Deadlines in Microsoft Project are a handy way to alert you to problems in your schedule, but they are often overlooked. Project managers will often try to create a deadline date for a task by setting a task’s start date or finish date. But by entering the start and finish date this will set a date constraint (or restriction) on the task.
If you want a task to start or finish on a certain date but want to retain the flexibility of the schedule, you can enter a deadline date. Deadlines can be added to any task in the project schedule, and act as an indicator when tracking project progress. They can be added to important milestones or specific tasks on the critical path.
Deadline dates appear on the Gantt chart and indicated by a green arrow. If an activity exceeds its’ deadline a red indicator appears next to the deadline on the activities table. Deadlines act as a ‘tripwire’ warning system if a deadline is exceeded it can lead to non- critical tasks becoming critical.
Let’s take a closer look at inserting deadlines into a Microsoft Project schedule and explore what happens when we miss a deadline.
In Figure 1, we have our demonstration project ‘Motor Model’. Our schedule has two main paths; ‘experimental testing’ and ‘modeling.’ These two paths join in the motor ‘model modal analysis’ summary task.
We have milestones for three activities; ‘experimentation complete’, ‘model modal analysis’ and ‘project completion’ which indicate our forecasted completion dates. We are going to enter commitment completion dates (deadlines) for the same three activities, therefore, we will have:
- an ‘experimentation complete’ deadline
- a ‘model modal analysis’ complete deadline
- a ‘project completion’ date deadline
By highlighting the ‘experimentation complete’ activity and selecting the ‘TASK’ tab from the ribbons group, we click on ‘Information’ to insert our first deadline on the ‘experimentation complete’ milestone, as in Figure 2.
From the ‘Task Information,’ we click on ‘Advanced’ and select September 28th as our ‘Deadline’ date, as in Figure 3 below.
And, in Figure 4, we have our deadline which is set two days after our milestone ‘experimentation complete’ forecasted date. By setting our deadline date two days after our forecasted date, if there is a delay it will have a negative impact on the succeeding activity of ‘compare experimental & analytical data’, acting as a warning that our project is behind schedule.
By following the same process in Figures 2 & 3 we enter our ‘model modal analysis’ complete deadline and ‘project completion date’ deadline, as displayed in Figure 5.
By progressing our schedule as in Figure 6, we can see what happens if a deadline is missed.
In our schedule, we have removed some of the labelings so that we have a clearer view of our deadline arrows, in the Gantt chart. In the indicators column, on the activities table, there are two red indicators the warning signs that the ‘experimentation complete’ milestone and ‘model modal analysis complete’ milestone deadlines were both missed.
However even though we missed two deadlines, our project is still on track to complete on time as indicated by the ‘project completion date’ milestone and Microsoft Project deadline.
Deadlines in Microsoft Project allow the scheduler to keep an eye on the forecasted project completion date in relation to the committed project completion date. In our demonstration, we added deadlines to our important milestones but they can be added to any task throughout the schedule. Adding deadlines can give valuable scheduling information, by signaling when activities are late and help to ensure the project remains on track.