Microsoft Project Tutorial: Using Deadlines in Microsoft Project

Written By Andrew Makar

Professional Cat Herder and an Agile Enthusiast with a keen interest in putting PM theory into actual practice.

Learn how to set deadlines in Microsoft Project

One of the key lessons learned with Microsoft Project is to build a dynamic project schedule. A dynamic schedule is properly sequenced and is free of any task constraints.  As the project executes, the Start and Finish dates will adjust based on the actual start/finish and actual work/duration recorded in the schedule.  The benefit is project manager can assess changes to the project end date (via the critical path) without experiencing constraint errors.

If you’ve ever followed a “pick a date” approach to building a schedule, then you’ve likely built a constraint based schedule that results in errors when updating the project schedule.


Dynamic schedules don’t produce these errors.  The dates adjust based on the data entered into the plan without violating any constraints.   Ofcourse, it’d be great if management would accept a shifting schedule but most organizations expect a project to meet its projected delivery date on time,  within scope and within budget.  Regardless if they are scheduled or not, projects have an inherent “Must Finish Date” constraint as project teams make commitments to deliver.

 (Ok..Ok..its not a scheduling constraint per se but it is generated by management expectations)

 In order to meet a delivery date, there are specific tasks or milestones that must be completed on a specific date.  You might be tempted to manually pick the finish date and set a “Finish No Later Than” constraint.   However, a better approach is to ensure all tasks are set to “Finish As Soon As Possible” and use deadlines to trigger alerts to the project manager.

 In this tutorial, I’ll show you how to use the Deadlines feature in Microsoft Project 2013.

Step 1.  Build a high quality project schedule

I know..I know…easier said than done.

However, you need need a quality schedule that is ready to be baselined so you add the project deadlines.  If the schedule is missing effort estimates, lacks proper resource leveling and doesn’t reflect a realistic model of future events, then assigning deadlines will only complicates matters.

microsoft project deadlines complete schedule

Step 2: Insert the Deadline column

  1. Click on a column where you want the Deadline column to appear. In this example, I chose the Predecessors column in the Gantt Chart view.
  2. From the Ribbon menu, click Format – Insert Columns.
  3. Select the Deadline columnAlternatively, you can right click on the Predecessor column and select Insert column or use the Add Column feature in the far right column of the Gantt chart.

microsoft project tutorial deadline column

Step 3: Assign a Microsoft Project deadline to a task

  1. Scroll down to the desired task
  2. Click the Deadline cell on the selected task.
  3. Pick a date using the drop down calendar or manually type a date

In this example, I’ve assigned a deadline to the Analysis Complete task (task id 16) and a green downward pointing arrow appears in the Gantt chart.

microsoft project deadline indicator

Step 4: Execute the plan and track progress

As the project progresses, the project manager will track the actual starts and finishes. In this example, the Analysis Complete task was forecasted to complete by 3/13/14 but had a deadline of 3/31/14. If the task exceeded the deadline, a warning indicator will appear in the Gantt Chart view under the Indicator column.

microsoft project deadline analysis task

Deadlines can be added to any task in the project schedule.  You may want to add specific deadlines based on the tasks on the critical path or on important milestones.  The deadline gives you flexibility in setting a commitment date that isn’t tied directly to a baseline finish date.

In one of my projects, I want to launch my system in mid-April.  However, I’ve committed to my management team that I’ll launch the system by the end of April.  In this situation, I can baseline the schedule based on a April 15th launch date but I can set the deadline to be April 30th.  If I miss the April 15th date, I’ll still have to explain why I missed according to my plan but I still have 2 weeks of float before I miss my management commitment date.

By setting deadlines and watching for the indicators, I can track progress better and understand where I have additional problems in the schedule.  Think of the Microsoft Project deadline as a little “trip wire” that signal an alert when a deadline has passed.

Using Deadlines In Microsoft Project Video

The team at Webucator created a Microsoft Project video tutorial on how to add deadlines to your project schedule.  Webucator offers a variety of technology and business classes on an entire range of topics including Microsoft Project 2010 and 2013 training.

For more tutorials on how to use Microsoft Project, check out our list of Microsoft Project tutorials.

Analyze your Microsoft Project Schedule in Minutes

Stop struggling with Microsoft Project and Start Using It to Delivery Your Project

microsoft project schedule analyzer

Learn how to:

  • Slice and dice Microsoft Project data with over 40 custom filters and highlights
  • Run the Schedule Quality Analyzer based on DCMA standards
  • Project Metrics Analyzer provides push button metrics
  • Custom VBA Macros to analyze your schedule and produce meaningful project metrics
  • Bonus #1 Are you ready to baseline checklist?
  • Bonus #2 How to build a 4 week task window tutorial

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