8 Places where Microsoft Excel Scores for Project Management

Which tool would you use for project scheduling — Microsoft Project or Microsoft Excel? I’m guessing your answer (like mine) would be Project. It has many inherent advantages over Excel. (If you’re not convinced, then consider reading this MPUG classic in which author Keith Wilson provides compelling reasons why Project is better at scheduling projects.)

Does that mean Project is a perfect tool? Hardly. So how do you decide when Project is the right tool to use and when Excel is more appropriate?

To answer that question, let’s consider a different kind of everyday tool — the knife. Which knife would you choose to cut the vegetables — a kitchen knife or a butter knife?


Probably you’d go for the kitchen knife. No one can stop you from choosing a butter knife for the job, but it does serve a different, also vital, purpose.

In the same way, even though Project is meant for scheduling. Excel has its merits too. The advantages of using Excel over Project are these:

  • It’s ubiquitous and requires very low investment.
  • It’s the best tool out there for number crunching.
  • You can slice and dice the data using Excel for doing project analysis.
  • You can use Excel to create good visual graphs and reports.
  • Above all, it’s a “generalist” tool — everyone understands how to use it. It doesn’t require any special training.

Given these advantages, let’s look at use cases where Excel is better for scheduling than a project management tool.

8 Situations where Excel Excels for Project Management

  • Your accounting department wants to maintain and manage cost-related data.
  • Your client and senior management want to see beautiful reports.
  • You want to share part of your scheduling data with your client, but not all of the data.
  • You want to share only assigned tasks with your team who don’t have access to Project.
  • You want your team to fill weekly timesheets as per the assigned tasks.
  • You want to make work breakdown structure (WBS) to the planning package or work package level and leave the detailed scheduling to team members (who don’t have access to Project).
  • You want to integrate your vendor’s schedule into your Project file.
  • You want to use data on shared resources from other departments in your company.

In these scenarios Excel and Project can be used together. They complement each other well. There are four features in Project that help in using Excel and Project together:

  • Export data from Project to Excel. For this, you can use: File | Save As and select the file type .xlsx.
  • Import data from Excel to Project. For this use: File | Open and select the file type .xlsx.
  • Just copy data from Excel and use Paste Special in Project.
  • Generate a visual report. For this, use Project | Visual Reports to generate a report in Excel.

Project is a good tool for managing project schedules. It should be used as a primary tool for creating and maintaining project schedules. However, Project can’t be used everywhere. It’s an expensive tool that requires training. (Enterprise Project Management is even pricier and harder to become expert at.)

Excel comes in handy and becomes useful in some situations, such as when integrating with Project for better management of projects. However, Excel should not be used as a primary scheduling tool.

Have I left out your favorite reason for using one tool over the other? Add it to the comments below.

Before I go, one more piece of advice: Don’t use a blade to cut the vegetables.



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Written by Praveen Malik
Praveen Malik, PMP, has two-plus decades of experience as a project management instructor and consultant. He regularly conducts project management workshops in India and abroad and shares his project management thinking in his blog, PM by PM.
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  1. Do you still need to map the project and excel files or does the save as work that well.

    Thanks, nice article.

  2. Hi Brad,

    During import MS Project automatically maps the Excel column names to MS Project (Gantt Chart) column names. This only happens, if Excel File column names are same as that of MS Project. Otherwise, you would need to map the columns yourself.


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