One thing people often ask for in Microsoft Project Desktop classes is how to customise a project schedule to include graphical indicators such as RAG indicators for activity status. With enterprise solutions like Microsoft Project Online or Project for the Web, there are a number of intuitive indicators of project progress and health. It is also possible to create templates that can be accessible to the entire organisation.

Microsoft Project Desktop does not have as many features as the newer, cloud based, versions but it is still possible to customise your project plan to include colour coding and other graphical indicators.

In this article, I will show you, step-by-step,  how to set up your schedule to automatically show a RAG for activity status in a project scheduled created on Microsoft Project Desktop.

RAG =

  • R – Red = Task is delayed
  • A – Amber = Task may be delayed
  • G – Green = Task is complete

(And, we are also going to add Blue to show tasks that are scheduled to take place in the future).

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

1.Insert a new column and choose “Text1”. Rename it to something appropriate like “Task Status”.(It probably makes sense to insert it next to the %Complete column)

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

2. Right click on the column heading (where it now says “Status”) and select “Custom Fields”.

3. In the Custom Fields command box click “Formula”

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

4. Copy and paste this formula into the Text1 box:

IIf([% Complete]=100,4,(IIf([Current Date]>=[Finish],3,(IIf([Current Date]>[Start] And [% Complete]=0,5,(IIf([Current Date]>[Finish]-5 And [% Complete]<80,2,(IIf([Current Date]<[Start],6,1)))))))))

Then press OK.

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

You will then see a warning box that tells you that the data in your column will be deleted because all values will be calculated by the formula. This is what we want to happen so, click OK.

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

5. Now you will see that the Task Status column has been updated to contain numbers. Each number represents a different status based on the formula we pasted into the custom field in step 4.

We want to change this to give us graphical indicators instead.

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

6. Go back to your Status Column, right click again and again select Custom fields.

7. At the bottom of the command box you can change how values will be displayed in the column. The default is “Data”- change this to “Graphical indicators”.

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

8. Click on the button that says “Graphical indicators”.

9. In the command box that appears you can now set the scenarios that will determine what graphical indicator will appear in the Status column.

10. For the first scenario, let’s make it so that if a task is 100% complete a Green dot will appear.

11. In “Test for “text1” select “equal”.

12. In Values type “4” (the formula effective instructs Microsoft Project that Status 4 = task is complete so now we are instructing it to turn any Status 4 into Green dots).

13. In the Image column, click the drop down menu and select the image you want to display when a task is complete (a green dot).

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

14. Click Ok. Completed tasks are now showing a green dot as task status.

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

15. Now, let’s add indicators for tasks that are delayed.

Again, right click on the Task Status column, go back to Custom fields.

16. Click on Graphical Indicators.

17. This time enter Test = equals, Values = 3, Image = Red.

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

18. You may want to add an indicator for “Future tasks” i.e., tasks that are not scheduled to have started yet. We are going to add a blue dots for those.

19. Enter: Test = equals, Values = 6, Image = Blue dot

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

20. Finally, you can also add an indicator for tasks that are potentially running late. Typically, we use Amber (Yellow) to show this.

21. You might want to customise the formula to suit your project and your timelines.

In the formula, a task will be considered Amber if it is less than 5 days to the completion date and the task is currently less than 80% complete. This might too long timeframe, or too short for your project. To alter it click on the Formula button.

In the formula that we pasted in step 4 it is this part (in bold) that you want to adjust:

IIf([% Complete]=100,4,(IIf([Current Date]>=[Finish],3,(IIf([Current Date]>[Start] And [% Complete]=0,5,(IIf([Current Date]>[Finish]-5 And [% Complete]<80,2,(IIf([Current Date]<[Start],6,1)))))))))

For example, maybe you want to reduce the time to 1 day before the finishing date on projects with shorter timelines. To do this, just replace the 5 with 1 in the formula.

You could, of course, also change the percentage complete. Perhaps you want tasks to show up as Amber if they are less than 50% complete and 3 days from the scheduled completion date. In that case your formula would look like this (note: 5 has been replaced with 3 and 80 has been replaced with 50):

IIf([% Complete]=100,4,(IIf([Current Date]>=[Finish],3,(IIf([Current Date]>[Start] And [% Complete]=0,5,(IIf([Current Date]>[Finish]-3 And [% Complete]<50,2,(IIf([Current Date]<[Start],6,1)))))))))

22. To add the Amber dot to the Task Status column, click on the Graphical Indicators button again and this time enter:

Test = Equals, Values = 2, Image = Amber/Yellow dot

Using colour codes to indicate activity status in Microsoft Project Desktop

This article has shown how to add graphical indicators, like a RAG status to a single project plan.

If you want or need to see RAGs across the portfolio, you should take a look at Project for the Web. 

If you want further support using Microsoft Project, Project Online or Project for the Web contact us today.

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Monthly Newsletter

By: Karin Maule

Karin Maule
Categories: Microsoft Project

Published: 3 May 2023

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