Excel Project Management: Templates and Alternatives

Excel Project Management: Templates and Alternatives

Want to know more about managing projects with Excel? 

Or are you looking for a helpful excel project management template?

You’ve come to the right place!

Microsoft Excel is an incredibly versatile tool that can be used for a number of different tasks.

In this article, we’ll review using Excel for project management and give you some handy Excel templates to use right away.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

(click on the links to jump to a section)

Let’s start.

What Excel is good at in project management

Microsoft Excel is a handy tool that can do a lot of different things to help you and your team.

When it comes to project management Excel can offer you:

1. Detailed spreadsheets 

This is the most obvious reason to turn to Excel for project management.

Excel is great for crafting detailed spreadsheets with tons of data. You can categorize information easily, highlight important sections and even create separate sheets within a spreadsheet

For example, Excel is perfect to list down a long list of prospects to keep track of their details. 

When it comes to data logging, Excel is still one of the best tools in the business!

2. Conditional formatting

Another great Excel project management feature is conditional formatting.

With it, you’re able to turn simple data into powerful insights. 

There are tons of formulas that you can employ to automate the data logging process to create detailed calculations. With the right formula, you’ll be able to organize large amounts of data within seconds!

For example, Excel can make managing your project budget a piece of cake with its advanced mathematical formulas. 

The only issue with conditional formatting is that getting the hang of it can take some time. 

3. Data storage and recovery

When it comes to project management Excel can handle all your important data. From your project budget to your timeline – you can store this data in Excel without having to worry about losing it. 

Additionally, like most other Microsoft tools, there’s a built-in data backup present. So if, for example, your timeline data gets accidentally deleted, you can always recover it!

Using Excel templates for project management

As you may have noticed, when it comes to project management Excel sheets can’t:

  • assign projects
  • create a work breakdown structure (wbs)
  • calculate dependencies
  • chart project milestones

This shouldn’t be surprising as it’s still just a data-entry tool.

Microsoft Excel was never designed for project management.

But don’t worry.

There are handy project management excel templates and resources that can you overcome this issue. There are multiple built-in templates for Excel that can handle most basic project management needs:

From a simple project management excel template to an earned value management template – there are templates for excel in every field! 

So how do you access these templates for Excel?

Just click on the “New” tab to the left of your screen and type in “project” in the search bar that pops up. 

The tool will then show you all its preset Excel project management templates such as an Excel Gantt chart template or templates with a bar chart or pivot tables.

If you’re not satisfied with these simple project templates that are built-in, you can always find a few useful project templates on the internet.

Here’s a closer look at a few of these excel project management templates and resources:

A. Excel Gantt chart template

This is an extremely handy excel project management template.

An Excel Gantt Chart template makes it easy to map out a project’s course. Use it to keep on top of all the project milestones, dependencies and project tasks that are left before your end dates.

Download this simple Gantt Chart Excel template.

B. Project timeline template

A Project timeline template is similar to a project milestones sheet.

Use it for tracking your project progress as it moves towards completion. With an accurate project timeline, you’ll be able to know what stage a project plan is in at all times.

Download this Excel project timeline template here.

C. Task list template

A task list template is another handy Excel template to have.

It gives you a list of deliverables for completion, along with their deadlines. You can use this for tracking the work breakdown structure (wbs) and project phases to keep track of your project schedule.

Download this budget template here.

D. SWOT analysis template

This chart in Excel allows you to create a project SWOT analysis.

This is used for tracking a project’s strengths and weaknesses when evaluating your project plan. 

After you’ve conducted this analysis, reformulate your project activities, project phases and deliverables to align with your findings.

Download this Excel template here.

E. Cost-benefit management template

The cost-benefit management template lets you gauge a project’s success before you start on it. 

Remember, doing a cost-benefit analysis isn’t needed for all software development projects. However, it does have applications in some industries which use agile project management. Moreover, this chart in Excel is important for senior leaders who are in charge of project accounts and budgets.

You can calculate the value of a project’s deliverables vs. what the project budget is. Use this information to schedule a cost-effective work breakdown structure (wbs) with correct project phases.

Download it here

Why Excel isn’t an ideal solution for project management

While Excel templates add some functionality to your standard Excel file, they aren’t ideal project management solutions.

Here are three major reasons why:

A. Dedicated free project management software

Everyone knows Excel wasn’t built for project management.

