Small teams and businesses prefer using excel for project management for its availability, familiarity, and cost-effectiveness. Further, templates make it easy to get started with Excel project management quickly.
But what are the best practices when using Excel for project management?
That’s what you’ll learn in this article. Here’s what we’ll cover:
- When Should You Use Excel For Project Management?
- Disadvantages Of Managing Projects In Excel
- Excel Project Management Use Cases
- A Better Alternative to Excel Project Management
Ready to get started? Let’s begin.
When Should You Use Excel For Project Management?
You don’t always need project management tools to manage projects. Sometimes a simple spreadsheet can do the job. Here are some situations where project management in Excel makes sense:
- You work on simple projects: If you work on projects with very few dependencies and team members, you may not need project management software. A simple spreadsheet to track project tasks is perfect for such simple projects.
- You work on one project at a time: If you work on multiple projects simultaneously, you’ll need to share team members across projects. Shared resources create complex dependencies. But if you work on a single project at a time, spreadsheets are often enough.
- You already have access to Microsoft Office: Almost everyone already has access to Microsoft Office. You, too, can consider using Excel for managing projects if you have easy access to it.
Disadvantages Of Managing Projects In Excel
Even if you have access to Excel and manage simple projects, Excel still may not be the right choice. These are some of the disadvantages of Excel project management:
- No communication features: All spreadsheets, including Excel, lack communication features. Communicating with clients and other team members can be a big challenge.
- No collaboration features: There’s no way to share files or documents via Excel. You’ll have to use a file hosting service to share files. On the other hand, most PM tools come with built-in file sharing.
- Information overload: Over time, Excel spreadsheets accumulate a lot of information. Clients and most team members rarely need access to all this information. As a result, time is wasted looking for information.
- Hard to ensure data integrity: When everyone is updating the same sheet, it’s easy for someone to update or remove information accidentally. Plus, project information can get lost as we discuss tasks over chat or email.
- Expensive in the long run: Most PM tools have a free plan. Paid plans often cost less than $10 per user per month. Considering the above disadvantages, using Excel for project management can be expensive in the long run.
Excel Project Management Use Cases
So far, you’ve learned about the kind of work you can manage with Excel. You’ve also learned about the disadvantages of Excel project management.
Next, let’s look at the project use cases you can manage with Excel.
Create A Project Timeline
A timeline is a simple way to visualize plans — whether it’s a high-level project roadmap or a detailed project schedule. Using Excel or other spreadsheet software like Google Sheets, you can easily create a project timeline.
Typically, a project timeline is created using a Gantt chart.
The Gantt timeline helps your team members visualize the project’s schedule.
Excel and other spreadsheets are not meant to be used as project planning tools. They don’t have an in-built Gantt chart feature. Instead, you can customize the horizontal bar chart to look like a Gantt timeline. Check out these tutorials on how to create a Gantt timeline in Excel and Google Sheets.
Other than the above-mentioned disadvantages:
- Excel timelines are hard to keep up to date.
- There’s no way to add milestones to an Excel Gantt timeline.
- And, it’s almost impossible to work collaboratively on an Excel project timeline.
Gantt Timeline Template For Excel
Once the project plan is ready, the next step is to start executing and tracking day-to-day tasks.
Using a spreadsheet, it’s fairly easy to track task status.
List down all the start with their start and end dates. Assign tasks to team members. And, finally include a column to track task status. You can either create a simple to-do list using checkboxes or include more task statuses in a dropdown.
Tracking task progress using Excel suffers from the same disadvantages mentioned above. Also:
- You cannot create custom task workflows.
- Unlike Kanban boards, it’s not easy to visualize task progress in Excel.
Project Task List Template
You can use the same timeline spreadsheet template given above or use this simple spreadsheet template to track task progress.
Plan & Manage Resources
Planning resource availability and allocating them to projects is the next use case for Excel project management.
Before you allocate resources to a project or a task, you need to know if a resource is available. For example, you cannot plan for a team member who’s on vacation or busy with another project.
You’ll need two separate spreadsheets — one to track off-days and another to track project allocation.
Using Excel to manage resources is hard. You’ll have to update the spreadsheet constantly based on inputs from team members and other project managers.
Resource Management Templates
These templates cover all team resource management use-cases, including:
You can copy these from File > Make a copy or download as Excel from File > Download as > Microsoft Excel (.xlsx).
Learn more about how to use these resource planning templates.
Track Project Efforts
Finally, using Excel, you can track your team’s actual number of hours into a project. This is a critical step in project management, especially if you bill clients by the hour.
You can calculate the total number of hours put in by each team member in a project. Also, you can set the rate for each team member and calculate the billable amount.
Tracking project efforts in Excel is fairly easy. But, it’s cumbersome to record the time spent on each task.
Excel Timesheet Template
Use this simple Google Sheets template to track time spent on a project. You can make a copy of it from File > Make a copy or download it as an Excel from File > Download as > Microsoft Excel (.xlsx).
Toggl Plan: A Better Alternative to Excel Project Management
Considering the use cases above, it’s definitely possible to manage projects using Excel. But keeping information up to date in all these spreadsheets can be quite a task.
That’s where using a project management tool like Toggl Plan can help.
Toggl Plan is a beautifully simple tool that helps you with project planning, task management, and managing team workloads.
Here are some ways you can use Toggl Plan to manage projects:
With Toggl Plan, you can create unlimited project Plan Timelines.
Creating a Gantt timeline is as simple as dragging and dropping tasks on the timeline. Also, you can add color-coded milestones to keep track of critical dates.
You can zoom in to a week to look or zoom out to get a bird’s eye view of the entire year.
Also, you can share a read-only view of the timeline with clients and other stakeholders to keep them up to date.
Tasks can be assigned right from the timeline. Plus, you can import tasks to the timeline from a spreadsheet.
You can manage tasks in Toggl Plan from timelines and task boards.
With Toggl Plan, task workflows are customizable. You can assign tasks to one or more team members, record task estimates, and categorize tasks using tags.
Also, team members can collaborate on tasks using file attachments and task comments.
Using task boards, your team can visualize task progress. And update task status by just dragging the task across the board.
Along with Plan Timelines, you can also create unlimited Team Timelines. Team Timelines can be created with people across your organization, including shared team members.
On the Team Timeline, you can visualize your team’s availability and workloads.
If you find overworked team members, you can rebalance work right from the timeline.
Any changes you make in one timeline or board automatically are reflected everywhere.
Toggl Plan Pricing
Solo users can use Toggl Plan for free.
Paid plans range from $9-$15 per user per month and have a 14-day free trial. Toggl Plan paid users get Team Timelines, multiple assignees for a task, and recurring tasks.
With over a decade of experience in content marketing and SEO, Jitesh shares actionable tips for digital service teams to deliver projects profitably on the Toggl blog.