The project plan in excel is the most critical part of project management. An effective project plan involves the definition of scope and a feasibility study. After a successful plan is laid out, only then can execution begin. 

There is different project management software that can be used for effective project planning, and one of the easiest and most popular is the project plan in excel. 

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Microsoft Excel is one of the most widely used spreadsheet software programs in the world. It's used by people of all age groups—in schools, colleges, homes, and offices. Excel is an integral part of a majority of organizations for generating progress reports and managing business data.

What is a Project Plan?

The Project Management Book of Knowledge (PMBOK) defines a project plan as a formal document that is approved by all parties involved, and that provides guidance as to how a project is executed and controlled.

The following questions need to be answered by a project plan:

  • What: What are the major deliverables of the project?
  • How: Are we supposed to get our deliverables early or on time?
  • Who: Who will be involved in the project, and what will their responsibilities be?
  • When: When will the project begin and when is it supposed to be complete?

Now, let's check out the process of project management with Excel.

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To learn more about project planning, watch our Project Planning in Excel video. This video will help you understand the process of project planning with Microsoft Excel. In it, we explain the process of project management in Excel and elaborate on the reasons why we should use the tool for effective project management.

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What to Include in a Project Plan?

Creating a project plan can be dictated through a generalized approach. But the constituents make it customized for specific domains and projects. The inclusions should be: 

Executive Summary

It is a short, one to two-page, highly informative part of the project plan. The aim is to brief the reader about the business, key points, reason for investment, and the project's existence. It should begin with an attractive point seeking the reader’s attention. The executive summary should keep the readers' interest alive and urge them to continue reading. The information flow should be as follows: 

  • Descriptive summary
  • Market analysis 
  • Products and services 
  • Distinguish the current business. 
  • Business finances 
  • Investment utilization 

Project Goals

The project goals are the ultimate aims to be achieved while working on a project. It gives a direction for proceeding rather than unintentionally and mindlessly working on the project. The goals are broader than the objective. While writing, project goals should precisely indicate the project's purpose and align with the problem statement. The project goal should reflect the organization’s vision in simple language. Most importantly, the project plan should have a single goal. 

Target Audience

The project plan must point out the key highlights suitable for different audiences. It should be customized for the target audience, thus attracting their interest. A generalized project plan is more likely to be skipped as the reader loses interest in reading further. 

Key Responsibilities 

The project team is generally employed at certain levels. Indicating the determined responsibilities of each helps the reader imagine the actions. It also provides a brief idea of the workforce and hence should be indicated. 

Key Tasks and Deliverables

These are among the significant reader’s interests. It should meet their expectations. Indicate the task and deliverables with deadlines. Determine this information considering manpower, progress, and challenges in mind. 

Available or Needed Resources

The project plan is incomplete without listing the required things. It is a pre-planned component of the project which helps in proper management. It also ensures that the project does not need to be stopped at any point due to a lack of resources. 

Risk Analysis and Mitigation Plan 

Numerous reasons lead to the inability to follow plans. Proper planning includes potential risks and methods to overcome them. The expert-designed project plan must contain the strategy to act according to possible risks and the methodology to work out things if they go wrong. 

Key Milestones 

The key milestones are indicative of the project’s progress. Besides the project manager and team, the investors should also know the milestones to understand the team's progress. They can suggest the modification accordingly as per their will. 

Proposed Project Timeline

The timeline states the expected delivery of the project. It also contains the delivery date of the goals, milestones, and other essential project parts.

Costs and Budget Details

The estimated cost for the human resources, equipment, software, and other expenditure should be utilized to make up the budget plan. The project plan will include the same for investors' knowledge. 

Contingency Plans

Businesses are full of uncertainty. Proper steps must be taken to tackle such situations. There should be separate planning indicating the backup information to overcome such hurdles. 

Communication Strategies

A mindful communication setup is crucial as no one wants to miss the update. The commonly used mode of communication should be researched and stated beforehand for the efficient functioning of the project. It should also be in direct knowledge of the reader to analyze their compatibility. 

Evaluation Strategy

The business's progress, success, and failure must be measured. Certain well-researched controls should be decided for evaluation. The standard should be up to the mark for comparison. 

What is the Purpose of a Project Plan?

Project planning is one of the preliminary steps while considering the beginning of work on a project. But knowing the reason to do so adds to its value and lets the users understand its importance. The project plan serves multiple purposes, such as:

Provides Opportunities to Succeed 

The lack of planning is often linked to the failure of projects. The reason is the lack of information on the decision of the appropriate next step. The absence of workflow or the next milestone creates confusion, where everyone takes up the most accessible or most suitable task rather than the important or priority task. The project plan maps the pathway and organization regarding tasks, schedules, and resources. 

Saves Money 

The project's failure results in a loss of spent money, hard work, funds, and other expenses. As stated, the lack of project planning is crucial in defining its success. Poor planning can fail to deal with mistakes or meet deadlines. The project might also end up scaling up, which will again throw the team off balance. 

