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Microsoft Project 2010 : Setting Up a Project Budget - Reviewing Cost Information

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4/25/2012 4:27:25 PM
As you planned your circus retreat, the project sponsor made it very clear that the maximum price tag is $15,000, and hinted that less than $12,000 would be even better. Now that you've added tasks, resources, and any associated costs, it's time to see whether the retreat costs $12,000, $15,000, or a value that isn't as funny as the retreat's entertainment. Here's where you really start to see the value of entering costs in Project.

In this section, you'll learn how to review total planned costs for all project tasks. By extension, you get a handy forecast of your overall project costs. You'll also learn how to review planned costs for tasks, resources, and assignments, so you can analyze costs at the level of granularity you need.

Frequently Asked Question: Fixed Costs vs. Cost Resources

When should I use a fixed cost instead of a cost resource?

Before Project 2007, when cost resources were but a gleam in Bill Gates's eye, the fixed cost field was the best way to include travel costs, printing costs, and other nonlabor or nonmaterial costs. Now cost resources are the best way to show such costs. Really, fixed costs are now useful only when you're working with a file created in a previous version of Project that doesn't have cost resources. Otherwise, convert those fixed costs to cost resources to take advantage of what cost resources offer.

Unlike fixed costs, you can assign multiple cost resources to a single task, making different types of costs easier to see and track. Moreover, you can assign the same cost resource to multiple tasks, even if they have different cost amounts. Say you have a cost resource like Lodging that applies to several tasks. You create just the one cost resource and then assign it to the various tasks, entering different cost amounts for each assignment. You can see total cost information for the Lodging cost resource so you can tell how much your team is spending on those posh suites during business trips. Even if you do have an oddball cost on a single task, it's a good practice to handle costs consistently throughout a project.

If you plan to use budget resources to compare budgeted and planned costs, then cost resources are better than fixed costs. Budget resources don't take fixed costs into account; they summarize only costs associated with resources assigned to tasks.

1. Seeing Overall Project Costs

When you first compare your project plan's performance against the budget, start with a quick bottom-line snapshot. A single number for your project's planned cost tells you whether you need to delve into cost containment or can sit back and relax. This section shows a few ways to come up with that top-level number.

Remember the garbage in/garbage out maxim. Your total project cost forecast is only as reliable as the information you provide. At this stage of the game, many costs and durations are estimates. Still, because these estimates affect your budget, it pays to be as accurate as possible. To forecast total project cost reliably, make sure you have the following information in your project plan:

  • Costs, including hourly rates and per-use costs, for all work resources assigned to tasks

  • Costs for all material resources assigned to tasks

  • Costs for all cost resources assigned to tasks

  • Any additional fixed costs for tasks

1.1. Viewing the total project cost in the project summary task

The project summary task is a great place to spot the total planned project cost, because it rolls up the totals for all tasks and you can keep it visible in the first row of the project task list. To use the project summary task to see rolled-up cost values, follow these steps:

  1. With a task-oriented view like the Gantt Chart visible, choose Format→Show/Hide and then turn on the Project Summary Task checkbox.

    A new row appears at the very top of the table in most views. A project summary node also appears in the Network Diagram view. The project summary task rolls up the column values in the current table. For example, in the Entry table, the typical table shown with the Gantt Chart view, you can see the total duration, the start date, and the finish date for the entire project.

    For columns that aren't supple enough to roll up, like the Predecessor or Resource Names columns, the corresponding project summary cells remain blank.

  2. Apply the Cost table by choosing the View tab. In the Data section, click the down arrow to the right of Tables and then, from the drop-down list, choose Cost.

    The project summary task shows the total cost for the project in its Total Cost cell. It also shows rolled-up values for Baseline Cost, Cost Variance, Actual Cost, and Remaining Cost in other columns.

    Values in the Fixed Cost column don't roll up into outline summary tasks or the project summary task. This behavior has a purpose: It's so you can enter a fixed cost for a project phase or the project as a whole.


If you spend most of your time in the Gantt Chart view and its sidekick, the Entry table, consider adding the Cost column to the Entry table. Right-click the table, and then, on the shortcut menu, choose Insert Column. In the field name drop-down list that appears, choose Cost.

1.2. Viewing the total project cost in Project Statistics

To get to the single number that indicates your total project costs, use the Project Statistics dialog box as follows:

  1. Choose Project→Properties→Project Information.

    The Project Information dialog box appears.

  2. At the bottom of the dialog box, click the Statistics button.

    The Project Statistics dialog box appears, as shown in Figure 1.

  3. In the Cost column, review the value in the Current field, which is the forecasted cost for the project as currently planned.

    After you set a baseline the Baseline fields are also filled in. When you start tracking progress, the Actual and Remaining fields have values, too.

Figure 1. The Project Statistics dialog box includes bottom-line project information that lets you and others gauge the most important aspects of the project as a whole: when the project starts, when it's scheduled to finish, how much work is involved, and how much it's forecasted to cost.

1.3. Viewing total project cost in the Project Summary report

You can get overall project cost information in a printed text report. Choose Project→Reports→Reports, and then double-click Overview. In the Overview Reports dialog box, double-click Project Summary. A preview appears of the Project Summary report, which shows the same information available in the Project Statistics dialog box.

