Microsoft Project Tutorial: Import Excel Into Microsoft Project

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Written By Andrew Makar

Professional Cat Herder and an Agile Enthusiast with a keen interest in putting PM theory into actual practice.

Microsoft Project Tutorial: Learn how to import an Excel into Microsoft Project

If you’ve worked with external vendors for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve noticed the variety of formats vendors use for a project schedule.  In some cases, it is a formal MS Project schedule.  In other cases, it is a set of dates described in an email or it is developed in every non-MS Project user’s favorite tool – Excel or a spreadsheet variant.

The following is a brief tutorial on how to import an Excel spreadsheet project schedule into Microsoft Project.

For the past four years, I’ve worked for companies that outsource the majority of their IT work to external vendors using fixed-price contracts. One challenge in jointly delivering a project with an external vendor is obtaining the vendor project schedule in a format that can be integrated with Microsoft Project.

The obvious solution is to have the vendor provide its Microsoft Project schedule; the reality is some vendors are reluctant to hand over their detailed schedule because it contains cost data, notes, custom macros, and other private data. If you’ve worked with outsourcing vendors, then you’re familiar with some vendors who don’t consistently use Microsoft Project as a scheduling tool.

In my case, I typically receive an Excel file with tasks and start and finish dates. Ironically, my vendor extracts this information from his Microsoft Project schedule and provides an Excel file that I can scroll through to find key milestones and due dates. Faced with the poor usability in scanning hundreds of tasks using Excel, I developed an import map that will properly import the Excel sheet that builds the task hierarchy in Microsoft Project.

When you export data from Microsoft Project into Excel, the data file doesn’t maintain the hierarchy. Creating the hierarchy in Excel usually involves grouping and indenting in Excel or using a custom macro to build the hierarchy. When you import an Excel file into Microsoft Project, it also lacks any of the indenting (Figure 1) and summary tasks that make Microsoft Project a valuable roll-up tool.

Import Excel Into Microsoft Project - Excel Schedule

Figure 1 – Schedule in Excel

Build the Excel to Project import map

My solution was to develop an import map that includes the key fields in the table below

Field Name Description
ID The Task ID for the Microsoft Project task
Outline Level Determines the Outline Level in a project’s hierarchy. An Outline Level of 1 is at the highest level in the hierarchy, and an Outline Level of 5 has four summary level tasks above it.
Name Task Name
Start Forecasted Start date
Finish Forecasted Finish date
% Complete Task completion percentage
Baseline Start Original Baseline Start date
Baseline Finish Original Baseline Finish date
Actual Start Actual task Start date
Actual Finish Actual task Finish date
Predecessors Identifies the Task ID of a predecessor task
Resource Name Assigned Resource

To build this map in Microsoft Project:

  1. Open a sample Microsoft Project schedule. (It helps if you have a completed project schedule so the final export will have meaningful data.)
  2. Go to File | Save As.
  3. Select the Microsoft Excel Workbook (*.xls) as the Save as Type and click Save.
  4. Click Next and leave Selected Data as the option.
  5. Click New Map.
  6. Select the Tasks checkbox (Figure 2).

    Import Excel Into Microsoft Project Task Mapping

    Figure 2 – Task Mapping

  7. Click the Microsoft Office Project field and select the fields in table above.
  8. Click the Next button.
  9. Click Save Map and Save It as Excel MPP Map.
  10. Click the Finish button.

The Excel extract will now contain the key fields needed to build the project hierarchy.

In this case, I had to build the export map for the vendor so they could simply export their Microsoft Project data into a format that I could use to import the file. Once the vendor had this map in their Microsoft Project file, the vendor could easily save an Excel file using this extract. It ensured the vendor’s confidential data was kept confidential, while the critical data that I needed to understand milestones and start and finish dates for key tasks could be imported into my Microsoft Project schedule.

Import Excel Into Microsoft Project Wizard

Once the vendor provided a file using this format, their schedule could easily be imported into Microsoft Project by following these steps:

  1. Start Microsoft Project with a blank project schedule.
  2. In Microsoft Project, go to File | Open.
  3. Change the Files of Type combo box to Microsoft Excel (*.xls).
  4. Select the extract file and click Open.
  5. Click the Next button.
  6. Select Use Existing Map.
  7. Select the Excel MPP map.
  8. Select Append the Data to the Active Project (Figure 3).

    Import Excel Into Microsoft Project - Import Wizard

    Figure 3 – Import Wizard

  9. Click the Next button.
  10. Click the Next button.
  11. Click the Finish button.

The end result is a properly formatted Microsoft Project file that contains the vendor’s project schedule. Once the schedules are converted, I insert them as subprojects in the master project schedule.

Before I came up with this solution, I would import the schedule as a new project; I ran into calculation issues because the % Complete field is a calculated field and didn’t consistently convert.

Applying imports to other project schedules

You can apply these same map concepts to other schedules that lack the Outline Level, but you’ll need to build the Outline Level manually. Depending on the level of granularity required, you might just want the vendor’s key tasks and milestones instead of the entire project schedule. The main benefit is that once you have the vendor and your project activities defined in one integrated view, you can easily identify late tasks and analyze the critical path.

In fixed-price outsourcing projects, you may outsource the work to another supplier and establish penalties for failing to meet milestones. From a financial viewpoint, it makes sense because a fixed-price contract puts all the risk on the vendor; however, effective project managers collaborate with all their team members (vendors, customers, and internal team members) to deliver their projects. A key to being a successful PM is tracking to an integrated project schedule so the team can collectively understand progress.

If the vendor can’t provide all their schedule data, this Excel MPP map will help integrate the data you need.

For more tutorials on how to use Microsoft Project, check out our list of Microsoft Project tutorials.

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  • Slice and dice Microsoft Project data with over 40 custom filters and highlights
  • Run the Schedule Quality Analyzer based on DCMA standards
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