Posted by R0bin_L0rd
The short version of this post: Project management is a vital part of our job as marketers, but planning and visualizing projects over time is hard, so I’ve created a set of Google Sheets to make that work easier for you.
I’ve found this system helpful in a number of ways, so I’m sharing my templates here in case it’ll make your day a bit shorter. I’ll start off with a brief overview of what the sheets do, but in the latter section of this post I’ll also go into greater depth about how they work so you can change them to suit your own needs.
If you’d like to skip this post and get straight to the templates, you can access them here (but I’d recommend reading a bit about how they work first):
It’s worth mentioning: I don’t consider these sheets to be the only solution. They are a free solution that I’ve found pretty useful, but I have colleagues who swear by the likes of Smartsheet and Teamwork.
It’s also worth noting that different tools work better or worse with different styles. My aim with these sheets is to have a fairly concrete plan for the next three or four months, then a looser set of ideas for further down the line. When I’m filling out these sheets, I also focus on outcomes rather than processes – that helps cut down the time I spend updating sheets, and makes everything clearer for people to read.
The long version of this post is a lot like the short version above, but I talk more about some principles I try to stick to and how this setup fulfills them (shocker, eh?). As promised, the final section will describe how the sheets work, for anyone who runs into problems or wants to make something of their own.
Contents (for if you just want to jump to a specific section):
The 3 principles (which are about people as much as using the sheets)
An early conclusion
Appendices & instructions
How to add tasks to the list
Splitting tasks across multiple time periods
Working with the Month View tab (Planner and Stakeholder Versions)
How to make the Gantt charts work (and add categories)
How to make the Category-Filterable Forward-Facing Gantt Charts work
How to create the Stakeholder View
How to update the God’s-I Version
The principles (which are about people as much as using the sheets)
Principle 1: We shouldn’t need to store all our information in our heads.
This is a simple one — if we have to regularly understand something complex, particularly if it changes over time, that information has to be on the page. For example, if I’m trying to plan a marketing strategy and I have to constantly look at the information on the screen and then shuffle it around in my head to work out what we have time for month to month, I’m going to lose the thread and, eventually, my mind.
The Planner Version sheet aims to solve this in a few ways. First, you write all the tasks down in the Task View tab, the time period you’re completing them in is on the far left (in my example, it’s the month the task is planned for), and there are other columns like status and category — but initially, it can just be a brain dump of what needs to happen. The idea here is that when you’re first writing everything out, you don’t have to think too much about it — you can easily change the dates and add other information later.
The Month View tab takes the information in the Task List tab and reorders it by the months listed in column A of the Task View (it could be other time periods, as long as it’s consistent).
This way you can look at a time period, see how much resource is left, and read everything you currently have planned (the remaining resource calculation will also take into account recurring tasks you don’t always want to write out, like meetings).
While the Month View tab can help you focus on specific time periods, it doesn’t give you a long-term view of the plan or task dependencies, so we have the two Gantt views. The Gantt View tab contains everything from sixty days ago and into the future, as long as you haven’t just marked the task as “Later.” The Category-Filterable Gantt only focuses on things that are planned for the next six months.
As the name suggests, you can filter this second Gantt to only show specific categories (you label tasks with categories in the Task View tab). This filter is to help with broader trends that are harder to notice — for instance, if the most important part of the project is a social campaign or a site change and you don’t get to it for six months, you may need to make sure everyone is aware of that and agrees. Likewise, if you need to be showing impact but spend most of your time reporting, you may want to change your plan or make sure everyone understands why things are planned that way.
Principle 2: No one knows everything (and they shouldn’t).
If you’re working on a project where you have all the information, then one of two things is likely happening:
- You’ve really doubled down on that neuroticism we share
- You’re carrying this thing — you should just quit and start your own company selling beads* or something.
We can trust that our clients/bosses have more context than we do about wider plans and pressures. They may know more about wider strategies, that their boss tenses up every time a certain project is mentioned, or that a colleague hasn’t yet announced their resignation. While a Google Sheet is never an acceptable substitute for actual communication, our clients or bosses may also have an idea of where they want the project to go which they haven’t communicated, or which we haven’t understood.
We can also trust that people working on individual tasks have a good idea of whether things are going to be a problem — for instance, if we’re allowing far too little time for a task. We can try to be as informed as possible, but they’re still likely to know something we don’t.
Even if we disagree that certain things should be priorities or issues, having a transparent, shared plan helps us kick off difficult conversations with a shared understanding of what the plan currently is. The less everyone has to reprocess information to understand it (see Principle 1), the more likely we are to weed out problems early.
