to you I'm beginning to learn the nuances of MSP and hope to become more acquainted with it in a short time. 

    Thank you for the detail and clarity of your answers. 

    Best Regards,

    Marc

    Sunday, February 22, 2015 3:31 AM
  • Marc,

    You're very welcome and thanks for the feedback. Yes, Project does have a lot of little nuances and that's why we are here.

    John

    Sunday, February 22, 2015 4:21 PM
  • Hi John,

    I am having the same issue here, which I don't believe was fully understood.  In the real world of project planning, when a project is "Scheduled" to start, that date never changes; it was meant to start on that date no matter what.  I should always be able to see the variance between the Scheduled Start and Actual Start in order to track which projects were started behind schedule.  However, since the Scheduled Start changes to match Actual Start, that's not possible and the original Schedule Start date is lost and cannot be tracked.  This actually defeats the logic of project planning.  Our list consists of 60 projects and once an Actual Start date is logged, the client cannot see how many projects throughout the year were started later/earlier than originally scheduled.  This tool seems robust enough that it should allow the ability to track this.

    Nicole

    Thursday, June 11, 2015 3:53 PM
  • Nicole --

    The Scheduled Start date is actually known as the Baseline Start date.  Assuming you save a baseline in your project, you will always be able to track schedule variance by applying the Variance table and examining the Start Variance and Finish Variance columns.  The key here is you MUST save a baseline.  Without a baseline, you cannot track the variance you seek.  Hope this helps.


    Dale A. Howard [MVP]

    Thursday, June 11, 2015 4:18 PM
    Moderator
  • Actually, in the list of Available fields on MS website, there is an option for Expected Start Date, Expected Finish Date, and Expected Duration.  THESE are the fields I need and by definition, will function properly.  However, in MS Project, these fields are not available.  Where are they?!?!  This is so frustrating, I'm likely to go back to using my Mac programs
    Thursday, June 11, 2015 4:29 PM
  • Nicole --

    The three fields you reference are used with Manually Scheduled tasks, and because of this, I do not recommend you use them.  If you save a baseline, know that the Baseline Start date is the original scheduled Start date, while the Baseline Finish date is the original scheduled Finish date for each task.  Hope this helps.


    Dale A. Howard [MVP]

    Thursday, June 11, 2015 4:57 PM
    Moderator
  • Okay, so if I set a baseline start and baseline finish date for each task, then those dates will remain static when I enter actual start and actual finish?  Will the Status field reflect based on Actual dates or Baseline dates?
    Thursday, June 11, 2015 6:00 PM
  • Nicole --

    OK, here is what you should do.  First, when you have a project completely planned and it is ready to go live, you save a baseline by clicking Project > Set Baseline > Set Baseline.  In the Set Baseline dialog, leave all of the default options selected and then click the OK button.  When you do this, Microsoft Project will capture the current values for EVERY task in the following fields and copy them into corresponding baseline fields:  Start, Finish, Duration, Work, and Cost.  This process captures the original planned Start and Finish dates for every task, which is the data I know you are interested in.

    Second, after the project goes live, enter progress in your project using your company's preferred or recommended method.  If you are entering progress using either the % Complete, % Work Complete, or Actual Work fields, I would recommend you also enter dates in the Actual Start and Actual Finish fields, if these dates are known.  As you already know, when you enter an Actual Start date, Microsoft Project replaces the original Start date with the date in the Actual Start field.  But do not despair; remember that the original Start date for every task is stored in the Baseline Start field, and that date WILL NOT change.

    Third, to analyze variance in your project, you will need click View > Table and then apply the following tables in succession:  Variance, Work, and Cost.  In the Variance table, you can analyze date variance in the Start Variance and Finish Variance columns.  In the Work table, you can analyze work variance in the Work Variance column.  In the Cost table, you can analyze cost variance in the Cost Variance column.

    Nicole, this is the proper way to use Microsoft Project, and this is the method I have taught my many students over the past 15 years.  It works for them and I know it will work for you.

    Lastly, regarding the Status field for each task:  Microsoft Project calculates the value in this field by comparing the current % Complete progress against either the Status Date for the project.  If you do not set a Status Date value, then the software uses the Current Date value instead.  As a general rule, the Status Date would be the last day of the previous reporting period.  So for example, today is Thursday, June 11.  If I were setting a Status Date in a project, I would enter Friday, June 5, which would be the last day of last week's reporting period.

    Suppose that a task should have been 100% complete by the Status Date of June 5, but suppose the % Complete progress for that task is only 50%.  Microsoft Project would calculate the Status value for that task as Late.  So, no, the Status field is not based on either actual dates or baseline dates.  It is based on a comparison of the current % Complete progress against the Status Date or Current Date value.  To set the Status Date value, by the way, click Project > Project Information and enter the date in the Status Date field.

    Hope this helps.


    Dale A. Howard [MVP]

    Thursday, June 11, 2015 7:49 PM
    Moderator
  • Mr. Howard,

    Thank you very much for your response of 11-Jun-15. It has helped me tremendously. However, it also points out a few my errors in the early development of my schedule, darn-it! :). Lesson learned, as my current project is about finished.

    Can you recommend a good source, for a beginner, to understand the basics of starting a project (i.e. steps to go through, required details to get started, etc..) and then beyond getting started, the next steps?

    I am research the Sensei website, as this appears to have a great deal of user friendly learning opportunities.

    Thank you again for the above and in advance for your help.

    Friday, October 30, 2015 2:48 PM
  • Tebbe --

    Thank you for your kind comments!  And thank you for asking my advice.

    If you are interested in hands on training via eLearning, you could sign up to take our "Sensei PPM eCoach" class.  This self-paced training will walk you through all of the best practices for using Microsoft Project to manage a project through every step of the project management life cycle.  If you are more interesting in reading a book, you could purchase our "Proactive PPM with Microsoft Project 2013 for Project Server and Project Online" book.  The book includes downloadable practice files.

    Either way will help you to do better with using Microsoft Project to manage your projects.  Hope this helps.


    Dale A. Howard [MVP]

    Friday, October 30, 2015 3:03 PM
    Moderator
  • Thank you Mr. Howard. I will be research more of the e-learning and then determine best route for me based on time available.
    Friday, October 30, 2015 8:27 PM
  • This is perfect! Thank you!
    Wednesday, March 20, 2019 7:45 PM