Learn How to Create a Project Plan in Excel

The project plan 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 Microsoft Excel.

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. 

So, how can you do effective project management with Excel? Some of the interesting topics covered in this article are:

  • What is a project plan?
  • Project management with Excel
  • Why use Microsoft Excel?
  • How to make a Gantt chart in Excel?
  • Microsoft Excel templates

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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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 their 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 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.

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).

project-table

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.

bar-graph

3. Adding a tenure to the chart 

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

data

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

tenure

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

range-selection

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

relevant-cells

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

graph-on-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 

select-data-source.

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

left-side

5. Changing from bar graph to the Gantt chart

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

format-data

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

format-data-series

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

gantt-chart

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

format-axis

  • 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

first-date

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

dialog-box.

  • Select the "Number" option in the dropdown menu

number-option.

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

number-displayed

  • 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

minimum-box

  • This is the final Gantt chart that we get:

 final-gantt-chart

6. Improving the design of the Gantt chart

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

put-effect

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

review

  • 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

excel-budget

  • 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

project-tracker.

  • 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

excel-project.

  • 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

project-schedule

  • 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

project-status.

  • 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

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

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8. Excel Project Planner

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

Take Your Project Plans to New Heights

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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Project planning in Microsoft 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, which prepares you for your PMP certification exam. When you use effective tools like Microsoft Excel templates, you can raise your career to a whole new level.

About the Author

Ishan GabaIshan Gaba

Ishan Gaba is a Research Analyst at Simplilearn. He is proficient in Java Programming, Data Structures, and Project Management. Graduated in Information Technology, Ishan is also passionate about writing and traveling.

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