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What is the best approach for having contract start and end dates in MS Project?

The issue I am facing is the following: I entered both dates as milestones. all project activities are of course between those two dates. The issue is that for example the tool cannot calculate and show critical path correctly because it "thinks" the project starts from the contract start date and ends on contract end date. I also tried defining deadlines, but I noticed the same effect.

What is the best practice for tracking contract start and end dates and does it even make sense?

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It's not clear how you've defined your milestones, but - at least for the "end date" - you should make it dependant on the final activities of your project, and then it should move along with it, and should show the critical path.

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  • It is important to differ between end of project and end of contract dates. In real life you cannot know in many cases to the day when a project will end. Therefore you define the contract end date realistically, and it's normally few weeks after (hopefully) project ends. Nevertheless it brings me in the situation where Ms Project "thinks" the project lasts until contract end date and consequently does wrong calculations such as critical path. I assume there must be a mark for cotract stsrt and end dates which does not impact calculation in the tool.
    – Dantes
    Nov 9 '20 at 16:15
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It is normally considered best practice to include explicitly-defined contract dates in the project schedule network, with due impact on schedule slack and critical path calculations.

  1. If you want to display contract start/finish dates without affecting the slack calculations, then the simplest approach is to include the contract dates NOT as separate milestones/tasks, but as custom dates attached to the project start/finish milestones. These dates can be shown in the table and on the bar chart as shown in the top option of the figure below.
  2. Another simple approach is to keep them as distinct activities, but raise the “critical” task threshold from default value (zero) as needed to display the critical path. See the second option.
  3. Without changing the default critical task threshold, you can also force the total slack of the project execution activities downward using either a deadline on the project finish (option 3 below) or a schedule margin task as a successor to the project finish (option 4.) enter image description here

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