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OpenProject: The collaborative Excel alternative for project management

Excel for project management

Excel is a widely used standard application. When companies introduce project management it is only logical to start out with Excel.
The application is often already installed and users are already familiar with using it.

Limitations of using Excel

However, while widely used, Excel has several limitations when it comes to effective project management:

  • Excel provides no collaboration. Only one user can work on  a spreadsheet at the same time. While this may work for a top-down project plan, it leads to trouble once more users are collaborating on a project.
  • Due to the lack of collaboration, no effective assignment to project members is possible. Users are not notified about projects, milestones or work packages they are assigned to.
  • Excel also offers no Gantt chart: Easy visualisation is therefore not possible. While there are templates to address this, Gantt charts with complex dependencies often cannot be displayed in a good way.

While initial top-down project planning may be possible in Excel, effective project execution is not due to the lack of collaboration, user management and workflows.

When taking the next step from a rough project plan to actual project collaboration and implementation, OpenProject is the optimal solution. OpenProject closes the gap by allowing users to create custom table views very similar to Excel while providing full collaboration and professional project management.

Project plan in Excel

Transfer your Excel spreadsheet to OpenProject – and start to collaborate

OpenProject can display custom columns in the work package list – allowing you to use the same column names in OpenProject and replicate your Excel spreadsheet, making OpenProject a powerful Excel alternative.
This allows you to display the project names, phases and milestones you tracked in Excel before directly within OpenProject.

Additionally, you can assign users to the different projects, milestones and work packages. These project members are notified by email in the event of changes to the deliverables they are being assigned to. To keep track of the progress, you can use OpenProject’s workflows and update the status.
To directly display milestones associated with a project  in your plan, use the OpenProject Enterprise Edition or Cloud Edition and add relations (such as “includes”) as columns to the table view. This allows you to see the number and names of included milestones right away.

You can save different view to quickly access different aspects of your projects (e.g. to show the entire project plan or to only display the milestones).

Project plan in OpenProject

Customize OpenProject to display project information

Moving from Excel to OpenProject is straightforward. You can create your own custom columns directly within OpenProject.

Create your own types

By default, you can create Phases, Milestones and Tasks in OpenProject. If you would like to use additional types (e.g. to display Projects in the list view), go to the Administration and select Work package types. Click on the green + Type button, enter a name (e.g.  Project), copy a workflow (e.g. from Task).

To use this type in all newly created projects, activate Type activated for new projects by default.
Finally, click on Create.

Customize the displayed columns

OpenProject allows you to create your own columns – similar to Excel. As an example we are going to create a column Project status. This can be done through custom fields in OpenProject.

To do this, go to Administration and select Custom fields from the side menu. Make sure the Work packages tab is selected and click on the displayed link or button to create a new custom field. Enter the name (e.g. Project status) and change the Format to List.
Next, enter the values which users should be able to select (e.g. Green, Yellow, Red), select For all projects to activate this custom field in all projects.

As a next step, select Work package types from the side menu on the left side and select a type for which the value can be set. In the case, we select type Project. In the tab Form configuration drag and drop the create field (i.e. Project status) to one of the attribute groups on the left side (e.g. to Details). Click on Save at the bottom of the page.

Repeat these steps to add additional custom columns.

With these steps completed, we can create the project plan.

Create the project plan

Navigate to an existing project or create a new project (choose Select a project from the top left side and select + Project from the dropdown menu) and select Work packages from the left side.

In the displayed list, click on the little + icon at the very right side of the columns. This opens a popup menu to adjust the displayed columns. Click on the white space to open the menu to add additional columns and select the newly created custom field (e.g. Project status). Optionally, reorder the columns (via drag and drop) and remove any unused columns.
With the OpenProject Enterprise Edition or Cloud Edition you can display relations directly in the list, such as Includes to show for example the milestones included in certain projects.

Finally, click on Apply.

Continue by creating the different projects, phases and milestones. To do this, click on the green + Create button on the right side and select e.g. Project. Enter the project name and click on Create. Repeat this step for the other projects.

To schedule the projects, activate the Gantt chart by clicking on the Gantt chart icon in the toolbar on the top right side. Simply drag and drop to set the start and due date.

Finally, save the view by clicking on the Settings icon (with the three dots) and choose Save from the dropdown menu. Enter a name (e.g. Project plan), check Save page in menu and click on Save. The view is now added to the side menu below the Work packages entry and can be accessed easily.

You need a demo or want to switch?

If you want to take a glance at OpenProject or test all features thoroughly, just create a free OpenProject trial.

To learn more about the OpenProject Enterprise Edition and get your OpenProject environment to the next level, schedule an Enterprise Edition demo.

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