Our project plan template has become the #1 project template on Google. And almost every day I get great feedback about it. This does not come as a surprise. Why? Me and my team have used the template in dozens of large IT projects. We’ve continuously refined it over time but always kept it simple.
Get the project template now. Here’s why:
- easy project tracking using Excel
- fully customizable
- practical for sharing with management and executives
- works for any project
(Tip: Read my other article about the other project documents you need to prepare).
Our proven project plan template
Here’s an image of the tracker template. You can get it by clicking the button below.
“Your project plan template is fantastic!”
Sandra L. (USA)
Should you use an Excel project template at all?
To tell you the truth: I almost always use Excel as project tracker. Why? Excel is super-easy to use and you can easily share files with other people. This is what matters.
There’s a common misconception about tools for project management. Many people believe they must use complex software like Microsoft Project. That’s BS. Especially for beginners such tools can be overwhelming. You change one value here and it automatically changes another value there — leading to unwanted changes. Then what happens people get caught up fixing their plan and forget to look after their project.
Excel allows you to draw a project plan the way you want. And anyone can open an Excel template. This makes sharing so much easier. No need for MS Project.
Still want to use MS Project? Read our tutorial on creating a project plan in MS Project.
USING THE PROJECT TEMPLATE
Here’s a brief description of the different sections of the template and what they are used for.
Phases help structure a project into blocks of related tasks. Usually in a project you will always have a preparation phase, an implementation phase and a closing phase.
You can use a different row color and uppercase style to highlight project phases, just as I did in the example above.
The template uses a weekly timeline which is shown from column E to the right. This means one column represents one week. Using a weekly schedule means you have to do less editing if tasks are being moved within a week.
Weeks can be identified easily using calendar weeks. The calendar week system also makes communication easier. For example, you could tell your team: “vendor evaluation will happen in week 6 and 7”. This way people know when to block time for your project. When I also recommend is to enable the week numbers in Outlook.
These are the actual things we need to do in our project. For example, there is an activity called requirement specification, where we are putting down the requirements of our project. Also the project kick-off is listed as an activity. In the example, cells showing tasks have yellow background color.
The blue cells in the project plan template show tasks on the timeline:
To draw a new activity bar, just select the respective cells and change the cells color. You can also use different colors to highlight groups of activities. For instance you could show admin tasks in grey, conceptual and planning work in brown and the actual doing as green bars.
A milestone is a goal you are working towards or a very important activity. Examples:
- Software fully tested (a goal)
- Project status meetings (an important activity)
- Go-live of a new software system (an important activity/goal)
- Getting approval for something (a goal)
Once you have finalized your project plan, you share it with your team and the people affected by your project.
Everybody who has some responsibility in the project needs to see with one glance what they have to do. That’s what the columns B, C and D are used for. An X depicts who has to contribute for a specific activity.
How you title the columns and how many columns you use depends on your project. For a project involving IT and marketing, you would have two columns, IT and marketing.
Project plan template: Video-Tutorial
Watch this video to see how to create a project plan using the template:
MORE TIPS FOR USING THE TEMPLATE
A few more ideas for using the project plan template in a smart way:
Maintain bank holidays
When there’s a bank holiday, you only have 4 days available for project work. This means you need to extend more labor intensive tasks to the subsequent week. An overview of current bank holidays will simplify project planning. That’s why I suggest entering the bank holidays of your country into the dedicated row tagged national holidays.
Check bank holidays for your country:
If your country is not on the list, just google for bank holidays <country>:
Enter parallel projects
I also like to include projects running in parallel. This helps me plan my project around the peak phases of other projects. It’s a way to avoid resource bottlenecks and burn out of team members. Add all major parallel projects and activities and create new rows if necessary.
Printing the project plan
There are a few things to consider when making a printout. First, choose a large enough paper size. I would never go below 11 x 17 in, because if you do the content will be hard to read. Also, choose landscape mode so the plan can be printed full width.
Next, Excel allows you to either print the entire sheet or a specific area only. Printing only a specific area is useful if you want to visualize a certain project stage only.
In the printing dialog you can scale the content to fit your paper size. This way nothing will be cut off.
Making a PDF export
You can also export the Excel template in PDF form. This is useful when you need to share the plan with a larger audience using email. I prefer PDF because people can’t make any changes to the file. Excel allows you to save your file as PDF. Go to File, then choose Save As … and select PDF (*.pdf) as file format.
How granular should the project plan be?
Should you list each and every activity that needs to be performed, or should you just include the big tasks? Not an easy question and it really depends on the project.
Generally I only put down major tasks and milestones. I like to summarize tasks under one general task name. The detailed tasks or action items I manage in a separate file (see how I track action items).