Enhanced Team Communication 

The planning endeavor requires the participation of different involved parties, which eventually enhances communication. The discussion on simple details brings up innovative approaches and new ideologies. The project plan also focuses on the important aspect of communication between team members of different time zones. It also selects suitable communication apps that are effective for all parties. 

Avoids Wastage of Resources

The planning allows for calculating the requirements. It checks the expertise of resources and requirements of worldly things and subsequently decides the flow and working of the project. It avoids wastage by requesting the appropriate amount for allocation enough for usage and backup. 

Helps to Track

The project plan contains all the milestones, achievements, goals, and objectives. It is the right guide to check the project and the company's progress. It provides information on the direction of the company’s progress. The project plans of all the previous projects indicate the progress and growth of the company. 

Collaborates the Team 

Teamwork is responsible for the success of projects. Failure of employees to work as a team and understand their responsibilities often results in the failure of the project. Project plans clearly define the roles, responsibilities, expectations, and deliverables. The combination of expectations with deadlines and timelines helps in getting efficient results. 

Enhances Employee Relations

The employees are more likely to trust and respect a manager who knows the importance of workload management. The employees would enjoy working on projects where they get the proper work and that utilize the skills of employees. This scenario leads to valuing the employee's work, which is possible through project planning only. 

The Project Planning Process

The project planning is the guidance module to be followed by the project team. The process of planning must consider different aspects which come through experience. The generalized method of planning the project contains 

  1. Know the Concept: The primary step should be to know the concept and basics of the project. It involves answering questions like what, how, and why. 
  2. Create Workflow: This includes creating a rough project timeline. The focus should be on adding every aspect necessary to the project. 
  3. Set Expectations: Knowing what is expected at a specific time period is one of the driving factors of the project. Decide the date, week or month and the project component that should be ready by then. 
  4. Identify Milestones: Set up the significant achievements as milestones to track the progress and motivate the involved members. 
  5. Create a Budget: It helps decide multiple project components like team, equipment, and fund requirements and subsequently estimate the quality of work possible. The project managers or companies must stick to the set budget. Consider essential points to create a realistic budget. 
  6. Select Team Members: The project will require different teams containing specific skill sets suitable for the task. It should be a mutual decision if possible. Else, discussion with involved parties must be there. 
  7. Assess the Risk: The process also involves assessing the potential risks. It allows getting back on track without messing up with the flow. The step is crucial to avoid useless delays or financial issues from improper planning.
  8. Set Up the Communication: Communication is among the significant aspects that need focus. The team members, stakeholders, or external parties may have different time zones. Meeting all of them at a specified time requires consideration. Moreover, the preferred communication pathway must be set to prevent any notification from being missing.
  9. Launch the Project: The project can be launched safely with everything in place and worked out realistically and in collaboration. The process should have covered all the basics and critical points crucial for the project.

Project Management with Excel 

Microsoft Excel is often used as a simple project management tool by project managers working on small- or mid-sized projects to help visualize, plan, and monitor progress. 

Excel enables project managers to plan each task with the help of spreadsheets that include columns with the list of tasks, their owners, and the start and finish date of each task. Among other uses, most businesses rely heavily on spreadsheets to record income, expenditures, and overhead charges—primarily, everything a business does to manage its respective budget.

Why use Microsoft Excel?

  • Simple data manipulation. There are several tools in Excel that can be used to sort and search for data. This makes project management with Excel more effective and efficient.
  • Analytical tools for efficient analysis. Excel helps professionals analyze large amounts of data and visualize it with graphs and charts. 
  • Easy tracking and monitoring of project status. You can create graphs and timeline charts that help track the project status. 
  • Project management templates that help to collect data and identify dependencies. These help you track the progress of the work, and compare estimated dates with the actual dates.

How to Create a Project Plan in Excel?

The project plan can be created in Excel for easy sharing. The instructions for action are stated below: 

1. Add Headers to the Table

  1. These are the headings defining the information in a particular column. The users must begin writing the headers from the second row.
  2. The headers can be Tasks, Assigned To, End, Duration, Status, and other such headings. 
  3. Highlight the headers to attract attention and align them centrally. Go to the Alignment and select the center icon. 


Highlighted and Centrally Aligned Headers

2. Add Your Project Information 

  1. Divide the first column into sub-sections and enter the tasks. Head on to fill in the accountable employees associated with the team for each task. 
  2. The next action will be to fill in the duration.
    Set the duration by going to the Days column and pressing the ‘=’ sign. Next, click on the End Date cell, type the ‘-’ sign, and click on the Start date cell.
    Press enter and then drag the bottom right-hand corner of the present cell till the end of the written column. The automatically calculated duration will be visible when you leave the mouse button. 
  3. The status can be any of the four options: Complete, In progress, Overdue or Not started. 


Adding Relevant Information 

3. Add Colors For Clarity 

  1. Beginning with the font color, select the text, click the Home tab, and select the preferred color.
  2. Change the background color by selecting the desired cells and clicking on the paint bucket icon, then selecting the fill color. 


