Easy Project Management using Microsoft Excel

Simple-Gantt-Chart

Easy Project Management in Microsoft Excel

In this article I outline how Microsoft Excel can make Project Management easier. Whether you are a project manager or part of a project team or even a project stakeholder, you’ll know it’s important to ensure that everyone involved in the project is kept informed of the latest developments and project status. And without good tools it can be hard to communicate project progress or slippage from agreed milestones. Sometimes simple tools are all you need to make a project work smoothly, and this is where Excel comes in.



First – why is Project Management important?

iPod headphones

ARM technology is found in the ubiquitous iPod and iPhone - a lot of ARM's success was due to great project management

In a previous life I worked for ARM plc, the highly successful UK-based technology company that built up a great reputation for innovation, and its continued success in the global market place would not have happened without well-executed project management.

ARM’s products are found in devices all over the world, including the ultra-popular iPod, iPhone and iPad as well as a huge number of other mobile devices.

If you think about it, project management is an activity that supports a lot of economic activity. It’s used in industries spanning aerospace, pharmaceuticals and software and it’s not too far-fetched to say that projects drive a lot of modern business and especially innovation.

In government too, effective project management is what brings to life the promises of new infrastructure, schools and hospitals to support and improve our everyday lives.

So – how can Excel help with Project Management?

time-pressure

Get the project done!

One of the most common challenges facing any project team is the inability to meet planned deadlines. Just why is that so? I think it’s true to say that those of us involved in modern-day projects are technically well-trained but lack project management skills or the right project management tools. Sadly Microsoft Excel can’t give you better project management skills but it can help provide some nice tools such as:

  • project timelines (graphical summary of milestones)
  • simple gantt charts (scheduled tasks and milestones)
  • resource-loading charts (indicators of the work burden on resources)
  • burn-down charts (indicators of how much progress has been made)
  • dashboard reporting (single page summary of project progress

Hang on a moment – why use Excel at all?

Yes I know that there are lots of other computer-based project tools out there (in fact I counted a dizzying array of 137 notable project management software tools in this Wikipedia article). These range from the well-known and well-loved Microsoft Project (well, maybe not always well-loved) to newer online tools like BaseCamp.

Yet there are definitely benefits to using Excel:

  • Excel tools can be made light, versatile and fast
  • it’s possible to quickly customize Excel templates to give them your own preferred look and feel
  • once you have a customized template, you can use and reuse it in subsequent projects
  • you probably have a copy of Excel on your computer
  • you have most likely seen or used Excel some time in your career

Excel Project Timeline Example

And if you want to create something specific like a standalone project timeline or a simple Gantt chart then Excel might be just what you’re looking for. In my old job I’d sometimes hear requests for simple Gantt charts to help plan year end timetables to help coordinate internal and external work. And here’s an example of what Excel can produce – just for fun I created a 12 month timeline for construction of the Death Star 1 (i.e. the Star Wars super weapon used by Darth Vader).

Death Star Timeline

Death Star Construction Timeline made with Microsoft Excel

To read my detailed article on Project Timelines in Excel, click here. And if you want to download a free Excel Timeline template (built using Excel 2010) please click here.

Vertex42 Timeline Template with Macros

If you like the look of the project timeline above, and want to create your own project timeline in Excel right now, you should check out Jon Wittwer’s comprehensive Excel templates website called Vertex42. He provides high quality Excel templates (project tools, calculators, calendars and more) that are designed to increase your productivity.

Specifically I used the Timeline Template with Macros to create the Death Star timeline you can see above. Jon explains how to use the template in his article “How to Create a Timeline in Excel”, which you can read here.

You can download a copy of the Timeline Template with Macros from Vertex42 for only $14.95 by clicking here. If you have any questions about the template, please contact Jon using the email [email protected]


Calling all Project Managers!

Yellow Megaphone

Calling Project Managers!

As a project manager it’s important you proactively assess and evaluate task progress, resource allocation and execution of project tasks. You must also keep track of timelines for deliverables and drive contingency plans and solve problems that come up. And not to mention you need to motivate and influence your project team to achieve the overall goals of the project and program (if the project is part of a bigger program).

So as project manager you need to be a champion, coordinator, advocate and leader. No wonder you want tools to make your life easier! In future articles I’ll show you ways to build tools in Excel to help make your life easier. I’ll link to them from this article when they’re published.

These Excel articles will include:

  • project timeline tutorials (how to create timeline graphics)
  • project gantt chart tutorials (how to draw gantt charts in Excel)
  • other helpful charts (resource loading charts and burn down charts)
  • project reporting with dashboards (bringing it all together in one document)

Update (Jan 30, 2012)

You can access these articles and resources right now:

So – what next?

If you’re interested in receiving updates about future articles from Launch Excel, take this chance to sign up for my RSS feed. You can also follow me on Twitter by clicking here. And it would be great if you could share this article with your colleagues and friends using the share buttons just after the image credits.

Let me know what you think – whether it’s agreement or disagreement, or even if you want to comment on the feasibility of my 12 month Death Star construction timeline! Use the comments section below to share your thoughts and feelings.

Chandoo-PjM 24 Excel templates

24 Excel Templates for Project Management - Click image to find out more about these awesome Excel Templates from Chandoo.org

Finally if you’re interested in Project Management templates for Excel you should check out Chandoo’s 24 Excel Templates for better project management. Anyone managing a project, monitoring a project, tracking and reporting on a project can use these templates and be more productive & efficient in their work. Find out more about Chandoo’s project templates by clicking here.

Image Credits
Apple headphones courtesy of Allan Sorensen
Man adjusting watch courtesy of 2020VG
Yellow Megaphone sticker courtesy of Marcelo Barboza

Victor Chan
Hi I'm Victor. I started Launch Excel to help you use Excel and VBA faster. Thousands of people have learned new skills and increased their effectiveness at work with our help. You can do it too! Also I've personally used Excel lots since 2002. I use it mainly in accounting and finance but I also have a Masters degree in Engineering from Cambridge University. I hope you enjoy the site and tutorials!
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