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Laying Out a Sequence of Tasks in Excel

If you need to show a sequence of related tasks in an Excel project plan, there is a right way and a wrong way to do it.

Wrong Way: Horizontal Layout

Many people choose to set up their Excel spreadsheets so that a sequence of related tasks or milestones is lined up left-to-right in a series of Excel columns, with a different column for each task and date:

This method doesn't scale as your project gets larger and it doesn't work well with OnePager. Even if you eventually want these tasks to be lined up left-to-right in OnePager, you shouldn't line them up left-to-right in Excel.

Right Way: Vertical Layout

The correct way to set up a project plan in Excel is to create a separate Excel row for each task in your project plan, and for each of those tasks to utilize a single set of Excel columns to track start and finish dates:

Rotate the spreadsheet 90 degrees so that the tasks go from top to bottom and share a single set of columns for start and finish dates.

In this layout, each task in the project plan is on its own line of the Excel spreadsheet. All tasks use the same Start Date and Finish Date columns. This makes it much easier to track your dates, and as your project plan grows, all you have to do is add more rows at the bottom, instead of trying to insert more columns in the middle.

If you are building a multi-project report, each task in a given project should have the same project name, as shown above. This means that for each line and each task in your schedule, you'll want to specify the project name so it's clear which tasks belong to which projects.

How it Looks in OnePager

Many people build their Excel project plans the wrong way (horizontally) because they want OnePager to create a project timeline with related tasks lined up left-to-right. OnePager can create a horizontal or vertical chart from a vertically-oriented Excel file, but can't create anything from a horizontally-oriented Excel file.

Using a vertical row/column project layout in Excel, OnePager can still create a horizontal timeline like this:

Of course, using that same vertical layout, OnePager can also create a vertical Gantt chart like this:

The important takeaway here is to always set your Excel project plan up vertically, even if you ultimately want your OnePager chart to have a horizontal layout.

Last Updated: December 27, 2019