Do you love Excel and hate MS Project?

A reader on Linkedin asked:

Is planning a project easier through Excel or through Project? I’m getting ready to take a class in Project 2010 and generally I’m more comfortable in Excel.

Here is my response:

(1) Is planning a project easier through Excel or through Project?
When the schedule become too big (lots of tasks to track), Excel becomes limited when you try to replan. MS Project gives you the ability to “chain” tasks so when you change the date for one task, the dates of other tasks that depend on it change as well. This is automatic and trying to do it by hand become very tedious and challenging.

You don’t have to use all the features of MS Project. I only use very few features and I manage multi-million, multi-year projects. You only really need to know how to (1) enter tasks and their start and end dates, (2) their owners and, and (3) precedence. If you want to use more advanced features, you can use them as you need to, such as changing the properties of a task.

Don’t be intimidated by all the features in Ms Project. It can be overwhelming. I apply the rule of “just-in-time” learning: only learn about a feature when you actually need it to solve a particular problem.

(2) I’m getting ready to take a class in Project 2010 and generally I’m more comfortable in Excel.

I think you should still take the class and learn about the features available but you should not feel compelled to use MS Project in every project. Most people on your project will not care what you use to maintain the schedule.

However, I do encourage you to use MS Project as much as possible. Once in a while, there will be that sponsor, influential stakeholder, or that project team member who expects you as a project manager to use MS Project. In this particular case, you need to use it if you can’t convince them otherwise. The reason is that if this person is influential and at some point excel schedule becomes unmanageable or reached its limit, you may be forced my your managers to use MS Project.

If you resist using MS Project, you may be seen as not following industry standard processes (a career limiting move). You may hear this complain again and again anytime your encounter a project management challenge. Also, if you have to transition your project to another PM (because managers want you to tackle a more important project), the PM may not be as comfortable with Excel as you. In this case, the PM will expect the schedule to be in MS Project.

Finally, as you move from one company to another (throughout your career), you will find out that some shops will look down upon those using Excel. In a competitive environment, you don’t want anyone to use your lack of use of MS Proejct as a way to discount you.

So you really don’t have a choice but to use MS Project in the long term (despite the fact that you feel more comfortable with Excel).

So to recap, don’t be intimidated by MS Project as you only need to use its very basic features and you will need to make MS Project you BFF as long term strategic PM career move.

What has been your experience with Excel vs. MS Project? What are your recommendations?

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