Project Tracking with Excel Web App

When I’m working with a client on an Excel or Access project, it’s easy to lose track of everything that has to be done, as the emails fly back and forth. There are initial requirements, then things get added or changed, as we go along.

To stay on top of things, I usually make a list in Excel, showing all the steps, and marking them off when completed. Notes can be added too, in columns to the right.Later, if new items are mentioned in an email, I copy and paste those details into the master list.

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Share the Project List by Email

Most of the time, I keep this file on my computer, and my clients don’t worry about the steps – they just want the completed work. Sometimes I’ll send an update, so they can see what’s done, and what’s still outstanding.

Sometimes, during revisions, the list goes back and forth between a client and me, and that can create confusion. Who has the latest version of the To Do list? The tracking list should help us save time, not add extra time to the project, in sorting out who added what to the list.

If we were at the same location, it might be possible to both use the same Excel file, in a shared drive. I wouldn’t make it a shared workbook though! However, my clients are usually far away from my location, so sharing the file is not an option.

Share the Project List Online

A recent project was getting complicated, so I decided to try the Excel Web App, to see if it would work well for sharing the project tracking information. I had already created the file in the desktop version of Excel, so I uploaded it to my Skydrive account, and sent my client a link to the file, with editing permission. We’re the only two people who have access to the file.

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Once you have the link, you don’t need to log in – just go to the web page where the file is. My client doesn’t need a SkyDrive account, and I’ve saved a bookmark in Firefox, so I can go to that page quickly. It’s easier than opening a desktop Excel file!

Once you’re on the page, you can click the Edit in Web Browser button, if you want to make any changes. Or, instead of editing, you can just look through the file, to see if anyone else has made changes, that you have to address.

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If someone else is using the file at the same time, you can see which cell they’re currently editing. That will help you avoid conflicts.

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Work in the Desktop Version

There is also an option to edit the file in the desktop version of Excel, but I haven’t used that. I have Excel 2003, 2010 and 2013 installed, and when I click the button, it opens Excel 2003 – even if Excel 2013 is already open.

This option doesn’t work if someone else is also editing the file – you’ll see this warning message in that case.

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Save Your Work

When you’re editing, there’s no Save button – all your changes are saved automatically. That’s a bit disconcerting, but I’ve become used to it now.

There is an option to download the file, and I do that once a day, to keep my own archive. Those backup files have come in handy a couple of times, when I accidentally overwrote cells. while trying to drag down a column. (The interface is a little clunkier than the desktop version – that’s my excuse!)

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There is also an online option to view, restore or download old versions, but you need to be logged in if you want to do that.

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Web App Features

The Web App is a limited version of the Excel desktop program, so some of your favourite features might not be available. However, it does have the Table feature, so that makes it ideal for sharing a simple list like this project tracking file.

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As you can see in the screen shot above, you can insert charts too, even though other shapes aren’t allowed. (See the Shapes survey link at the end of this article.)

Room For Improvement

The Excel Web App has been working well for sharing this simple file, but I wouldn’t want to use it for anything too complicated. Many shortcuts and features are missing (or I haven’t found them), and that can slow you down!

For example, in the project tracking table, I enter the date when I’ve completed a step, and sometimes add new items at the bottom of the list. So, I’d like to get down there quickly, and often want to copy data from the previous row.

Unfortunately, some of my favourite keyboard shortcuts don’t work, so these steps take a little longer.

  • Ctrl + ; – Enter the current date
  • Ctrl + " – copy from the cell above
  • End + Down Arrow – move to the bottom of the range

On the Microsoft website, there’s a list of keyboard shortcuts that you can use: Excel Web App Keyboard shortcuts

The good news is that the Copy and Paste shortcuts work, and the cells autocomplete based on previous entries in the column.

Your Experience With the Web App

  • Have you used the Web App to share a file this someone else?
  • Did it work well?
  • What desktop features would you like added to the Web App?
  • Would you like to see Shapes in the Web App? Click here to vote in the Excel team’s Web App Shapes Survey

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2 Responses

  1. Bryan Metz says:

    I’ve used the Web App for two separate occasions, and it worked perfectly for what I needed both times.

    The first one was a pretty simple spreadsheet that contained a list of restaurants that my monthly dining out group can choose from. I even ended up adding a randomizer with filters using some fancy formulas and named ranges, and everything still works. The hardest part is getting my friends to actually look at and use the sheet…

    The second use was to coordinate dishes for a holiday potluck. I used tables so that everything would be auto-expanding. One table had categories of dishes (side dish, dessert, etc), and the other table showed who would bring what, using the first table as a source for a dropdown list. I even used some conditional formatting to show which categories had the most people bringing it.

    Overall I was very pleased with the Web App. If that’s ALL I had to use it would get annoying quickly (I built both sheets in Excel and any major editing was done in Excel), but for simpler data sharing projects like these, it was by far the easiest solution.

  2. Abhijeet says:

    What are the other options to share workbooks? May be one option is put it in shared network. Can you suggest more ?

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