Why use an Excel report template when you have access to far better tools for managing projects for free?

Project management tools like ClickUp are used by companies like Nike, Airbnb and Netflix and have  everything you need for effective project management. 

From creating your project charter to managing projects and analyzing your breakdown structure – the ClickUp management tool can handle it all!

B. An Excel project management template is difficult to customize

Every chart in Excel comes pre-prepared. 

You don’t have a lot of flexibility when it comes to customizing the templates for Excel as per your project’s needs. 

For example, you may be using an invoice template or budget report template – but can’t tweak it to accurately reflect the project budgeting interface you want. 

C. There’s no automatic data entry

All the templates for Excel project management require manual inputs at all points

There’s no way to schedule automated updates or create team-wide notifications like project management tools can. 

For example, if you’re using a schedule template, you won’t be able to automatically readjust task dependencies and deadlines after schedule changes.

Remember, Excel templates can help – but they can’t solve all the issues associated with Excel project management. 

Let’s explore these limitations and the solutions with a dedicated free project management tool: ClickUp

8 key Excel limitations and the ClickUp solution

Here’s a closer look at why an Excel file isn’t an ideal way to go about managing your project tasks.

We’ll also show you how a project management software like ClickUp can solve all the issues you may face when using Excel for project management.

1. No individual to-do lists

Creating a to-do list is an integral component of project management. 

Your team needs to be able to create these lists to keep track of what needs to be done and what subtasks are still left.

Excel Limitation

Your team can’t create their own to-do list on an Excel spreadsheet. All they can do is see what’s been assigned to them and create their own checklists on another app. 

While you do have the option of creating a new cell with a subtask in it, it’s going to make your Excel file far too congested!

For example, let’s say you’re maintaining an issue tracker in your Excel sheet. If every team member keeps adding cells and tabs to your issue tracker template, it’s going to become unreadable because of the amount of issue tracking data it contains!

ClickUp Solution

As ClickUp is geared towards project management, it can create a project to-do list in no time.

You have the option of creating a separate task list of subtasks for each project in your funnel to easily organize all your project activities.

Additionally, a project manager can assign these task items to team members so that they know what to do at all times. 

They have the option of switching to “Me” mode where they’ll only see things that are assigned to them. This makes keeping track of what needs to be done in their to-do list super easy!

2. Task updates require manual follow-ups

When you’re managing a bunch of project activities, it’s essential to keep track of all these project progress updates.

You need to know what each project status is to get an idea of how long completion will take.

Excel Limitation

Unfortunately, there’s no built-in automatic project tracker in Excel.

You’ll have to manually keep track of task updates which can be incredibly inefficient.

Think about it.

To manage a project, you’ll have to:

  1. Go in and check each your to-do list template manually
  2. Note down how many items have been finished
  3. Then re-check it again at regular intervals to see if you’ll meet your deadlines

There’s no way to easily note down each project status or set up automated updates for them.

Moreover, the project status might not be accurate. 

Additionally, this sheet may not be accurate. As it relies on manual entry, someone could have forgotten to update it – leading to a project manager looking at an inaccurate project status!

ClickUp Solution

ClickUp makes it super easy for you to stay updated and manage your projects.

Status Updates

Instead of relying on a clunky project status report, use ClickUp’s customizable statuses!

Each project has a status that can be updated by anyone on your team to keep everyone in the loop about your projects.

Additionally, you have the option to assign custom statuses to multiple projects!

This ensures that you’re not limited to the usual “In Progress”/“Sent to Client” statuses. For example, you can create your own project status for managing a marketing project:

Task Updates

Whenever someone checks off a task or subtask, team members who follow that task will get a notification. 

This way, they’ll easily stay up to date with the task updates for each project. 

As they’re no longer waiting on a project manager to manually inform, they can start on the next set of dependencies right away!

3. Excel templates are difficult to customize

Having a management tool that adapts to your needs and preferences is essential. 

That’s because everyone’s style of working is different and every project needs its own unique approach.

Excel Limitation

The main problem with Excel templates is that they’re not customizable.

For example, if you’re using a project schedule template, you’ll have to adapt to it – not the other way around.  This can make trying to manage a project incredibly difficult!

As a result, trying to edit it to suit your needs is going to be a very time-consuming process.

Unfortunately, this usually isn’t even an option as you need to be an Excel whiz to even attempt to edit one of these Excel templates!

