Auto Compute Actuals vs. Update Progress

Written on . By CPM Solutions

Auto Compute Actuals vs. Update Progress

Once you have your project(s) planned and set-up in P6, you or the planner/scheduler will have to status the report on a routine basis to keep it up-to-date with the project in the present. The frequency of these updates depend on the business needs for performance reporting or the type of project you’re working on (ex. capital projects are typically updated weekly, bi-weekly, or even monthly, while turnaround or maintenance projects are updated on a daily basis). There are two ways of updating your project; one way will require you to manually input or collect the data from users, while the second way can automatically calculate the expected progress based on your schedule plan.

Percentage Complete Types for Activities

It is important to note the different percentage complete types as you can manually change it for each activity and it can affect the way the automated “apply actuals” feature calculates your data. There are three options: duration percentage (the default), units percentage, and physical percentage. In the details pane, on the bottom layout, you can select these options under the general tab:


General Rules

– Use Duration Percent when an activity is timeframe driven (ex. your project has strict deadlines so you record progress based on work days remaining)

– Use Units Percent when an activity is dependent work-effort (ex. your activity is only allocated 20 hours to finish)

– Use Physical Percent is manually entered and is based on personal judgment on the completion of a work/activity product. P6 does not calculate this for you as it is offered as a subjective and customizable option

Method 1: Manually Recording Progress

“Update progress” refers to the manual entry and statusing of your project to its most current condition. This is the recommended approach as it is the most accurate in mirroring actuals that your project has incurred. Most or all users typically follow this route for scheduling out the entire project because it is the only way to realistically determine project performance and the remaining amount of work to be done. Many first-time users expect the software to automate the majority of the project management work and do not realize that the nature of project management itself requires a lot of micromanaging, especially when the projects get larger and more complex. P6 is extremely good at keeping all the data from these projects organized into a schedule and allows you to manipulate it in different ways to help your decision making.

Tip: Make sure to capture a baseline from the very beginning of your expected project scenario or “ideal” project plan, because once you start updating progress, the baselines will only be a snapshot of what you have progressed the project to. Capturing a baseline when the data date is still at the start date of the project will give you a comparison of slippage on activities in the future, from what was originally planned.

Progress Spotlight

The progress spotlight tool is extremely helpful in visually highlighting activities and the time period on the Gantt chart, to show exactly what you will be updating. Drag and drop from the current data date line to the date that you will be updating it to:


Click the button on your tool bar which has the spotlight on it and drag the data date line up to the date that you want to enter your actuals for. If your timescale is too condensed to tell the exact date, a dialog box will specify this for you when you drag the line on your Gantt. On both the activities page and the Gantt chart, the progress spotlight highlights all the activities in yellow for you and will hold its place until you switch off the spotlight or schedule. This tool makes it easy to see all the activities you need to update.

Another way to manipulate the tables to show which activities you want to update is to change the layout and filter to show activities within a certain time frame or start dates within a date range.

Entering Actuals

When updating a schedule, you can enter actuals for completed activities and activities in progress. For completed activities, click on the started and finished boxes (change dates if necessary) and update your actual resource and expense units or costs.

For activities in progress, make sure you are aware of the “% complete type” and then make changes to remaining units in duration or duration % depending on the type. If your activity type is “units % complete” then your remaining labor units will be calculated once you enter the actuals. If your activities are “physical % complete” type then you are choosing to manually enter all the data. By showing the “activity status” column, you will see that once you have an activity started but not finished, it will change its status to “in progress”.

Tip: When trying to “undo” a schedule, there is no actual method that exists for “un-scheduling” if you make an error. Best practice is to make a copy of the project before you make your changes. Even if you remove your actuals and move the data date back to its previous spot, all subsequent activities that you haven’t touched beyond the data date line will be dragged back with it which will cause your schedule to look drastically different.

Method 2: Automatically Calculate Progress

This method is typically used to estimate progress. Auto compute actuals calculates actuals for your selected activities within a data date period depending on their “% complete type”. The schedule would essentially reflect progress as planned (no further changes or delays to what you have currently). You can auto compute at three levels and in different combinations of: activity, resource, and expense.

Activity Level

Auto computing actuals at the activity level will calculate all data (schedule, resource, and cost) in the specific activity you pick for this option. Make sure you do not have actuals already inputted for this activity as it will override any data you’ve entered. On your activities page, you can access this option by adding the column “auto compute actuals” to your layout:


Choose the activities that you want to calculate automatically, go to the Tools menu at the top and click “Apply Actuals…” and select the data date which you want to update all these activities to. Don’t panic if you do not see any changes yet – the software sometimes will take a few seconds to calculate the changes. A notification will pop up on your screen to show you that your job request has been successfully completed. Press F5 to see the changes (go to the details tabs to see the changes to resource and expense actuals):


Resource Level

To set up a specific resource to auto-compute, you must go to the Enterprise menu and click on the “Resources” page. Alternatively, there is a button on the sidebar that will lead you to the same page. Here, you can select the resource you want and in the “details” tab, you can select the resource to “auto compute actuals”:


Note: When you select a resource to auto compute actuals and apply it, it will override all previous actuals that you have manually input using this resource. Also, auto compute actuals for resources will not work if you have timesheets (Progress Reporter) set up for the individual.

Expense Level

When you want expenses to automatically calculate into the cost of the activity, you need to go to the Project menu at the top and click “Expenses” to open the page. This page lists out all the expenses you’ve entered for your project. Select an expense and go to the “costs” tab to turn the “auto compute actuals” function on:


Back in the activities page, you can also select how you’d like the expense to be automatically computed (at the start, end, or uniform) by selecting the “accrual type” in the details pane for the activity in question.

Can I Use a Combination of Both Auto-Computing and Manually Updating?

You’d be playing a dangerous game using both methods to update your schedule. Many Project Managers would opt to update everything manually for full control of the data for accountability and less risk when managing large, expensive projects. If everything is manually updated (and Progress Reporter is not being used), then it is possible to use a combination of both. However, with resources, you need to be careful of which ones already have actuals inputted and which ones you want to auto compute. It is extremely easy to lose your data, especially when P6 does not allow you to undo your mistakes easily (as explained above).

In conclusion, we recommend making copies of your projects when experimenting with different methods of scheduling if you are trying to find the most efficient way of updating progress. As well, you can also have two separate copies of the projects to compare, one auto computing actuals and the other being manually updated. The software is scalable enough to hold as many projects as you need it to.