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Using the Add New Column Virtual Column

By Dale Howard, MVP, Sensei Project Solutions

Microsoft introduced a new feature in Microsoft Project 2010 known as the Add New Column virtual column, and continued this feature in the 2013 version of the software. You can find the Add New Column virtual column on the far right end of any default task or resource table, such as the task Entry table shown in Figure 1.

01-add-new-column-virtual-columnFigure 1: Add New Column virtual column
 
To use the basic functionality of this feature, click the pick list arrow button in the column header of the Add New Column virtual column, and then select any default or custom field shown in the pick list. For example, notice in Figure 2 that I am ready to insert the Actual Start column. Microsoft Project inserts the selected column to the left of the Add New Column virtual column.
02-insert-new-default-column
Figure 2: Insert the Actual Start column

The Add New Column virtual column includes additional functionality of which you may not be aware. For example, you can click the pick list arrow button in this virtual column, manually type of the name of any field not listed in the pick list, and then press the Enter key on your computer keyboard. When you perform this action, Microsoft Project inserts the first unused local Text field to the left of the virtual column and renames the Text field using the name you manually typed. For example, I manually entered the name Location in the Add New Column virtual column, so the software automatically inserted the Text1 column and renamed it as Location. You can see this in Figure 3 when I float my mouse pointer over the column header in the new Location column.

Figure 3: New Location column inserted

When you manually type the name of a new column in the column header of the Add New Column virtual column, Microsoft Project always inserts the first available Text field and renames it using the name you entered. This means that if you have previously used the Text1, Text2, and Text3 columns as custom columns, Microsoft Project would automatically insert the Text4 column the next time you use this functionality.
Beyond these two features, there is even more functionality available to you using the Add New Column virtual column. If you manually type a value in the virtual column for any task, Microsoft Project 2010 and 2013 automatically insert the next available custom field using the data type you entered. This functionality works as follows:

  • If you manually type a number value, such as 318, the software inserts the first unused Number field, such as Number1 for example.
  • If you manually type a cost value, such as $500, the software inserts the first unused Cost field, such as Cost1 for example.
  • If you manually type a Yes or a No value, the software inserts the first unused Flag field, such as Flag1 for example.
  • If you manually type a duration value, such as 15d, the software inserts the first unused Duration field, such as Duration1 for example.
  • If you manually type any text value, such as Mickey Cobb, the software inserts the first unused Text field, such as Text1 for example.

In Figure 4, you can see this functionality for each of the custom columns I added by typing a value in the Add New Column virtual column for the first task in the project. Notice that when I typed the name, Mickey Cobb, the software inserted the Text2 field and not the Text1 field. This is because I had already used the Text1 field when I typed the word, Location, in the Add New Column virtual column header.

04-inserted-custom-columns
Figure 4: Custom columns inserted by data type

If you use this technique to insert new columns in a table, I recommend that you rename each of the custom fields to apply a descriptive name to the column. To rename a custom field, right-click on the column header of any custom column and select the Custom Fields item on the shortcut menu. Microsoft Project displays the Custom Fields dialog shown in Figure 5.

05-custom-fields-dialog
Figure 5: Custom Fields dialog

In the Custom Fields dialog, the software preselects the custom field automatically. Click the Rename button, enter a descriptive name for the custom field, and then click the OK button. Click the OK button to close the Custom Fields dialog as well.

About Sensei Project Solutions
Sensei Project Solutions, a Finalist for the 2015 Microsoft Project and Portfolio Management (PPM) Partner of the Year, focuses on bringing Instant Productivity to your team. Our mission is to help individuals and organizations be more productive so that they can achieve their greatest potential. As a Gold certified Microsoft Partner and Registered Education Provider (R.E.P.) with the Project Management Institute (PMI®), Sensei offers a complete set of services and products for a successful Microsoft PPM deployment. Our guiding principles for Proactive PPM follow best practices and industry standards aligned with the Project Management Institute (PMI) and Gartner, enabling organizations to manage resource demand, obtain business intelligence that facilitates better decision making, increase business effectiveness by easily connecting people, and become self-sufficient with PPM processes and solutions. In short, Sensei helps organizations achieve Instant Productivity.

About Dale Howard, Director of Education, Sensei Project Solutions
Dale Howard is a seasoned training professional who is approaching 30 years of technical training experience. He has taught students how to effectively use every version of Microsoft Project beginning with version 4.0 for Windows 95, and every version of the Microsoft EPM tool beginning with Project Central in the year 2000. Dale possesses the coveted Project MVP title and is one of only 64 Project MVPs in the entire world. He is the co-author of 20 books on Microsoft Project and Project Server. Dale is known for high-energy, highly interactive style of presenting and teaching. He was voted the “Best Presenter” by conference participants at the Project Conference in 2012.

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