In Microsoft Project, you can create custom fields to organize tasks with custom data. Custom fields allow you to create a new column to add metadata to your project. This can be very useful for tracking custom attributes. For example, if you’re working with subcontractors, you can create a custom field to track who will be working. If your tasks take place at different work sites, you can create a custom field to track location.

Once you’ve created a custom field, you can apply it to the table like any other column. For each task, you can use the field to attribute custom data, such as subcontractors or location. Once assigned, you can even use this data to group, sort, and filter the task list.

In this article, we will look at how to create custom fields in Microsoft Project. Once created, we will also go over how to use custom data to further organize tasks. The following examples are from Microsoft Project 2021 Professional – but the process is the same for all desktop versions of Project.

Creating Custom Fields

To create a custom field in Project, right click within any displaying column. Within the dropdown menu, select Custom Fields. The Custom Fields window will open, allowing you to create a variety of different fields for different types of data. 

First, select what type of data to create the field for: Task, Resource, or Project. This is the type of data with which the field can be used. If you create a Resource field, for example, you will only be able to use it to assign values to resources. In this example, I’ll create a custom field to track the subcontractors who will be working on the tasks. Because I’ll be assigning values to tasks, I’ll select the Task option.

Next, under Type, you can use the dropdown menu to choose a specific field type. The field type determines what kind of data you can assign with the field.

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Custom Field Types

Microsoft Project allows you to create the following types of fields:

  • Cost: This field type allows you to enter currency data. This can be useful for tracking costs separate from the assigned resources – such as during risk evaluations. These fields will roll up task values to the summary level, giving a summation of the total costs.

     

  • Date: This field type allows you to enter in any custom dates for your task. Like other date fields, these will roll up task data to the summary level.

     

  • Duration: This field type allows you to enter in any duration or work values for your task. Much like the standard Duration field, this field will roll up total durations to the summary level.

     

  • Finish: This field type allows you to enter in custom finish dates for tasks – such as the optimistic/pessimistic finishes. Again, these values will roll up to the summary level, which will show the latest finish date for all tasks below.

     

  • Flag: This field type allows you to create a column with a Yes/No field. You can use this field type to track any binary data – such as which tasks are proposed and which are approved.

     

  • Number: This field type allows you to enter in any numeric value for your tasks – such as material or resource amounts required. These values will roll up to the summary level, much like Cost fields.

     

  • Start: This field type allows you to enter in custom start dates for tasks – such as the optimistic/pessimistic starts. These values will roll up to the summary level, which will show the earliest start date for all tasks below.

     

  • Text: This field type allows you to enter in any custom text value. You can use this field type to track things like Subcontractors or Phases.

     

  • Outline Code: This field type allows you to create a new outline structure. The Outline structure provides different ways to view data hierarchies. For example, you could create an Outline code to organize resources by location.

For the Cost, Date, Duration, Finish, Start, and Outline Code types, you can create 10 custom fields each. For the Flag type, you can create up to 20 fields, and for the Text type, you can create up to 30 fields. 

In this example, I’ll create a Text type field. That way, we can type in the name of the subcontractor for each task. With the type selected, you’ll be able to choose from any of the available fields in the box below. Choose any unused field from the list – in this case, I’ll select the first field, Text1. To differentiate this field from others, you can select Rename and enter in a new field header. I’ll name this column Subcontractor, and select OK.

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Next, you can choose to add custom attributes for the field as well. These will determine how the field will work. You can choose between three different options here:

  • None: This allows you to make a blank column where you can enter in any text data. For a subcontractor column, this field type would require you to type in the name of each subcontractor for each task. The downside to using this type is that users may misspell a subcontractor’s name. This will affect the ability to group and sort by this data later on.

     

  • Lookup: This allows you to create a lookup table for the column. Essentially, this option lets you create a list of items to choose from for each task. For subcontractors, you can create a preset list of subcontractors and select one for each task.

     

  • Formula: This option allows you to create a formula to calculate the contents of the custom field. Here, you can create a formula based on existing data in the project. For example, let’s say that you chose to create a Cost column to calculate the taxes for any materials used in the project. With this option, you could create a formula that multiplies the resource cost values by a specific percentage for tax. This type is less often used for Text fields.

In this example, I’ll create a Lookup table for the custom field. This will ensure more accuracy when grouping and filtering later on.

Using Lookup Tables

To define the Lookup table, select Lookup. Here, you can create a list of values for selection within the custom field.

