How to Create an Effective Project Plan in Excel 📊✨

  • Remote Working & Freelancing
Contra Tips
· 7 min read

Need help with project management? Learn how to create a project plan in Excel with our step-by-step guide.

The success of any project depends on a solid plan. Without one, you’re risking delays, misunderstandings, and possibly even failure. But what does a good project plan look like, and how can you craft one that suits your needs?

Learning how to create a project plan in Excel begins with understanding the ins and outs of the software as a project management tool, including how to make a project plan, what it should include, and which features will streamline the process. With our help, you can up your project management game and reach your goals (perhaps even ahead of schedule!).

What is a project plan? 🏃

Often, the most challenging part of a new project is knowing where to start. Enter: the project plan. A project plan acts as a guide for tracking workflow and delivering the finished product. It outlines the objectives, scope, and resources required to deliver the project successfully, and ideally, it should be approved by all team members. 

A good project plan answers a few critical questions to help create a roadmap that leads your team to success: 

  • What are the project’s deliverables?
  • How will those deliverables be completed on time?
  • Who is involved in the project and what are their roles?
  • When will the project begin and end?

What should a project plan include? 🥇

If you’re a project manager, you know time is money; that’s where a solid project plan comes in. Taking the time to allocate resources, manage timelines, and identify potential risks helps keep a project running smoothly.

A great project plan has the following components:

  • Summary. Include a brief overview of the information contained in your plan. 
  • Project goals. Clearly define your project's aims and whether you will perform any test projects.
  • Target audience. Identify who the project is intended for and who will use the results. 
  • Key responsibilities, task list, and deliverables. Outline what needs to be done, by whom, and when.
  • Costs and project budget. Lay out the project’s estimated costs, including how it will be funded.
  • Resources (available and needed). List the resources required to complete the project and any relevant constraints.
  • Risk analysis and mitigation plan. Outline potential risks that may arise during the project and how to manage them if they occur.
  • Contingency plans. Detail any relevant backup plans in case the project hits a snag. 
  • Milestones. Identify milestones for measuring progress.
  • Proposed project timeline. Outline a detailed estimate of the project’s timeline from start to finish, including a timeframe for tasks, deliverables, and milestones. 
  • Communication and evaluation strategies. Determine how you will communicate throughout the entire project and how you will evaluate the project’s success. 

4 simple steps to format a project plan in Excel 💻 

Excel is a robust and intuitive program for creating project plans. Follow this approach to create organized, efficient, and visually appealing plans that can be updated in real-time to suit your workflow. Soon, you won’t start a new project without it.

When constructing an Excel project plan, this template will get you started:

Create a table and add the required headers 👤

  1. Create a table in Excel and add headers, such as Project Name, Project Status, Project Tasks, Start Date, End Date, and Status. Consider other relevant headers, such as Budget and Cost. 
  2. Center the header text by highlighting it and clicking the center icon in the Alignment group. 
  3. Format the spacing of the headers by highlighting the text and clicking Format on the Home tab in the Cells group. 
  4. Finally, select the column width — we recommend setting it to between 15 and 20.

Fill the table with project information 📊

  1. Once you’ve added the headers, add the project information to the table, including tasks, their timetables, and the team members responsible. 
  2. Enter the tasks’ current status, such as “pending,” “in process,” “under review,” or “completed.” (If the spacing of your data is off, select all of it and click Format under the Cells group.)
  3. Next, choose Autofit Column Width to automatically alter the width of each column to fit your content. To center your data, select it and click the center icon in the Alignment group.

Add colors for visual hierarchy 🌈

Color makes everything more fun (and easier to understand). Make your project plan more clear by adding colors to the table to indicate task priorities and statuses. This makes it easy to identify and prioritize critical tasks. Here’s how to change typeface colors: 

  1. Click the cell containing the desired text. 
  2. Next, click the Home tab and select a color from the dropdown menu. 
  3. To change the background color of a cell, click the cell and then click the paint bucket icon to select a color. 
  4. To format fonts, select one or more cells and use the font style and size options on Excel’s Home tab.

Create the project plan timeline ⏳

Next, create your project’s timeline. 

  1. Add the start and finish dates in another column in the same row as the table headings.
  2. Next, select both dates and drag them from the first to the last row while holding Shift. 
  3. To condense the timeline, select all the dates and change the text size
  4. To format the dates, click on them again and choose the format option

4 Microsoft Excel project plan templates at a glance 🏗️

If you’re using Excel for project management, choosing a project plan template that suits your needs is essential for a smooth workflow. Quite a few options are available, so we broke it down for you.

Here are four different types of project management templates and what they’re used for:

Simple project plan template 😐

This type of template is ideal for small, uncomplicated projects. It documents all the key details and breaks your project down into tasks so you can assign responsibilities and track progress without getting overwhelmed. 

Work plan template 💼

Use this Excel template for larger projects that require detailed planning. It outlines the project schedule, timeline, milestones, and budget, as well as what needs to be done, when, and by whom. It’s an excellent way to break complicated projects down into smaller steps, and it suits large teams. 

Action plan template 🦸

If your project requires quick, decisive, and consistent action, this template is for you. It lists what tasks need to happen, who will complete them, due dates, priority status, and more, with a focus on the project’s goals. It’s created with individuals and smaller teams in mind. 

Business plan template 🏙️

If you’re an entrepreneur or part of a start-up that needs a plan for professional development or business expansion, try this template on for size. It outlines your business goals and how to achieve them, including marketing strategies and the resources required, as well as a vision statement, economic assessment, and other details. It’s perfect for starting and growing businesses. 

The importance of creating a project plan 👍

A project plan is a vital tool for effective project management. It helps everyone involved stay on the same page while saving time and resources. It provides a clear strategy that lays out necessary steps and keeps the team on track, even when the focus or scope of the project shifts. 

Don’t let poor project management derail your goals — hire a project manager on Contra’s commission-free hiring platform! Browse our Discover feed to get started. If you’re an Independent offering project management services, join Contra today to find clients you want to work with.

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