One of the key aspects of Project Management is tracking, and this article describes how to go about tracking a project in Project 2003/2007 after the tasks have been scheduled and resources added. Tracking is the crucial stage in the life of a project when you record what actually happens against what was planned to happen.

Before tracking you'll need to create your project plan schedule, complete with tasks and task relationships. Then you add resources to the plan either directly or from a shared resource pool. Lastly you assign resources to the tasks and ensured any resource conflicts such as over allocations are resolved. You may then have reviewed the plan with colleagues or other interested parties and made any necessary adjustments before arriving at the final version. Once this is done you can start the tracking process, but first you need to save a baseline.

A project baseline is the yardstick against which you'll be tracking actual project progress. To save a baseline, choose Tools, Tracking, Set Baseline. In the Set Baseline panel click OK to save a baseline for all tasks. Project saves all the task and resource data under the baseline. If you subsequently change some project details such as revising the task schedule or reassigning some resources, you can save a new baseline over the original. Should you wish to keep a record of your baseline changes you can save up to ten separate baselines. However for this article we'll stick to saving one baseline.

If you then switch to the Tracking Gantt view you'll now see two sets of task bars, one set shows the baseline in grey and the other shows your original tasks. You might notice that the Tracking Gantt view shows critical path formatting, so tasks in the critical path are red and others are blue. Because the baseline has been saved, the grey bars on the Gantt Chart will not change position.

However if you reschedule your plan, change a task duration or reassign resources, the original tasks will change position as the schedule changes. So you may see your project plan tasks appear displaced from the baseline tasks. If your original plan becomes too far removed from the baseline you might then decide to start again and save a new baseline. Once you are happy with the project plan and saved baseline, you can then start tracking. To do this you turn on the tracking toolbar by choosing View, Toolbars, Tracking.

You track the actual project progress task by task, and record percentage completion by using the tracking toolbar. To do this, select the first task on the left hand table. Suppose this task has been fully completed. In the tracking toolbar click the 100% button. Your see in the Tracking Gantt view the task is marked darker red or blue and the percentage completion is shown to the right of the task.

If you switch back to the Gantt Chart view you'll see that the baseline does not show, but the tracking shows as a dark bar in the task, without the percentage figure showing. You can update the percentage completion of each task in either view, but you'll see more detail in the Tracking Gantt view. The tracking toolbar contains buttons for 25%, 50% and 100% completion. If you want to record a different figure, with the chosen task selected, on the tracking toolbar choose the Update Task button (just to the right of the 100% button) and in the Update Task panel enter the actual percentage value and click OK to complete.

You then proceed through the tasks and update progress as appropriate. You might update some tasks at a time and update others later as the project progresses.

Behind the scenes in Project, all the tracking information is saved. This lets you show tracking analysis in different ways, for example in a table. To show the tracking table on the left side of the display, choose View, Table Tracking. You can see the table shows tracking details for each task, and should you need to do this, you can export the table to Excel for further analysis. You can continue tracking with any table showing and the data will update in the table and on the Gantt Chart as appropriate.

Hopefully this brief look at tracking a project plan in Microsoft Project has given you a glimpse of the many features available in this application. One way to learn much more about Project is to attend a training course. The best ones are hands on and full of real life project examples.