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In this example, I’ll create a value for each subcontractor. To add a value, select the first empty row under Value. For each item, you will define a Value and a Description. The Value is the option that will be available from the list, while the Description can provide more information about the value. I’ll add three subcontractors here. For each, I’ll set the value as an abbreviation of the subcontractor’s name and the description as the full name:

  • BURCH – Burch Concrete Solutions

     

  • SCI – Simons Construction

     

  • ELECT – Elect Electrical

Once added, you can move these values around using the Move arrows, or Delete any options that aren’t needed.

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The lookup table provides you with a few additional options. 

  • Use a value from the table as a default entry for the field allows you to choose one of the list items to be the default. The default will not automatically assign to tasks. Instead, it will just be highlighted in bold within the list. If you choose this option, select the value from the list to set as the default and select Set Default.

     

  • Display order for the lookup table allows you to choose what order the list values appear. To keep the sort order that is currently set, keep By row number selected. The other options, Sort ascending/descending, will sort the values in alphabetical order.

     

  • Allow additional items to be entered will give one more option for the column list: the ability to enter in any custom value. Basically, instead of having to choose a list value, you could type in a custom value. Any value added in this way will automatically be added to the lookup table for further use. In this example, I’ll turn this on. Now, if we hire more subcontractors in the future, we will be able to more easily add them as a list option.

Once finished, select Close to exit the window.

At the bottom of the Custom Fields window, you’ll find a few more options for your field. Here, you can adjust how values summarize, calculate, and display. I’ll leave all the remaining options as they are and select OK.

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Assigning Values using Custom Fields

With the custom field created, you can now use it to assign values to your tasks. To use your field, first add it to the table by selecting Add New Column. Type in the name of the field you created and select it from the list to add it to the table.

For each task, double click within the custom field cell to assign a value. In this example, the created lookup table will appear. For each task, you can choose one of the data values from the list. Once assigned, you can use keyboard shortcuts to fill down assignment values to other tasks.

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Beyond using the values from the lookup table, you can also enter in new values due to the option selected earlier. In this example, let’s say that we hire an additional subcontractor after creating the column. Instead of choosing a subcontractor from the list, you can simply type in the name of a new subcontractor. Once added, this value will now be an option within the list for any other task. You can do this for any values you need to add to the lookup table in the future.

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Organizing Data using Custom Fields 

With custom values assigned to your tasks, you can now use this data for further organization. You can use custom fields the same as any column to group, sort and filter project data. The easiest way to organize data by the custom field is to select the dropdown arrow in the column header.

Sorting

From this dropdown menu, you can choose to Sort data by the assigned values in ascending and descending order. If you make use of Summary tasks, this option will not remove the tasks from the summaries. Instead, it will reorder them where they are in the hierarchy.

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Grouping

From this dropdown, you can also quickly group values by selecting Group on this field. This option will remove the tasks from their summaries and instead group them by the assigned custom value. The program will create colored grouping bands for each custom value. Every task assigned to that value will appear under the grouping band. For subcontractors, I can now view the distribution of assignments for each.

If you ever want to remove the grouping, select the column’s dropdown arrow and select No Group. The tasks will return to their respective Summary Task layers.

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Filtering

This menu also allows you to filter by values. Under Filters, you’ll see each custom value with a check box beside it. By default, all options are checked – meaning you can see all assigned values. If you want to filter data to only see the tasks assigned one of these values, you can uncheck the boxes for the other values.

For example, I only want to see the tasks assigned to Simons Construction. If I deselect the checkboxes for all other options besides SCI, and then press OK, the project will filter those values out. Now, I’m only able to see the tasks assigned to this one subcontractor on the screen.

You can always turn this filter off by returning to the field’s dropdown menu and selecting the checkbox next to Select All. Once again, all values will appear on the screen.

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Beyond using this field’s dropdown menu, you can also use this custom field to adjust the project layout using the View menu. There, you can create new filters, highlights, or sorting displays using the custom values.

Summary

Microsoft Project’s custom fields allow you to track custom data within your Projects, Tasks, and Resources. Beyond the wide range of default columns available, these fields allow you to create new columns. This is especially useful when tracking project-specific information, such as subcontractors or locations. With custom fields, you can even organize tasks using grouping, sorting, and filtering. If the value you need is not currently available within the program, you no longer need to worry. Anything that you need to track within your project can be added and assigned using custom fields.

If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please use the comment section on the bottom of this page, and don’t forget to subscribe to our blog to get more scheduling tips & tricks directly in your inbox!

Lauren Hecker is a Microsoft Project, Primavera P6, and Oracle Primavera Cloud Instructor who teaches onsite and virtual scheduling courses. To see her next open enrollment course, please visit our calendar. To schedule an onsite or custom course, please contact us!

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