Friday, June 21, 2024

Planned Vs. Actual Percent Complete – Building A Solid Histogram Report with MS Project

In the earlier article, we learned the Format () function. This function is used to format the Planned % Numbers given when you plan, baseline and track your project. In this article, we will learn how to build a histogram report using the available functionality in MS Project. 

As noted in the previous article, your stakeholders will not see the data, but the report. Hence, it’s important that you learn it well. 

Current Project Case

The current project is very similar to one we have had earlier in the article of Planned and Actual Percent Complete with MS Project, with a slight modification. 

As shown above:

  • Under Phase – 1, 
    • Work Packages A1, B1 and C1 are 100% complete – both planned and actual. 
    • Work Package D1 has been delayed and it’s actually 33% complete, though per plan, it should have been completed.  
    • Phase – 1 end milestone is 50% complete.
  • Under Phase – 2, 
    • Work Packages A2 and B2 are 75% and 50% complete, respectively. Ideally, per plan, they should have been completed.
    • Work Package C1 started late when compared with the baseline (baseline date is shown in the left column) and it’s actually 14% complete, though per plan, it should be 20% completed.  

It’s important to note that the status date is set as September 15, 2025 (9/15/25). It’s highlighted above. 

At this stage, I’d strongly recommend that you read the article of Planned Vs. Actual Percent Complete to get the best value out of this article. 

Create A Fresh Histogram

We will start to create a histogram by going to the Report tab > New Report > Chart, as shown below. 

It’ll pop-up a message to give a name to the report. Provide the name as “Planned Vs Actual - Histogram Report”. A dummy report will be auto-created. You can change the name to “Planned Vs. Actual Percent Complete - Histogram Report” to have more clarity. 


As shown, we have three fields in the above dummy report – Actual Work, Remaining Work and Work. We will remove these fields and have out fields (Number 3 and % Complete) added to it. 

Remove the Default Fields in the Histogram

To remove the fields, select the Chart Area, right click and choose “Show Field List” command. Next from the Field List pane, select the fields and remove them by using “Remove Field” command. You can also deselect the fields from fields available under the “Work” section. 

Add Our Fields into the Histogram

Now that we have removed the fields, we have to add our own custom fields. We will add two fields:

  • Number3 custom field: It’ll be available under Number > Custom.
  • % Complete field: It’s available under Number. 

Both of the above fields are Task related fields. With it, the histogram will be created by taking Number3 and % Complete field.  

And don’t forget to change the Outline Level to Level 3 from Level 1. Because our work packages are at Level 3!

Next, change the labels of these fields to be displayed on the report. Do the following changes:

  • Number3 will be changed to Planned % Complete.
  • % Complete will be changed to Actual % Complete.

This can be done by selecting the respective field, right clicking and choosing “Field Settings”. In the popped-up message, provide the labeling. This is shown below. 

Add and Format the Data Labels

Next, we add the data labels to the columns of the histogram. There are two columns for the two fields of “Planned % Complete” and “Actual % Complete”. These are represented in blue and orange color, respectively. For these we have the data labels, i.e., the % value. 

To add the data labels for the columns in the histogram, select any column, right click and choose “Add Data Labels” command. This should be done for both types of columns. Once you are done, the report will come as shown below. 

As you can see above, there are data labels added for both Planned % Complete and Actual % Complete. But for the former, the % notation next to the number is missing. For this purpose, we will provide the formatting. To do so, select the Planned % Complete Data Labels, right click and choose “Format Data Labels” command.

In the shown Format Data Labels pane (below), select the Label options and then select the Custom category for the Number. This is shown below. 

It’s important to note that the category of label here is custom and type given is “#,##0%”. This way the proper formatting will happen for the labels with respect to the Planned % Complete field, which is shown below.

As shown above, the formatting for Planned % Complete field is clearly shown with % in the notations for the blue colored columns in the histogram. 

In addition, we have to change the data series overlap and gap width so that there is a clearer visualization. The data series are with respect to the columns. To do so, select the Planned % Complete Data Labels, right click and choose the “Format Data Series” command. Then provide the needed value, which is shown below.

Isn’t much clearer now than before?

Change the Color Coding 

Our next and final step is to change the colors for the columns in the histogram. For the Planned % Complete column of the histogram, I’ve taken green color, whereas for the Actual % Complete I’ve taken the purple color. This can be done by going to the Task tab > Font group > Theme colors command.  

In addition, we will also make the labels bold and respective color coded. I’ll also change the rotation of the X-axis to 45%, which can be done by selecting the X-axis (the work package notations), right click and choosing the Format Axis option. 

As shown above, the custom angle given is -45 degree. 

Final Touches

Our final histogram comes as shown below. 


This can be then transported to a PDF file, an image file or a power point presentation. For example, one can use the export to PDF function of MS Project using the backstage view. 


When exported to the PDF, we will have the following view. 

Last Words

That’s it! It might look like a number of steps, but if you go through sincerely and practice a few times, you can easily create this report in a matter of minutes. 

MS Project is a complex tool, but comes with a lot of powerful functionalities. The reporting functionalities given are quite good and you can use them to generate the report for Planned Vs. Actual % Complete. 

I receive a number of questions on the creation of this histogram. I hope this article helps you to prepare the needed histogram anytime in your project planning and tracking. 


[1] Online Video Course: MS Project Live Lessons, Guaranteed Learning or Your Money Back 

[2] Article: Understanding Planned Vs. Actual Percent Complete with MS Project

[3] Article: Planned Vs. Actual Percent Complete – Understanding the Format () Function in MS Project

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