Sunday, October 16, 2022

Closing A Project with MS Project

A project, unlike an operation, is a temporary endeavor. Because of this fact, every project will have a beginning and an end. There can be multiple projects launched within a program life cycle or a product life cycle. It’s also possible that a project can be specifically chartered within a portfolio, or a greenfield project can be launched independently by an organization. Regardless, a project always will have a definitive end.

The role of a project manager (PM) is not only to plan, execute, and track a project, but that of closing a project properly. I see many PMs use the MS Project software tool to work on a project over its life cycle, but most don’t use MS Project to close the project.

MS Project actually provides a number of functionalities with which a PM can close a project. There are inherent and intrinsic good reasons for closing a project, such as:

  • Informs the stakeholders that the project is closed,
  • Releases the project resources to be used for other organizational initiatives,
  • Helps the current project team on the final performance of the project,
  • Archives documentation that can help as Lessons Learned for other PMs in the organization and for future projects,
  • Allows the template from the closed project to be (re)used in other projects.

Let’s explore the various activities involved in closing a project using MS Project.

Conduct a Variance Analysis

This is usually the first thing a PM should do. The results of the variance analysis are included in the Final Report of the project. Variance and Variance Analysis are two separate, but intertwined terms.

Variance is the quantifiable difference from the baseline or a known boundary.

Variance analysis, on the other hand, is a technique with which one can know the cause and degree of difference between latest baseline and actual performance. 

With variance analysis, you can know which activities or work packages in the project performed according to the plan and which occurred off the plan. The MS Project software comes with a number of baselines, which can be seen by going to Project tab > Schedule group, and executing the Set Baseline… command.

There are 11 baselines in toto, and in your project, you may have four, five, or even more baselines. As noted in the definition of variance analysis, a comparison is always with respect to the latest baseline

There are a number of variance fields available in MS Project, which are listed in the below table. 

Did you notice that in MS Project, negative is considered good, whereas positive is considered bad? 

It’s counterintuitive when you compare other project management variances with earned value management (EVM) or earned schedule management (ESM), but that’s how the software calculates.

Let’s check a few fields in the above table to see how they are in-built into the MS Project software. The default Entry table of MS Project doesn’t show various variance fields, although you can add those fields/columns into the table and get the displayed view.

To see the start and finish variances, switch to Variance table by going to View tab > Data group > Tables drop-down menu. 

By switching to this table, you will see the populated fields for Start and Finish Variances for the activities, work packages, and the entire project. 

As shown in the above figure:

  • For the work package Requirements and Analysis, Start Variance = 0 days and Finish Variance = 7 days.
  • For the activity PRD Preparation, under the above work package, Start Variance = 2 days and Finish Variance = 5 days.
  • For the activity PRD Approval, again under the above work package, Start Variance = 6 days and Finish Variance = 7 days.

Similarly, you can see the work variance by switching to the Work table and the cost variance by switching to Cost table.

Inactivate the Unnecessary Tasks

It’s possible that during a project life cycle, some planned activities are never executed. For example, it may be that some planned meetings didn’t materialize, planned tasks were never started, or your team didn’t execute a set of risk mitigation tasks because the risk(s) didn’t occur.

If you kept some of these tasks instead of deleting them because of an alternate plan of action, changing scope, or stakeholders modifying their needs and expectations, you are left with a number of unnecessary tasks. These should be inactivated as you close the project. For this purpose, you can apply the Unstarted Tasks built-in filter by going to View tab > Data group > Filter drop-down menu. Choose the More Filters… option and click the Apply button. 

With the Unstarted Tasks filter applied, the tasks, which are not at all started, will be visible in your project view.

You can select these filtered tasks to be inactivated by executing the Inactivate command under Task view > Schedule tab. You can also inactivate by right-clicking on the task or on multiple tasks, and selecting the Inactivate Task command from the popped-up menu. 

As shown above, two tasks, “Build script files for automation” and “Migration and backup,” have been inactivated.

Set the Remaining Duration to Zero

When you close a project, it’s also best practice to set the remaining duration of the incomplete tasks to zero.

In this case, we will do this by utilizing the Incomplete Tasks built-in filter, which can be selected by going to View tab > Data group > Filter drop-down menu. You can also select this filter from the More Filters… option, as we have seen earlier. 

