Custom Fields in Microsoft Project
Part one of a six-part series of blogs

Have you ever been frustrated when you can't find a suitable field for entering the data you want in a Microsoft Project plan? Well why not customise your own field and enter anything from simple text, to drop down lists, to complex calculations and even graphical indicators!

  1. Custom Fields in Microsoft Project (this blog)
  2. Creating Drop Down Lists with Custom Fields
  3. Creating Calculated Custom Fields
  4. Using Functions in Custom Fields
  5. Custom Fields and Summary Tasks
  6. Using Graphical Indicators in Custom Fields

This blog is part of a complete guide to customising Microsoft Project.  Wise Owl also run excellent MS Project classroom courses!

Posted by Andrew Gould on 01 August 2011

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Custom Fields in Microsoft Project

When you create a project plan in Microsoft Project you use lots of pre-defined fields, or columns of information, to store the data.  There are literally hundreds of existing fields in a project, but what if there's a piece of information you want to record and there isn't a field set up to hold it?  Fortunately, there are plenty of customisable fields available, allowing you to store anything from a simple pieces of text to complex calculations.

Choosing to Customise a Field

There are several ways to start customising fields in Microsoft Project, depending on which view you are in.  To do this:

  • In Project 2003 or 2007, from the menu choose: Tools -> Customize -> Fields...
  • In Project 2010, from the Ribbon choose: Project -> Custom Fields

When you've done this you should be looking at the Custom Fields dialog box.  You can do many things to customise your field using this dialog box, but there are several things you will always do when customising a field, as shown in the diagram below:

Setting up a basic custom field

This is top half of the Custom Fields dialog box. See below for an explanation of the four steps shown here.

The four steps to creating a basic custom field are:

  1. Choose whether to customise a Task or Resource field.  This choice is all down to where you would like to use your field later.  We're planning to use the field in the Gantt Chart view so we've chosen to customise a Task field, if we wanted to use it in the Resource Sheet we'd have chosen a Resource field.
  2. Choose what type of data you want to store in the field from this list.  Most of the choices are fairly obvious, but see the section below for a detailed description.  We simply want to be able to type in a bit of text in our field.
  3. Choose which specific field you want to customise.  The data type you choose determines how many different fields you can customise.  Any fields that you have previously customised will show up with a different name in this list.
  4. Click here to give the field a descriptive name.  The diagram below shows how to do this.
Renaming a field What a renamed field looks like
Type in a descriptive name for the field and click OK Any fields that you've renamed will appear in the list like this.

When you've finished setting up your field, click OK to create it.  The next job is to insert the field into a table, but first a little look at data types.

Types of Data

There are nine different data types available when you customise a field in Microsoft Project.  The data type you choose determines what sort of information can be stored in the field and also how many fields there are available to be customised.

Data Type What can I put in it? How many?
Cost Any number you want to be formatted as currency (i.e. with a currency symbol and two decimal places). 10
Date Any date with a day, month and year component as a minimum.  You can also put in hours, minutes if you need to. 10
Duration Anything that represents an amount of time or work.  You must enter a number and a unit of time (minutes, hours, days, weeks or months) when you use this data type. 10
Finish This field can accept the same type of data as the Date field.  Finish fields are often used to create custom formatted task bars on a Gantt Chart. 10
Flag These are also known as Yes/No or Boolean fields.  You can only store either Yes or No in a field with this data type.  They are often used to create conditional formats on a Gantt Chart. 20
Number Any number up to a maximum value of 999,999,999,999.99! 20
Start This field can accept the same type of data as the Date field.  Start fields are often used to create custom formatted task bars on a Gantt Chart. 10
Text Anything containing text!  You can put up to 255 characters in a cell with this data type. 30
Outline Code You can use this data type to define your own codes that show the hierarchy of tasks in your project (although the pre-defined WBS field already does this!). 10

Inserting a Custom Field into a Table

Before you can enter any data into a custom field you need to insert it into a table.  To do this in any version of Microsoft Project, right-click on the heading of any existing column in a table and choose Insert Column...

Inserting a column in Project 2003 and 2007

In Project 2003 and 2007 you will see a separate dialog box. Choose your custom field from the drop down list at the top of the box and then click OK

 
Inserting a column in Project 2010

In Project 2010 you will see a drop down list appear at the top of a new column. Choose your custom field from the list of choices.

 

You will see your custom field in two separate places in the list when you choose to insert a column.  For our example we would see it listed as Person Responsible (Text1), and also as Text1 (Person Responsible).

Now that you have inserted your custom field into a table you can use it just like any other column of data.

Using a custom field

It's not the most exciting example, but it is useful!

What's Next

Now that you know how to customise a basic text field the next few articles in this series will show you how to do more clever things, such as create a drop down list field and even how to create complex calculations.  Read on to find out how!

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