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MS Project vs. Excel

As project managers, we live and die by our tools. Every project manager is different and every company is different in their delivery methodologies and toolsets. In my experience there are a number of different tools that good project managers use to deliver their projects.

With most of the project managers I’ve worked with, I’ve noticed a healthy mix of both MS Project and Excel usage to deliver their projects. Outside of the corporate systems in place to support project management, these two tools are by far the most popular ones that I’ve observed to-date. They are well-established in the marketplace and backed by the Microsoft technology stack which makes them both very attractive options. In this article I’m going to dive into some of the advantages of using MS Project.

MS Project

MS Project is one of the leading tools for project managers to plan and monitor their projects. With the Microsoft technology stack behind it, it’s a tough competitor in the project software marketplace. Some of the key strengths of MS Project brings to the table are discussed below.

Task Scheduling

This is by far the most useful and unique feature that MS Project delivers. You can set a project start date on your Gantt chart and based on the inputs you put to your tasks MS Project will provide you with a schedule that you can easily plug into a presentation, proposal or status report. The views can be configured to pretty much any timescale you wish to display.

Resource Management

Another key feature of MS Project that may go overlooked at times is resource management. By having tasks assigned to resources (or “people” as I like to call them), MS Project is able to provide a birds-eye view of how busy your project resources are and show you where there may be some capacity. Or contrary it will show you where you’re over-allocating your resources and allow you to make changes to your plan to allow for a more reasonable resource assignment plan.


MS Project does a great job in providing both line-item and rollup calculations. For each task that has a resource and work estimate assigned, MS Project will calculate the cost of the task based on the rate assigned to that resource. The real value here is the rollup pricing that MS Project provides – for parent tasks (even at the project level) the pricing rolls up automatically, always giving you a real-time view of the project budget and estimates. While this could technically be achieved in Excel (with lots of VBA programming), MS Project really excels in this category.

Everyone likes using tools they are comfortable and familiar with to do their jobs. MS Project, while not perfect, certainly can give project managers a leg up in planning their projects. Stay tuned for my next article that will go into some advantages of using Excel in place of project for day-to-day project management.

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