The Pitfalls of Excel for Project Management Resource Planning

Most companies manage projects one way or another. For some, it is the core of their business, for others it’s a small part of a wider focus. If you are responsible for project management on a big scale – assembling a project management team, grouping projects, building structured work flows, assigning tasks, drawing Gantt charts, then your role is largely focused on resource planning.

You get to oversee everyone and everything and determine the who, what, when, where and how of your projects. The resources you manage include all your projects’ assets – not just people, but equipment, machinery and office space as well. Once you’ve devised a plan, it has to be flexible and optimized on a rolling basis, adjusting resource utilization to ensure that you are working in the smartest way.

Despite this strong focus on resource planning, many businesses don’t invest in specialized resource management tools, but instead use something ineffective that makes their job ten times harder. Sometimes the management or IT department has purchased an expensive and complicated project management platform, which needs to be fed epic amounts of data every day. More commonly, the team is plodding along, diligently using Excel spreadsheets for scheduling. Most people who use spreadsheets in their daily work have a love/hate relationship with them.

While they are handy for many tasks in everyday business management, they fall short in planning and scheduling resources for many reasons. While spreadsheets allow you to list out all your team names, their departments, the jobs that they are undertaking and more, it is not the cleverest way of tracking your resources and making sure you’re running a tight ship. The main bugbear related to Excel is its failure as a transparent, flexible collaborative tool. 

Top 4 Reasons against Excel for Planning 

Sharing spreadsheets by email, and inviting members of the team to input elements, can make it hard to keep track of the latest version. It also requires great meticulousness to track changes in the plan and find incorrect formulas and overwritten data. There are many opportunities for human error. Here are four of the best reasons Excel isn’t ideal as a resource planning tool:

1. Functionality

With spreadsheets, it takes a lot of time to physically create settings, replicate data and determine resource utilization time. When plans change, it takes multiple steps to create new space for tasks cells.

2. Team work

It’s difficult to synchronize entries by multiple people into the same spreadsheet. Having emailed it to the team, everyone is oblivious to who is making what changes. This makes extra work for someone to sort out incompatible revisions.

3. Accessibility

To access a spreadsheet, first you need to have the program software installed on your machine. If that’s in place, there are further issues such as clunky sharing options by email or USB-transfer. If you want to access ‘the plan’ from your smartphone, you will find the screen small for viewing and editing.

4. Reporting

Depending on the software, most spreadsheets can be exported to multiple formats. Unlike some specialized resource planning software options, however, only entire documents can be exported, rather than selected fields. Ultimately, project management resource planning is most effective when you use a tool specifically designed for the job. No combination of overly complex project management programs, spreadsheets, whiteboards, and post-it notes will bring as good results in terms of optimizing resources, and meeting deadlines and budgets. However, when you set your sights on buying purpose-built resource planning software, it can be daunting how many hundreds of options are out there.

To choose the right software for you, I’d suggest doing thorough research. Compare features to see which one ticks the most boxes and ideally get a free, no obligation trial. High-level resource planning software should give you the ability to decide the best use of everyone and everything at all times. Some of the features our customers consider to be ‘no brainers’ are: real-time updates, drag-and-drop scheduling, data visualization and reporting, custom views and color schemes, task milestones and dependencies, resource utilization tracking and Google calendar synchronization. Sadly, projects often fail – and bad planning is frequently at the heart of their breakdown. Poor leadership, communication and teamwork are among the reasons that plans don’t achieve their goals. To avoid project failure, it’s necessary to look at the root cause of all these issues. In some cases, it could boil down to using the wrong tools for resource planning, which has triggered a costly domino effect.

Top 10 Project Management Software to Replace Your Excel Spreadsheets

Looking for a PM solution to improve your project resource planning capabilities? Check out our top picks for 2021 and get started with a free trial.

1 ClickUp

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ClickUp is one of the highest-rated project management tools today. Use Docs, Reminders, Goals, Calendars, Chat, scheduling, assigned comments, custom views, & more with this all-in-one project management tool.

Used by 800,000+ teams in companies like Airbnb, Google, and Uber, it brings all of your projects into a single app! Built for teams of all sizes and industries, Our fully customizable & proprietary features make it a must-have for anyone wanting to keep project management in one place.

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2 monday.com

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monday.com Work OS is an award-winning no-code work management platform that helps teams manage projects and workflows more efficiently.

Used by 152,000+ customers worldwide, this fully customizable software lets you plan, manage, and track every project in one place. monday.com offers time-saving and easy-to-use features such as automations, time tracking, document sharing, and real-time collaboration. Multiple board views such as Gantt and Kanban help you structure and navigate tasks and projects the way you prefer, and dashboards give a high-level overview of your progress.

