Email vs Excel vs MS Project vs CRM – What is the Best Project Management Tool?

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A company does not just decide one day to start using a project management system.

If you are a services based company, you have always been managing projects. And you have always had some kind of system in place, even at a most basic level. But at some point you will realize the limitations of these systems.

Using Email for Project Management

Some companies have a daily or weekly project meeting and someone is assigned to take notes. Then the notes are distributed via email so everyone knows the current project updates and action items assigned to each person.

However, everyone has their own project sheet basically within an email. There isn’t one consolidated view. Too much time is wasted with back and forth as people ask for updates or change tasks. Things get lost in translation, emails get missed, wires get crossed.

Email is just a way to limp along to gain some visibility into projects, but let’s face it, it is completely inefficient.

Using Excel for Project Management

Companies who are more concerned with productivity track their projects in Microsoft Excel. For example, I see companies that use an Excel workbook and each separate tab represents a project. This file is shared when there are updates so the team has a consolidated view of the projects.

But data can be corrupted when multiple people make updates. Large Excel files are unwieldy and prone to crashing. Plus, the way projects are outlined is inconsistent.

It is better than email but not great.

Using Microsoft Project for Project Management

When companies get frustrated using email or Excel to manage projects they often turn to Microsoft Project. The reason for choosing this new system could be that the name alone sounds organized or that one guy in the IT department loves it. But this is really the other end of the extreme.

Microsoft Project is complicated. Most companies just scratch the surface with what it can do.  It is difficult to learn to use so most of the team will just rely on the one or two techy people on the team who are seen as “experts”.  And this defeats the whole purpose of getting easy access to current project information.

There is a simple yet effective way that is better than Excel and easier than Microsoft Project.

Project Management inside Microsoft Dynamics 365 (CRM)

Companies who are really focused on efficiency know that the best place to manage your project information is within your existing CRM system. With an integrated project management tool you take advantage of all the information that's already been captured in the CRM system. A project is going to be associated with an account in CRM. The project lead is a contact in CRM. Once a sales opportunity closes, you now have a services engagement which equates to a project. When the project is finished you can continue to support that client and add new projects.

So what options do you have for project management inside Microsoft Dynamics CRM (now Dynamics 365)?

PSA App for Microsoft Dynamics 365 (CRM)

You could use the Project Services Automation functions inside Dynamics 365. However, keep in mind that this is not a fit for all organizations. It is a more complex project management solution focused on resource alignment and scheduling for project service delivery. Many professional services companies will find this to be too complicated for their organization’s needs.

Crowe Project Management for Microsoft Dynamics 365 (CRM)

A better option for many companies is the Crowe Project Management tool. Crowe Project Management is an add on tool designed to be used inside Microsoft Dynamics 365 (CRM).  This is a simple project management solution focused on managing the tasks, budgets, and milestones that define a project.

Here are 8 specific ways Crowe Project Management is better than managing projects in email, Microsoft Excel or Microsoft Project.

1. Keep information in one system

You already have all the key contact and sales information that you need for every project. Once an opportunity closes, it can automatically be turned into a project. Managing projects within your CRM system means the information does not reside in two systems. No double entry, no duplicated efforts.

2. Give real time access to the entire team

Everyone who has access to CRM can see project information in real time, including task lists, billing milestones, budgets and more.  If someone updates a status or closes a project, everyone has visibility in real time. You do not need to email or share files.

3. Get the features you need, without overkill

Perhaps best of all, it is easy to use. One thing we hear all the time from project teams is, "This is so easy to use. It's exactly what we needed. We just want a consolidated list of projects, and we need it in real time." Your team does not need to learn a complicated system with features they will never need.

4. Measure results against past projects

Because every project is set up in a consistent format, you can measure the results of various projects over time, to improve your processes. Did the last project go over budget because of non-billable time? Did one resource fail to meet deadlines? These are things you would not know in other systems.

5. Take advantage of workflow

Other project management methods like email, Excel and Microsoft Project are not able to take advantage of all the inherent functionality within CRM, such as workflows. For example, if a project task is closed, people that were responsible, such as the project manager and whoever is assigned that task, should receive an email alert. If the end date of a project task gets pushed out, the entire project team should receive a notification.  That's just native functionality in CRM that you can take advantage of in an integrated project management tool.

6. Make time entry easier

Time entry is a necessary evil for every project based company. Your best chance of success is to make the process as simple as possible for your team. The Crowe Project Management tool allows users to easily enter time, billable and non-billable, against project tasks.

You are always able to see who is working on what, how much time have they entered against the budget and how much time has been billed against that budget.

At any time you can look at all of your projects in one consolidated view and see where they are against the budget. You can't do that with email. It's very difficult in Excel and MS Project.

7. Assign the right resources

If you are using email or Excel to manage projects how can you tell who is working on what project? If someone is just neck deep into projects, then you probably want to assign the next project or set of tasks to someone else. Crowe Project Management provides that instant visibility to resource utilization.

8. Provide instant project status reports

If your customer asked you for a project status update, how quickly could you get it to them? Email and Excel methods require you to create a report manually. The report that comes out of MS Project would likely be too difficult for a client to understand.

With Crowe Project Management inside Dynamics CRM you can click one button to create a professional looking project status report that you can quickly email to a customer to show the real time status of their project.

The right choice for Project Management

Crowe Project Management in Dynamics 365 (CRM) is more powerful than email or Microsoft Excel. And it is easier to use than Microsoft Project or Microsoft PSA.

If you are ready for a simple Project Management solution that your team will love, contact us to learn more about Crowe Project Management at 877-600-2253 or

Watch: Integrated Project Management for Dynamics 365 (CRM) Video

By Ryan Plourde, Crowe Horwath, a Microsoft Dynamics CRM Gold Partner

Follow us on Twitter: @CroweCRM

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