If you’re on a Galaxy Fold, consider unfolding your phone or viewing it in full screen to best optimize your experience.
by DP Taylor | Published on May 18, 2022
Image source: Getty Images
If you’ve ever shopped for project management software, you’ve probably experienced sticker shock once or twice. These software platforms are expensive, costing potentially thousands of dollars each year.
It’s enough to make one contemplate just using some Excel templates to do the work — and that’s actually not a bad idea. Excel isn’t marketed as a project planner, but when it comes to project tracking, the platform is more powerful than most people realize.
But will an Excel project tracker be powerful enough for you, or do you need a platform designed specifically for project management? Here’s what you need to know about Excel project management before you make that decision.
Should you stick with Excel, or spring for project management software?
It’s a tough question — on one hand, you risk being stuck in the middle of a project with a tool that lacks the advanced features needed to properly execute daily tasks, while on the other hand, you may spend thousands of dollars on software that’s more powerful than you need it to be.
Sometimes less is more. Just because you can purchase fancy project management software platforms out there doesn’t mean you should open up your wallet. Here are a few reasons to eschew those solutions for Excel:
As your business grows, you’ll find that Excel will struggle to keep up. Here are a few signs that you’re reaching the point where you need specialized project management software:
Excel’s tools aren’t specifically designed for project management like some software, but it will handle a lot of tasks associated with mapping out the project scope, handling the financials, and managing day-to-day tasks. Here are a few specific ways Excel templates will help with project planning.
Excel can create a visual timeline chart and help you map out a project schedule and project phases. Specifically, you can create a Gantt chart, which is a popular tool for project management because it maps out tasks based on how long they’ll take, when they start, and when they finish.
The timeline tracker features horizontal bars representing each task, and they are aligned side by side to give you a complete picture of your project’s schedule and deliverables.
The Excel schedule template and other project planning tools take time to get the hang of, but they allow you to go beyond a simplistic list of deadlines.
Excel thrives when it comes to crunching numbers, so it is particularly well-suited for creating a project budget. This works best for small to mid-sized projects, as larger projects would outstrip the software’s capabilities.
Creating a budget is very easy if all you want is to track a short list of expenses against a list of income. But if you want to go beyond that and create more detailed budgets, Excel can do that as well.
Excel will help you create a task list or to-do list so you can manage your own activities on a day-to-day basis — or, you can create one for your team each day to ensure your projects stay on track.
The obvious way to do this is to list each task, a description of what is to be accomplished, necessary resources, the responsible employee, and so on. However, you can make the to-do list more dynamic and automated if you’re willing to put the time into it.
Once the project is set in motion, you can use Excel as a project tracker and manage any issues that come up. Create columns for the name of the project, the task, the manager in charge, duration, progress, budget vs. actual, and so on.
This shows you how close tasks are to completion, what’s over budget, and anything else you want to monitor.
You can then use this data to create charts that help you visualize the status and progress of projects so you’re not just looking at a set of numbers.
Thanks to all the data you collected, creating customized reports and analytics that will help you break down your performance after the project is much easier. Excel has number-crunching tools that can automatically generate these reports based on the inputs you choose — which also gives you endless customization options.
It’s complicated, but once you learn how to do it, you’ll be able to make educated decisions about future projects.
The best way to find out if Excel is right for you is to give it a try. Create a quick timeline, schedule, task list, and budget using multiple sheets within Excel to see if the software can manage it. Experiment with creating custom reports. Visualize how the day-to-day would look running a project through Excel.
Then, check out a few of the project management software solutions The Ascent has reviewed. Download trials for software options that interest you, and do a little experimenting to see if a comprehensive project management tool is right for you.
It will take time, but taking these actions will give you a clear picture of whether Excel is enough for you, or if you need project management software.
DP Taylor is a business software expert writing for The Ascent and The Motley Fool.
We’re firm believers in the Golden Rule, which is why editorial opinions are ours alone and have not been previously reviewed, approved, or endorsed by included advertisers. The Ascent does not cover all offers on the market. Editorial content from The Ascent is separate from The Motley Fool editorial content and is created by a different analyst team.
The Ascent is a Motley Fool service that rates and reviews essential products for your everyday money matters.
Copyright © 2018 – 2022 The Ascent. All rights reserved.