In addition, integrations with apps such as Outlook, Microsoft Teams, Gmail, and Excel, allow you to easily continue working with your favorite tools from within the platform. monday.com also offers dedicated solutions, such as monday dev and monday sales CRM, designed to answer the needs of specific industries.

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3 Wrike

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Wrike is the most powerful work management platform on the market, enabling teams to plan projects and collaborate in real time. Our award-winning software is trusted by 20,000+ companies across the globe, including Sony, Estée Lauder, and Siemens.

Wrike’s customizable features include Gantt charts, request forms, dashboards, cross-tagging, time tracking, and proofing. Integrate with 400+ apps from the likes of Microsoft, Google, and Salesforce. Automate repetitive tasks and achieve 50% faster planning. Work from anywhere with 100% access to your files via our mobile and desktop apps.

Whether you’re a small startup or an established brand, Wrike has the solution for you. Paid plans start at $9.80/user/month. Join our community of 2.3 million — start your free two-week trial today.

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4 Smartsheet

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Smartsheet is a leading work execution platform that has real-time work management features, collaboration and automation tools. Users are presented with a familiar and easy-to-use spreadsheet-like interface. However, it has enterprise-grade capabilities that even Fortune 500 companies like Cisco, Bayer, HP, and PayPal are confident to adopt in their business. Strong project management features enable teams to utilize different views of real-time data, and switch easily from Gantt, card, grid and calendar views. Smartsheet has automatic update requests, and can be used for waterfall and agile projects, product launch, sprint planning, and more. The resource management feature provides users the visibility who is busy, and who is not, in real-time. They can also attach files, share sheets, get notified, view the activity log, export, email, and print.

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5 Rocketlane

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Rocketlane’s collaborative customer onboarding platform helps businesses accelerate time-to-value, streamline implementation journeys, and deliver exceptional customer experience. By replacing generic project management and document collaboration tools with a unique, unified workspace, Rocketlane helps improve communication, collaboration, and project visibility for businesses and their customers. We help businesses consistently hit their goals by making onboarding more delightful and friction-free.

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6 BigTime

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BigTime is a leading Professional Services Automation (PSA) software that helps you scale your business by giving you the ability to track and act on your operational metrics. Even with remote work, easily manage time, expenses, and billing for multiple projects all at once, and quickly identify areas of opportunity with advanced features like resource allocation and custom reporting. With BigTime Wallet and client portal, you can get paid faster using custom invoicing and payment processing.

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7 Resource Guru

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Resource Guru is the fast, flexible way to schedule teams and projects. Manage people, equipment, and meeting rooms in one place. Track availability in real-time and assign work in seconds. Analyze workloads across clients and projects.

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8 Zoho Projects

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Zoho Projects is an online project management application that helps its users to plan projects, collaborate with employees and clients, keep track of time, manage documents, and generate charts and reports. Users work on a central platform where they can keep track of progress, discuss ideas, communicate easily and stay updated. It is cloud-based and highly accessible, where user data is kept safe with stringent security systems. The software is also scalable depending on the number of projects, with the option to add more features. Zoho Projects is a cloud-based project management tool that helps you plan your work, track it efficiently, and collaborate with your team wherever they are.

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9 LiquidPlanner

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LiquidPlanner is the only project and resource management tool that calculates when work will be done with 90% confidence. Our groundbreaking predictive scheduling engine is based on ranged estimates to generate best-case/worst-case scenarios to model when tasks and projects can realistically start and finish. As a result, one of the biggest differentiators with LiquidPlanner is how effectively our project management tool helps project teams manage uncertainty and deal with change. LiquidPlanner factors your organization’s priorities into your project plans from the beginning, so teams are always focused on the most critical work.


The availability of your resources is also accounted for, so you can see if your team really can take on a new project. As priorities, scope, or resource assignments shift, the scheduling engine dynamically adapts to change and recalculates impacted projects in the portfolio for real-time visibility into bottlenecks and risks before missed deadlines.

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10 Kintone

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Kintone is a platform that allows project managers to track, prioritize, and review their team’s tasks for any given project workflow—no matter how complex.

Kintone’s highly-customizable platform gives users the power to create a tailored project management solution using its drag-and-drop interface built for non-coders. Users can design the necessary workflows and easily review all related tasks. Kintone’s customization features include the ability to create automated reminders, filter tasks or project phases by data field or team member to generate custom reports or dashboard views, and automate handoffs between team members for multi-step workflows. You can also view, edit, and update workflows from the platform’s mobile or desktop applications, so oversight doesn’t stop when you leave your desk.

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