To set the remaining duration to zero for the tasks, you can use the Tracking table view. Access by going to View tab > Data group > Table drop-down menu. This is depicted in the below figure. Do note that in Tracking table, the Incomplete Tasks filter has been applied and highlighted.


Now for the two tasks, UAT Testing Cycle – 1 and UAT Testing Cycle – 2, highlighted in the above figure, we have a certain amount of remaining duration (noted in the Rem. Dur. field). You can manually edit the remaining duration to 0 days. After you make the changes, the updated view will be as shown below. 

Let’s interpret the changes we’ve made:

  • As you edit the remaining duration to 0 days, the % Complete field (noted as % Comp.) becomes 100%. Earlier it was 50% for the concerned tasks.
  • The cumulative percentage complete for the summary task, Product Testing Cycle, goes from 86% to 95%.
  • There is no impact on actual cost and actual field. However, the % Work Complete field will be changed to 100%.

At this stage, it should be pointed out that the Incomplete Task filter used for this case is different from the Unstarted Task filter used earlier while inactivating the tasks.

  • Incomplete Task filter: For this filter, the % Complete OR the % Work Complete field values do not equal 100%.
  • Unstarted Task filter: For this filter, there is no Actual Start value for the task concerned. In other word, it equals NA (Not Applicable).

Set the Milestones to 100% Complete

When closing a project, you should also set the milestones to 100% complete. If a number of milestones in a project are incomplete, it’s difficult to say that the project is done and also difficult to get approval of project completion from the stakeholders and/or sponsor(s).

To view the milestones in a project, apply the Milestones filter by going to View tab > Data group > Filter drop-down menu. Next, set the % Complete field to 100% complete in the Tracking table, or by switching to the Entry table. In the below figure, I’ve switched to the Entry table and have applied the filter. 

Now, the selected milestone can be set to 100% complete by executing the 100% Complete command under Task view > Schedule group. 

In the above figure, the milestone has been set to 100% complete with the indicator column displaying a blue tick mark.

Create and Save a Project Template *** UPDATED ***

Some project management practitioners save their current project as a template, so that they can use the work breakdown structure future projects and/or can put such into the organization’s learning repository.

To do so, go the File tab, which takes you to the backstage view of MS Project. From there, select Export > Save Project as File > Project Template and finally Save As. 

When you click on Save As command shown above,  a dialog box will pop-up with the file name. Save as a Project Template in .mpt format.

In the above figure, the file name shown is “Closing Project.mpt” and the type is Microsoft Project Template (or .MPT format). When you hit the Save button above, another dialog box pops up. 

In the above Save As Template dialog box, you can choose to discard the data that you don’t want to be part of the template and click on the Save button to save the template.

Communicate the Performance *** NEW ***

MS Project comes with a number of built-in reports which help to inform on the performance of a project and allow for easy communication with stakeholders during project closure. For example, considering schedule performance, it may be a good idea to utilize the following:

  • The Tracking Gantt view of the project, exported to a pdf format, to show the variances visually for the tasks
  • Earned Value related schedule performance measures such as Schedule Variance (SV) and Schedule Performance Index (SPI) (generate through Earned Value Report functionality)

For cost performance, you can use:

  • Cost Overruns report, which shows Task Cost Variance and Resource Cost Variance with cost overrun and/or underrun graphically
  • Earned Value related cost performance measures such as Cost Variance (CV) and Cost Performance Index (CPI), among others.
  • Cash Flow report, which shows the project’s cumulative cost and the cost per quarter


When closing a project, a project manager must perform and/or participate in a number of activities such as closing contracts with the vendors, finalizing any open claims, confirming that the deliverables are the latest and have been formally accepted by the customers, releasing resources, etc.

This article primarily focusses on what a PM should do to close within the MS Project tool. It’s possible that a project can be terminated even before completion if it’s not in alignment with the business needs. In such a case, a PM must close the project formally and can use the above procedures to do so with MS Project.


This article was first published by on 5th April, 2022. This is a refined version.


[1] Online Course: MS Project Live Lessons, by Satya Narayan Dash

[2] Online Course: PMP Live Lessons, by Satya Narayan Dash

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