Working with Custom Fields in MS Project

Mar 23, 2023 | Project Hints and Tips

Microsoft Project is a project planning tool.  Behind the scenes there is a database that holds all the information for the plan.  Although you cannot create new fields in Project there are plenty of customisable fields that can be used for anything you may require.  These can even contain drop down lists to make data entry easier, calculations or graphical indicators to help data stand out.

The customisable fields are cost, date, duration, finish, flag, number, start, text and outline code.  The number of fields that can be customised it each of these categories ranges from 10 to 30.  Each customisable field initially is labelled with a number after it.  There are also baseline fields that contain numbers but these are used for the multiple baselines that can be stored for a project.

Customising a field

Fields can be customised from a few locations.  This is just one of those available.  It is assumed for the rest of the blog that the Gantt Chart view is currently being used.

  1. From the Gantt Chart View go to the Gantt Chart Format tab
  2. Select Custom Fields
custom fields icon image

3. The custom fields can be task, resource or Project related and the correct option must be chosen.  Note, not all options will always be available depending on the view you are in

4. Select the type of field to customise from the drop down

custom fields dialog box image

5. A list of this field name followed by a number will be visible

6. Rename the field.  The field will now be shown with the new name and the original name in brackets.  It is actually the title of the field that has been renamed not the field itself

7. Click OK

The field will not have been added but is now set up ready to be used.

Adding a custom field to a table

Here are 3 ways to add the field

  1. Click on the Add New Column drop down at the end of the table
add new column image

2. Select Insert Column from the Gantt Chart Format tab.  A new column will be added to the left

Insert column image

3. From the View tab select Tables, then More Tables.  Either edit an existing table or create a new one

More tables image

4. In each of the above cases select the custom field to be added.  You will need to click OK if the More Tables option is being used

The field added can now be used.  The type of data allowed will depend on the field. For example, a number field cannot contain dates and text while a date field cannot contain numbers and text.  A text field is more flexible as it can contain numbers, text and other symbols but will have text attributes such as text related autofilters and calculation properties.

Limiting the content using Lookups

This is particularly useful for text fields where you want data to be chosen from a pre-determined list.

  1. Return to the Custom Fields dialog box as explained above
  2. Select the field to contain the drop down list and select Lookup
lookup table image

3. Type in the values to be contained in the drop-down list.  Descriptions can be added if required

4. Additional options such as setting the default, changing the order and allowing additional values that are automatically added to the lookup list can also be altered.

5. Click on Close, then OK

Creating a calculated Field

A calculation may be required when the standard fields in Project do not perform the analysis required.

  1. Return to the Custom Fields dialog box as explained above
  2. Click on the Formula button
  3. Fields can be added using the Field button and Functions using the Function button.
Formula image

4. An example of a calculation could be [Cost]*0.2 to calculate the VAT

5. Click on OK then OK again

Using Graphical indicators

A field can show either data or a graphical indicator not both.

  1. Return to the Custom Fields dialog box as explained above
  2. If you want to also be able to access the original column containing the data then duplicate an already created field by using a calculation in a customisable field.  For example, [cost] will duplicate the cost field
  3. The graphical indicators can be added to the non-summary rows, summary rows or project summary rows.
  4. Specify a criteria including the icon to represent this.  An example could be is greater than for the test, 1000 for the value with a suitable image.


Graphical indicator image

5. This process can be repeated for multiple criteria if required.

Further Reading

If you’ve enjoyed reading about working with customers fields in Microsoft Project, there are some other blogs below that you might find useful:

Want to learn more about Microsoft Project? Then email to discuss how I can help or have a look at the Microsoft Project courses I run.