ClickUp Solution

ClickUp can offer you multiple dashboard views to suit multiple working styles. You can see the same project in all the different views with just a single click!

Here’s a closer look at these views:

A. Required task views

ClickUp has two required task views to handle Agile project management and List-based project management:

Board View – The Board view is the perfect dashboard view if you’re a fan of Agile project management. You have the ability to easily drag and drop multiple projects into different categories to keep up with the needs of an Agile project.

List View – With List view, you can easily search for particular tasks and deal with them effectively. As they’re sorted for you in a list, you can easily shuffle them around and re-order them as you please! 

You’ll now be able to manage a project in the GTD (getting things done) style!

B. Box view

The Box view is a great way to get a high-level overview at what you and your team are up to. As tasks are sorted out by assignee, you can keep track of everyone’s tasks and monitor your progress. 

C. Calendar view

ClickUp’s Calendar view is the perfect way to manage your schedule easily.

You can even toggle between views in your calendar, such as:

  • Days: To view scheduled project tasks on a given date
  • 4-Days: To view your project schedule over a rolling four day period
  • Week: To look at your weekly project schedule
  • Monthly: For a high-level view of your what’s coming up over the next month
D. Me Mode

The “Me” Mode lets you only view the items assigned to you on your dashboard. You can now focus on trying to manage your projects and tasks only!

This way, every team member can have a Dashboard view that suits their own working style and project needs.

In fact, it’s the only project management tool that lets you toggle between views with a single click!

Remember, ClickUp adapts to your team – not the other way round!

4. Mobile viewing is difficult in Excel

While project management on the move wasn’t an option 15 years ago, in 2020, it’s essential.

That’s why your project management software needs to be mobile-friendly to help you on-the-go.

Excel Limitation

While Microsoft does have a mobile application for Excel, it isn’t ideal.

That’s because viewing large spreadsheets on a small screen is next to impossible! 

The point of a spreadsheet is to get an overview of all the data in one go right?

With the app’s cluttered Excel project management dashboard, you’ll have to painfully scroll through sections and zoom in and out to try and find data. Trying to manage your projects becomes incredibly difficult and this practically ruins the purpose of an Excel spreadsheet.

In fact, this isn’t just an Excel-specific issue.

You’ll find it super-hard to navigate and comprehend a sheet or workbook on the Excel and Google Sheets mobile app!

ClickUp Solution

Most fully-fledged project management tools have mobile apps, and ClickUp is no different!

You’ll have all the functionality of the desktop app on your phone and won’t have to worry about losing track of anything.

As you’re dealing with individual projects and not spreadsheets, working on them from your mobile is going to be super-easy. 

Why deal with a complicated Excel dashboard when you can use ClickUp’s streamlined interface instead?

5. Excel causes communication gaps

When it comes to task management, your team needs to be able to communicate over tasks effectively.

They must be able to ask questions or share relevant project updates and files.

Without this, your project will never go anywhere as nobody’s able to collaborate over it!

Excel Limitation

Unfortunately, team collaboration isn’t something Excel does well.

As it’s simply a sheet, there’s no place for your team members to comment or share relevant project documents. 

As a result, your team has to rely on external communication apps to coordinate over tasks. This is going to result in large communication gaps as someone is bound to be left out of the loop.

ClickUp Solution

ClickUp makes collaboration over tasks incredibly simple.

Comment sections

Each task has its own comment section where team members can address queries and share important documents. Team members will then be notified if something was shared there and can check it out.

As there are separate comment sections for each project, you can rest assured that all these conversations are also neatly organized. 

Detailed task descriptions

Additionally, you can have detailed task descriptions in ClickUp which can outline what exactly each person needs to do. What this does is reduce the likelihood of any miscommunication taking place (but even if it does, you have the comment section to sort it out!).

Slack integration

ClickUp can also integrate with messaging tools like Slack to ensure that your team is still using a communication app they’re comfortable with. They’ll now be able to use Slack while getting the added functionality of a project management tool!

6. No advanced reporting

Having a detailed work breakdown over your project progress and knowing how your human resources are performing are invaluable in project management.

Not only will this give you a good idea of where you stand now, it can help you prepare better for the future.

Excel Limitation

Spreadsheets like Excel and Google Sheets offer you no detailed reporting capabilities other than the data that’s on the screen.

You have no way of monitoring how long a task is taking or how much work a team member is shouldering.As a result, formulating an effective work management plan is impossible if you’re just using Excel or Google Sheets.