This is all well and good, but expecting someone to absorb everything about a project is likely to have the opposite effect. We need a source of data that everyone can refer to, without crowding their thoughts or our conversations with things that only we as project managers have to worry about.
That’s why we have the Stakeholder Version of our sheets. When we write everything in the Planner Version, the Planned tab is populated with just the things that are relevant for people who aren’t us (i.e, all the tasks where the status isn’t “unpitched,” “cancelled,” “forgotten,” or blank) with none of the resource or project identifier information.
We never have to fill out the Stakeholder Version sheet — it just grabs that information from the Planned tab using importrange() and creates all the same Gantt charts and monthly views — so we don’t have to worry about different plans showing different information.
Principle 3: I’m going to miss stuff (less is more).
I’ll be honest: I’ve spent a bunch of time in the past putting together tracking systems that I don’t check enough. I keep filling them out but I don’t spend enough time figuring out what’s needed where. If we have a Stakeholder Version which takes out the stuff that is irrelevant to other people, we need the same for us. After all, this isn’t the only thing we’re thinking about, either.
The What-in-God’s-name-have-I-missed Version (God’s-I from now on) pulls in data from all of your individual project management sheets and gives you one place to go to be reminded about all the things you’ve forgotten and messed up. It’s like dinner with your parents in a Google Sheet. You’re welcome.
The three places to check in this version are:
- Alerts Dashboard tab, which shows you the numbers of deadlines upcoming or missed, the work you need to budget for or brief, and how much unplanned budget you have per project, per month (where budget could just be internal people-hours, as that is still finite).
- Task Issues tab, which gives a filterable view of everything over the next three months (so you can dig in to the alerts you see in step one).
- Deadlines This Week tab so you have a quick reminder of what you need to complete soon.
An early conclusion:
Often, when I’m making a point, people tell me they hope I’ll wrap up early. This section is mainly proof of personal growth.
It’s also because everything after this is specific to using, changing, or understanding the project management sheets I’ve shared, so you need only read what follows if you’re interested in how to use the sheets or how I made them (I really do recommend dabbling with some uses of filter() and query(), particularly in conjunction with RegEx formulas).
Aside from that, I hope you find these resources useful. I’ve been getting a lot of value from them as a way to plan with people collaboratively and separate the concept of “project manager” from “person who needs to know all the things,” but I would be really interested in any thoughts you have about how to improve them or anything you think I’ve missed. Feel free to comment below!
Access the template sheets here:
Appendices & instructions
Some general notes
Quick notes on avoiding problems:
- Make sure that when you copy the sheets, the sharing permissions for the Planner View is email- or at least organization-based (anyone with access to the Stakeholder View will see the Planner View URL). It’s a good idea to keep the God’s-I Version permissions email-based, too.
- Try to follow the existing format of words and numbers as closely as possible when creating new information.
- If you want a new row, I’d insert a row, select the one above, copy it down into the new row, then change the information — that way, the formulas in the hidden columns should still work for you.
- If you want a new column, it might break one of the query() functions; once you’ve added it, have a quick look for formulas using =query() and consider changing the columns they reference that will have been affected by your change.
Quick notes on fixing problems:
Here’s a list of things to check for if you’ve changed something and it isn’t being reflected in the sheet:
- Go through all the tabs in the stakeholder view and unhide any hidden columns
Try copying the formulas from the row above or next to the cell that isn’t working.
Try removing the =iferror portion of formulas.
- They usually just contain a formula that reformats text so our lookups work. See if any of those are missing or broken.
If one sheet isn’t properly pulling through data from another, look for the =importrange() formulas and make sure there is one that matches the URL of the sheet you’re trying to reference and that you’ve given permission for the formula to work — you’ll need to click a button.
- A lot of the cells are set up to be blank if they break. It makes it easier to read the sheet, but can make it harder to know whether something is actually empty or just looks empty.
Have you just called a task “Part 4” or similar? There is a RegEx formula which will strip that out.
Have you forgotten to give a task a type? If so, the Gantt view will warn you in the Status column.
- Check the Task View tab in the Stakeholder Version and Project URLs tab in the God’s-I Version
The query function
The =query() function in Google Sheets is awesome — it makes tons of things tons easier, particularly in terms of automating data manipulation. Most of what these sheets do could be achieved with =query, but I’ve often used =filter (which is also very powerful) because =filter is apparently quicker in Google Sheets and at times these sheets have a lot to process.
