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Using Excel to Create a Project Plan Essay

To create a schedule for the trade show project for LRH Products, I am recommending the use of Microsoft Excel, along with a free download of Gantt Project software or an Excel template. There are several reasons for this recommendation. Excel will work well for this project since most companies have the software – making it simple to forward the schedule to vendors, team members, clients, and others involved, and it is easy to use and understand. For those stakeholders who have Microsoft Project available for use, they can also download the Excel spreadsheet to insert into this software application.

As well, Excel is quite simple to use and update the form and to create charts and graphs based on the information in the spreadsheet, especially for those who are not well trained in Microsoft Project or do not have the necessary resources to learn its full capabilities. It has been estimated that users of Project software only use approximately 20% of its capabilities (“About XLEasyGantt”) due to ignorance or time constraints. Another feature of Excel which makes it a great choice is that of being allowed to easily modify it as necessary.

The first step in the scheduling process will be

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defining the necessary tasks and listing them more fully under a broad heading, in other words, creating a “tree” of tasks. Starting with an Excel spreadsheet, the tasks can be input into a tab with a description (including explicit detail and instructions), start date, and end date and titled by the broad heading. The length of time required will be based on past trade shows along with the input of team members who have participated in such (although there are more complex formulas available to use for estimation, if desired).

Another tab can be used for listing available human resources. An additional helpful function of Excel is the pivot table, and there are instances when this tool can be preferable for inputting the data as it provides some further functionality for users. Once all information has been compiled and the data input, the second step can be started. Task two is defining the dependencies, i. e. what must be finished first before subsequent tasks can be accomplished. The use of finish-start dependencies will be employed as much as possible to simplify matters.

However, using a Gantt Project download makes the initiation of this process simple. This free download is available at http://ganttproject. biz/. The program allows users to import data from a . txt file and also to export the resultant Gantt chart as a . pdf or . html file. It contains all of the following capabilities: task hierarchy and dependencies, Gantt chart, resource load chart, generation of PERT chart, PDF and HTML reports, MS Project import/export, WebDAV based groupwork.

Another option is to use the free download for creating a Gantt chart right in Excel (http://www. xleasygantt. com/mslaunchpage. asp). This helpful tool contains a pre-formatted spreadsheet which uses macros and filtering. Human resource data is put into one tab while the tasks are entered into another. The two tabs can then interact, making it easy to assign personnel to each task and specify a start and end date. Assignment of staff with a limited amount of time allocated to specific tasks can be aided by the use of Excel’s “solver” function.

This features helps manage time allotments based on the total amount of time required to complete a task. The Excel template already includes major holidays which may disrupt work time – a handy starting point. The amount of dollars budgeted for each broad task outlined in the schedule can also be input and assessed with a quickly created chart showing the amount which has actually been spent to date. An expense report template can also be built into the spreadsheet for ease of use for each team member who may have incurred personal expenses to complete the project.

By having the human resource information, along with contact Email address, in an Excel spreadsheet, it is also simple to send the chart to each staff member involved. The Email addresses can be concatenated, and then exported to the Email application to create a distribution list. This is particularly helpful if one wishes to keep the Email addresses of certain staff members private or to hide the complete list of those to which it is being distributed. The final step is to refine the schedule based on feedback and review. It will need modifications and updates throughout the process.

Progress reports from each staff member can be entered into the schedule with the resultant progress report forwarded to senior management. Another way to use all the available features of Excel is by placing the master file on a server which can be accessed by all team members. Allowing them to make changes to the file which update their own progress will save time for the project manager. While this can be a rather complicated process, once it is set up properly all changes by different individuals can be integrated into the original file which instantly shows up-to-the-minute progress (“Tracking Team Projects”, 2008).

No matter the type of software used for this – Excel itself or in conjunction with the Gantt Project application – it is easy to create a chart which graphically shows the progress made on this project. The horizontal bars used in a Gantt chart, along with specific cells which represent milestones in progression, is designed to illustrate, at a glance, just how much progress has been made by the team. The use of any of the freely available and downloadable tools accessed via the Internet is an invaluable resource for project scheduling and ensuring that every step of the process is thoroughly planned and promptly executed.

Because the cost of attending a trade show is high and there are limited resources for fixing mistakes when out of town, the scheduling component of this project is a vital key to its success. References “About XL-EasyGantt”. Retrieved July 28, 2008 from the XLEasyGantt Website: http://www. xleasygantt. com/aboutxleasygantt. asp. “Gantt Project 2. 0. 7”. Retrieved July 28, 2008 from the Gantt Project Website: http://ganttproject. biz/. “Tracking Team Projects in Microsoft Excel and Microsoft Project” (2008). Retrieved July 28, 2008 from the MSDN Website: http://msdn. microsoft. com/en-us/library/ms244373(VS. 80). aspx.

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