Different Colored Sections for Clarity

Adding the background color in chronological order to headers and sub-sections is a great method to catch attention. Highlight the status in different colors to convey the information. 

4. Formulate Project Plan Timeline

  1. The project plan timeline assists by clearly outlining the expectations, priorities, and due dates.
  2. You can create the timeline by adding and formatting due dates and adding colors to the project timeline.  

5. Conclude the Project Plan 

Finish the project plan timeline by adding grid lines. Select the complete table and head over to the Font group and select All Borders there.

How to Make a Gantt Chart in Excel

A Gantt chart is a horizontal bar chart used in project management. It provides a graphical representation of the project schedule in Excel that helps to create and track deadlines, as well as the resources required to get the project done.

Here are the steps to create a Gantt Chart in excel:

1. Make a Project Table

Each task is mentioned in a separate row, with the respective start date and tenure (number of days required to complete that task).


2. Make an Excel Bar Chart

  • Select range of start date, B1: B11
  • Click on the Insert tab, select the bar charts group.
  • Then select a stacked bar in the 2-D Bar chart group.

  • As a result, we'll have a bar graph as shown.


3. Adding a Tenure to the Chart 

  • Right-click anywhere on the chart
  • Select the "Select Data" option, from the drop-down menu


  • The "Select Data Source" window will open
  • The start date is already in the entries
  • Click on the "Add" button to enter the tenure


  • Type "Tenure" in Series name
  • Then click on the "range selection" icon


  • Then select the Tenure from the first cell from C2
  • Drag all the relevant cells


  • Click on "OK" in the dialog box
  • We get this bar graph on the screen


4. Adding a Task Description to Gantt chart

  • Open the "Select Data Source" dialog box
  • Click on the "Edit" option as shown in the figure 


  • Now we can see the tasks on the left side of the Gantt chart. 


5. Changing From Bar Graph to the Gantt Chart

  • Click on the bars and select "Format Data Series" 


  • Select "No Fill" in the "Format Data Series" dialog box


  • We can see the Gantt chart based on the data we entered.


  • Click on the task panel
  • Select "Categories in reverse order option from the "Format Axis" dialog box


  • Now the tasks are arranged in the right order, and we have this Gantt chart

  • As we can see the dates on the Gantt chart are from 11-Dec, while the dates we have entered are from 01-Jan
  • Copy the first date in any box


  • Now click on the copied date and go in the "Home" menu to select the dialog box shown


  • Select the "Number" option in the dropdown menu


  • Now, we can see a number displayed in the selected box 


  • Now, click on the dates on the Gantt chart and the "Format Axis" dialog box opens
  • We'll put the number received in the previous slide, here in the "Minimum" box


  • This is the final Gantt chart that we get:


6. Improving the Design of the Gantt Chart

  • We can change the color or put effects on the bar


Finally, let's look at some Microsoft Excel templates that further eases the process of project management.

Microsoft Excel Templates

Microsoft Excel templates give direction on ways to manage and monitor tasks, subtasks, and their progress in a project. 

Let's look at a few standard Microsoft Excel templates.

1. Excel Project Review Template


  • The Project Review Template gives a clear overview of all the planned, outstanding, and completed tasks
  • This template enables project managers to measure project progress and share with stakeholders

2. Excel Budget Template


  • The Budget Template keeps track of all the expenditures in a project to manage the budget accurately
  • This template helps project managers compare the planned budget for each project phase with the actual cost

3. Excel Sprint Project Tracker Template


  • The Sprint Project Tracker is used for agile projects to plan and prioritize different sessions or sprints of it
  • This template includes the start date, end date, duration of each task, and percentage of completion rates

4. Excel Project Tracker


  • The Project Tracker includes all tasks with their status and owners, the percent complete and planned, and planned duration versus actual duration
  • This template tracks all scheduled tasks and tracks them against the original plan

5. Excel Project Schedule Template


  • The Project Schedule Template provides a clear view of all the work associated with project delivery
  • This template helps in the efficient management of the project, keeping track of time and any work overdue

6. Excel Project Status Report Template


  • The Project Status Report Template lists the deliverables, developments, and risks associated with the project
  • This template gives project managers a way to inform everybody involved with critical project activities

7. Excel Milestone Tracker


  • The Milestone Tracker helps track the progress of different events in a project
  • This template helps project managers list their critical milestones and monitor their performance against the project timeline in Excel

8. Excel Project Planner


  • The Project Planner includes the list of tasks and its owner, along with the start and finish date of each task
  • This template helps keep track of project progress while comparing estimated task dates versus actual dates

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Project plan in Excel has proven to be an effective and growing method to produce successful results for projects all around the world in hundreds of industries. When a professional decides to learn about the solution in-depth, they equip themselves for success—and potentially put them in a better position for leadership roles.

Simplilearn is a leading organization that provides training for work in the digital economy. We drive innovation and accelerate careers for thousands of professionals like you. Today, you can sign up for the PMP® Certification Training Course. When you use effective tools like Microsoft Excel templates, you can raise your career to a whole new level.

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