Use the Project Summary report for status reports, especially since you can print this report but you can't print the Project Statistics dialog box. Click Print to get a hard copy. 

2. Seeing Costs for Tasks, Resources, and Assignments

Now that you've seen the big picture of forecasted costs, you're probably champing at the bit to learn how to find task costs when all resources are assigned and where to look for the total cost of one resource's assignments. This section shows how to break costs down to individual assignments—that is, how much it costs for one particular resource working on one particular task. Use one of the following methods to drill down into costs:

  • Total cost for a task. First apply the Cost table (View→Data→Tables→Cost) to a task view, and then, in the Total Cost column, check the value. Or insert the Cost field (right-click the table and choose Insert Column) into any task view, and then check the Cost value for the task. In both cases, the Cost value is the scheduled (planned) cost for the task, including all assigned resources (work, material, and cost) and any fixed costs. 


    Depending on the table you display, you may see the Total Cost or the Cost column. However, both columns show the same field: Cost. The Cost table simply uses "Total Cost" as the column title.

  • Total cost for a resource. Display the Resource Sheet, and then insert the Cost field (right-click the table and choose Insert Column) somewhere in the table. The Cost value for a given resource is the total cost for the resource for all assigned tasks, based on the standard rate, overtime rate, cost/use, or other specified resource cost. This technique is perfect when you want to see how much you're spending for a specific cost resource, such as travel or training.

  • Total cost for an assignment. Display the Task Usage view or Resource Usage view. As usual, you can either apply the Cost table or insert the Cost field in the Usage table (or whatever table you want to use), as shown in Figure 2.

Figure 2. In the Resource Usage view, the Cost field in the task assignment row represents the cost for the individual assignment. The cost in the resource name row represents all assignment costs rolled up to give you a total for all tasks assigned to the resource.

In the Task Usage view, the cost in the resource name row represents the cost for the individual assignment—what it costs to have the resource assigned to the task. The cost in the task name row represents all assignment costs rolled up to give you a total for the task.


You can transfer cost information from your Project file to an Excel file for further analysis . Whether you copy and paste fields from Project into Excel or export Project information into an Excel spreadsheet, you can apply formulas, crunch numbers, and create whiz-bang charts and graphs until the cows (or stakeholders) come home.

3. Adding Custom Budget Information

The Cost field is great while you're in the project planning phase and setting up cost information to compare against your allocated budget. In this section, you'll learn how to create your very own type of cost field. You may have specialized cost or budget information you'd like to see in your project, like budget targets for key tasks and phases. To create a custom cost field for these types of costs, follow these steps:

  1. To create a custom field without adding it to a table, choose Project→Properties→Custom Fields.

    The Custom Fields dialog box appears.

    To insert a custom Cost field in a table, right-click the table and choose Insert Column on the shortcut menu. In the field name drop-down list, choose a field, such as Cost2. Right-click the new column and then, on the shortcut menu, choose Custom Fields to open the Custom Fields dialog box.

  2. Select the Task option for a custom cost field to be used in task views. Select the Resource option if the new field is for resource views.

    A task cost field represents just task costs, while a resource cost field works only with resource costs. If you add a custom cost field to a table, Project automatically selects the custom field in the Field list and selects the Task or Resource option, depending on whether a task or resource view is visible.

  3. In the Type box, select Cost, and then select one of the Cost fields that isn't already in use.

    The Field box lists all the custom cost fields, Cost1 through Cost10, as shown in Figure 3. Project displays custom fields along with their designated names.

    The alias for a renamed custom field appears as the column title when you insert the field into a table. The alias and built-in name both appear together in other places. For example, if you rename the Cost2 field to "Approved Cost Target," then the field appears in the field name listings as "Approved Cost Target (Cost2)" as well as "Cost2 (Approved Cost Target)."

  4. In the Custom Fields dialog box, click OK.

    The cost field is ready for you to use in tables. If you haven't already added the custom cost field to the table, see step 1. The box on Programming Your Custom Cost Fields explains ways you can make cost fields do tricks.

Figure 3. Although Project doesn't force you to rename a custom field, in the Custom Fields dialog box, an alias is your only indication that the field is spoken for. Select the task, and then click Rename to rename the cost to something like Approved Cost Target.

Power Users' Clinic: Programming Your Custom Cost Fields

Custom fields can do more than go by a different name. You can tell them to calculate values in certain ways or provide hints about valid values. here's a quick overview of what you can do:

  • Calculate values with formulas. You can create a formula to calculate the contents of other fields and display the result in a custom cost field—for example, the variance between the planned cost and the target cost.

  • Provide values with lookup tables. You can create a lookup table with a list of cost values to choose from when entering values in a custom cost field.

  • Roll up values. You can tell Project how it should roll up values in a custom cost field into task or group summary rows—for example, by taking the maximum amount of the group, averaging the amounts, or adding all amounts in the group together.

  • Roll down values. You can specify whether Project should distribute the value in the custom cost field in the time-phased portion of assignment rows in a usage view.

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