You shouldn’t need to know any RegEx for this sheet, but it is useful in general. Here the RegEx is mainly used to remove the “Part #” in multi-part tasks (see below) and look for anything that matches multiple options — for instance, when selecting multiple categories in the Category-specific forward-facing Gantt tab (see below). RegEx is only used here in RegExmatch(), RegExextract(), RegExreplace(), or as part of the query function where we say “matches.”
Query/filter and isblank
A lot of the formulas in these sheets are either filter() or query() or are wrapped in =if(isblank() — that’s basically because filter and query functions can fill more cells than just the one you put the formula in. For example, they can fill a whole row, column, or sheet. That means that other cells are calculating or looking up against cells which may or may not be empty, so I’ve added the isblank() check so that the cells don’t break when there isn’t information somewhere, but as you add information you don’t have to do as much copying and pasting of formulas.
The tick boxes are relatively new in Google Sheets. If you need another one, just copy it from an existing cell or select from the “Insert” menu. Where I’ve used tick boxes, I often have another formula in the sheet which filters rows based on what boxes are ticked, then creates a RegEx based on the values that have a tick next to them.
You don’t need to understand this to use the sheets, but you can see it in the rows I’ve unhidden in the Category-specific forward-facing Gantt tab of the Stakeholder Version sheet.
Quick tip — if you want to change all the boxes to ticked/unticked and don’t want to have to do so one by one, you can copy a ticked or unticked checkbox across all the other cells.
How to add tasks to the list
In the task view, the most important things to include are the task name, time period it’s planned for, cost, and type.
For ease, when creating a new task I recommend inserting a row, copying the row above into it, and then changing the information, that way you know you’re not missing any hidden formulas.
Again, don’t bother changing the Stakeholder Version. Once you’ve added the URL of the Planner Version to the =importrange() function, it will pull automatically from the Planner Version.
Splitting tasks across multiple time periods
You can put more than one thing in the time period for a task, just by separating it with “, “ (comma space). That’s because when we get the full list of months, we join all the individual cells together with “, “ then split them apart by “, “ and then dedupe the list — so multiple months in one cell are treated the same as all the other months.
=unique(transpose(split(JOIN(", ",'Task view'!A:A),", ",0)))
The cost-per-month formula in the Task List tab counts how many commas are present in the month column for that row, then divides the planned cost by that number — meaning the cost is split equally across all of the months listed.
If you don’t want the task to be completely equally split between different time periods, you can write “Part 1” or “Part 2” next to a task. As long as you write just “Part” and then numbers at the end of the name, that’ll be stripped out in column O of the task list tab so the different parts of a task will be combined into one record in things like the Gantt chart.
Working with the Month View tab (Planner and Stakeholder version)
A few key things are going on in the Month View tab. First, we’re getting all of the time periods we have listed in the Task View.
Because the months don’t always show up in the right format (meaning later filters don’t work), we then use a =text() formula in the hidden column B to make sure the months stay in the format we need.
Then, in the “deliverables” section of this tab, we use the below formula:
=if(not(isblank(A12)), iferror(TRANSPOSE(FILTER('Task view'!B:B,RegExmatch('Task view'!A:A,B12))),""),"")
What we’re doing above is checking if the “month” cell of this row is has anything in it. If there is a month there, we filter the tasks in the Task View to only those that contain that month in the text month column. Then we use the transpose() function to change our filtered tasks from a vertical list to the horizontal list we see in the sheet.
Finally, we use the below formula to filter the costs we’ve listed in the Task View tab, the same way we filtered the task names above. Then we add together all the costs for the month (plus the standing monthly costs) and subtract them from the total amount of time/hours we have to spend. That way we calculate how much we have left to play with, or if we’re running over.
=if(isblank(A12),"",((D12-SUM(FILTER('Task view'!I:I,RegExmatch('Task view'!A:A,B12))))-sum($D$6:$F$8)))
We also pull this value through to our God’s-I Version to see at a glance if we’ve over/under-planned.
How to make the Gantt charts work (and add categories)
Column C in the Task View tab is the category; you also need to fill this out for the Gantt charts to work. I haven’t forced the kind of categories you have to use because each project is different, but it’s worth using consistent categories (down to the capital letter) because we deduplicate the task categories, and that relies on all of the names being consistent.
What’s happening in the Gantt chart is each cell is a combination of a filter and vlookup (the below looks more complicated than it is).
=iferror(if(not(or(isblank($D6),ISBLANK(F$1))),vlookup(filter('Task view'!$C:$C,'Task view'!$O:$O=$D5,REGEXMATCH('Task view'!$A:$A,F$2)),'Status and colour code'!$C:$E,3,0),""),"")