This Excel Function will make you a Better Project Manager

Now, for folks who work with Excel on a daily basis, you’ve been pushing cells and deleting sheets for a while now, your colleagues know you’re a clever dick (stop sniggering) and you’ve decided that its high time you aim higher and think about dabbling in the dark and arcane art of Project Management. Why wouldn’t you be good at PM’ing?! After all, you just used your mad VBA skillz to automate a spreadsheet to control a Drone that hovers above your most annoying colleagues (*cough internal audit cough* just kidding), trolling them. So how difficult can PM’ing be when you are a formula writing master logician?

Well, PMing is not so much a bunch of skills as it is more of a mind-set. What are the key attributes you need? Budget Management? Resource Planning? Knowledge of the PRINCE2 framework? Nope, anyone can google those things during lunch.

Try these attributes:

Pessimistic: PMs are paid to be pessimistic. A good PM does not believe it will be a white Christmas, a good PM does not believe his team will win the Superbowl and he certainly does not for one second buy that the project will be delivered to time, budget or scope. If it happens, it’s a bonus. Pessimism makes for great contingency planning and a good PM will cover their bases.

Relentless: Do your stakeholders think fondly of you? If they do then you’re not a PM yet. They should feel anxiety every time they see you because you are going to ask them with unflinching authority whether they have done ‘it’ or when will ‘it’ be done.

Everything else is skills and tactics (they do have a place but well below those attributes). Which brings me neatly to the most important Excel function a Project Manager needs. What is it? Conditional Formatting? Goal Seek Analysis? The formula ATANH? Surely it’s Pivot Tables? Wrong, it’s this:


Ta da!

Yes, close down Excel. Project Management does not happen with tools. It’s a people sport and people operate through communication. Your focus needs to be on communication. As a PM you are forever communicating. Everything a PM does is dealing with incoming or outgoing communication: Conversations, emails, planning, reporting, forecasts etc. The size of the organisation/programme will determine how you as a PM will approach your communicating.

Big Organisations/Programmes (multiple related projects) will usually have some layer between PMs and execs which is often a PMO (Project Management Office), these folks help create much needed structure (governance), lines of communication (reporting) and discipline (ensuring the projects collectively still meets strategic objectives). As the projects get larger, more complex and interdependent. When Project Managers have PMOs to lean on then they can focus on managing their projects, the PMOs will do much of the major communicating (Reporting, Risks/Issues and even planning or let’s broadly call it project admin).

Within smaller Organisations/Programmes, there is less need for supportive structures, meaning the PM is more likely to do her own project admin. So there is a need for some toolkits in the arsenal.

So, whilst Project Managing in general is not really done with toolsets, the communication aspect (i.e. reporting and if you’re good enough, planning) are done with tools. So, in order to deal with the vast communication aspect of project progress, I have put together a lesson on building a Dashboard in Excel. Your existing skill level need not be too high but the output will be decent. Click here to sign up for the free lesson.

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