Excel in project management

Every project manager will be familiar with Excel. This all-rounder of spreadsheets can handle many tasks perfectly. Since Microsoft's software package is pre-installed in almost every office, it is advisable to know a little about Excel, because the programme can do a lot, especially if you know how to use it. The open-source community has produced some very similar programs to Excel that do much the same thing and are compatible with Excel. So, most office workstations are well equipped for spreadsheets.
A person is working on their laptop and has Excel open.


What you can do with Excel

Excel is great for creating lists and calculations. You can easily create, sort and filter data, costs, material lists and even simple schedules.
When it comes to preparing presentations, Excel is a great tool for putting your figures into neat charts or overviews. A pie chart or bar chart can be created at the touch of a button and exported to all other MS programmes. This is why many project managers like to use Excel, even if only to illustrate figures. Of course, you can also use Excel to enter endless and confusing amounts of data and, if you want to, overwhelm your opponent. In order to keep track of the numbers, you often need a little routine with the different functions of the programme. If you have a little practice in grouping, filtering and sorting records, Excel can be a great help in many cases.
Excel can also be used as a pocket calculator. Complicated percentage calculations and long tables with sums, averages and many other functions that are impossible to calculate in your head can be done in Excel at the click of a button. With just a few special functions, you can create really extensive formulas and use almost advanced mathematics in a matter of minutes. Present the result in a nice pie chart and you are guaranteed to get a few stares.

Excel is not an all-purpose solution

Many project managers are so enthusiastic about Excel's certainly considerable and excellent features that they think that Excel is the all-purpose solution and that, with the right trick, everything can be done in Excel. However, if you actually set up and run all your project management in Excel, you will soon realise where Excel's limitations lie. The programme is great, but it is designed for certain purposes - and not for others.
An initial rough project plan can be created in Excel in spreadsheet form. However, it becomes difficult when the project plan changes and when different editors make changes to the original document.
In Excel, it is incredibly difficult to consider relationships and dependencies between different data because there is no function for this. However, this is not a shortcoming of Excel. It is simply something that the programme was never designed to do. In addition, after a while Excel becomes confusing for planning.

Project management software

So, if you want to get some help with project planning in the software world, and you have a complex project that involves more than just a few weeks' work and a dozen different tasks, the best advice is to use professional project management software. You can get this from Microsoft, because MS Project offers a comprehensive solution. Software such as Primavera or A-Plan is also certainly an asset to a project manager's computer. The best thing to do is to try out the free versions of the various programmes and see which one suits you best. Or you can choose one of the many programmes available from the open-source community. For example, Asana, Smartsheet, Backlog, Liquidplanner, Scoro, Wrike and Jira are alternatives to the more established programmes. These and others are specifically designed for project planning or collaboration and cover different aspects of project management.
There are planning tools that are pretty much the same as MS Project and other innovative solutions that have a different focus. The range is now huge and it mainly depends on what you value and which programme you like both visually and functionally. Many people do their time, cost and resource planning in the same programme, with everything linked together. An important advantage of dedicated project management software is that most are designed to be used and updated by multiple users.

Closing words

Excel is a great programme that takes some time to learn, but with practice it can be very useful. Use it specifically to collect, compare and share data. Use it for complex calculations and comparisons, and for data entry. But think twice about whether Excel can really replace planning software for you. With so many good tools available from the open-source community, the argument that a good PM tool is expensive is a moot point. All it takes is a team willing to embrace a new tool and learn how to use it.

Excel in project management  - The IAPM logo.
Author: IAPM internal
Keywords: Project management, Tips, Project management software

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