ClickUp Solution

ClickUp can offer you tons of detailed reports that cover aspects like:

  1. Who’s working on what at the moment 

With this report, you’ll have an accurate picture of what all your team members are working on. You’ll know which projects they’ve completed and which ones are left.

  1. Time estimated on a task vs. time actually spent

With this report, you can measure task progress and estimate whether you’re going to meet deadlines. Additionally, you’ll be able to see how efficient each team member is.

  1. Gamified Reports

Everyone loves a bit of friendly competition right?

That’s why this report can gamify all the tasks your teammates have worked on such as notifications cleared, tasks done, etc. This can turn task management into a fun game of who can do the most!

  1. Gantt charts

Instead of relying on an impractical project tracking template, just use ClickUp’s Gantt charts!

ClickUp’s powerful Gantt chart feature is useful for effective project scheduling and tracking!

Use ClickUp’s Gantt chart to instantly track project progress and manage project scheduling. As each project comes with its own Gantt chart, it makes multiple project tracking a breeze. 

You can view your timeline, manage dependencies and keep things ticking with just a click! 

These charts also come with tons of automation:

  • You can automatically readjust and manage task dependencies when project scheduling changes are made
  • You can automatically compare current progress vs. estimated project progress
  • You can also automatically calculate and manage your critical path
  1. Dashboards

ClickUp also comes with powerful dashboards for high-level overviews of your project progress. Here’s a quick look at the different charts you can add to ClickUp’s dashboards:

  • Velocity chart – Use this to determine the completion rate of your tasks. Your tasks are broken down into weekly and bi-weekly intervals with the average velocity (completion rate) displayed

  • Burndown chart – Use this to track how your project is progressing against a target line. It’ll help you keep track of how much work you have left

  • Burnup chart – This chart highlights what you’ve accomplished against your remaining scope. Use it to see what you’ve accomplished and motivate your team to go further

  • Cumulative flow chart – Use these charts to see how your project progresses over time

7. The Excel software keeps crashing

Reliability is one of the most important things to look for in a management tool.

As there are so many important checklists and project tasks there, you can’t afford to lose any of that data.

Excel Limitation

One of the problems with using Excel for project management is that it wasn’t built for it.

If too many people access the same Excel spreadsheet at the same time, the tool tends to crash.

This could be a big issue as not only could you lose any unsaved changes, but the constant crashing makes it virtually impossible to use Excel for project management!

ClickUp Solution

ClickUp is built for cloud-based project management. That’s why it has no issue handling multiple people accessing the same space at the same time!

In fact, with ClickUp, you’ll have 99.98% uptime! That’s virtually no crashes!

8. Access rights can’t be customized

When it comes to projects, you want the right people working on it. 

You don’t want to involve people who aren’t relevant to the project, but also can’t leave out people who are integral to the project.

That’s why it’s important for a project management tool to have customizable access rights for effective collaboration.

Excel Limitation

The problem with Excel is that you only have two options –

1) You give editing rights to everyone

The problem with this is that there’s no tracker to see who made changes to the document or workbook (unless you’re using Office 365). 

Additionally, this poses a security issue as not every employee needs access to a workbook – especially if it contains sensitive information like your client’s budget.

2) You only grant EDIT access to a project manager, while the rest can only VIEW

The problem here is that this can create a project bottleneck.

As only one person can make changes to a sheet, you’re waiting on them at all times. Your employees may have data ready to go but will have to wait for the project manager to log in and make those changes.

Neither of these options is ideal, right?

ClickUp Solution

With ClickUp, you have complete control over your project’s usage rights and accessibility. Even team members working on the same project can have varying levels of accessibility to ensure that the right people have access to the right things.

While most task management tools only limit access rights to members of your organization, ClickUp can add guests to your projects too!

You can customize which projects they have access to ensure that they’re not involved in projects they’re not part of. 

This way, you can collaborate with freelancers and stakeholders without having to worry about a thing!

Conclusion

While Excel has many uses, project management isn’t something it does very well. 

Even with Excel templates, you’re still going to have a tough time managing your projects in Excel.

The smarter choice would be to use a specialized task management tool like ClickUp instead.

That’s because ClickUp is a tool designed for project management. All of its features were designed to help you manage your projects more efficiently!

So why not try ClickUp for free and experience it for yourself?

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