Excel Functions You Probably Aren’t Using

I started using spreadsheets back in 1985, in the days of Lotus 123. At the time, I was developing reliability prediction models used in design tradeoff decisions for systems being developed for the US Army Corps of Engineers (that little reverse osmosis water purification do-dad under the counter at Starbucks is pretty straightforward technology, but when scaled to produce tens of thousands of gallons per day, using surface water and generator power, things can get complicated). I moved to Excel a few years later when I adopted Windows 3.1 but after more than three decades, I still manage to find new ways to capture and manipulate data. Let me share a few Excel functions that you probably aren’t using.

Calculating the Number of Working Days

It’s easy to calculate the difference in days, weeks, months, or years between two dates, but I often need to calculate working days.

NetWorkDays(Start_Date, End_Date,[Optional_Holidays])

This function calculates the difference between the two dates but ignores Saturdays, Sundays, and whatever holidays you pass it in a list. You can pass this example list either directly as B2:B9 or by defining a name for that range (highlight the range, right click, Define Name) and passing the name. We’ll use this list as an example:



Martin Luther King’s Birthday (US)


President’s Day (US)


Memorial Day (US)


Independence Day (US)


Labor Day (US and Canada)


Thanksgiving Day (US)


Day after Thanksgiving (US)


Christmas Day


Let’s say I want to include the number of working days until some event in a status report. The effective date of the status report is in a named cell (done the same way you named the range of holidays) and so is the event date. Like so:


This will return the integer number of working days, which you can then use directly or in another calculation.  I typically include the holidays for the project in a separate tab. But let’s say you crashed the schedule and decided you needed the team to work a few weekends, especially at go live. So create a list of Working Weekend Days, name the range, and add it to the calculation.

Working Weekend Days


Conversion Sunday


Cutover Saturday


Cutover Sunday


Now we can incorporate those weekend working days into the formula:


In this example, the CountIf function picks up the two days in the list greater than the status date of January 9, which is then added to the 108 days from the NetWorkDays function result:

Status Date


Go Live


Working days to Go Live


The Working days remaining equals the number of weekdays between the two dates, minus the three holidays that fall in the range, plus the two weekend dates greater than the status date. Note that if your weekend days are something other than Saturday and Sunday, the NetWorkDays.Intl function allows you to specify alternatives.

Summarizing Data in a Table

While we’re talking about status reports: it helps to summarize the information in your risk register, even at a high level. Take a look at this sample, which includes the results of a qualitative risk analysis.

Risk ID

Risk description

Last likely date of occuring



Calculated risk


This risk






That risk






The other






One more






And another


Very low



The Calculated risk field is based on a formula:


Note that two lookup tables were defined to associate numeric values with the Probability and Impact scores; the risk is calculated as the square root of the product of the two numeric values. So let’s say you want to tally up the number of risks with High or Medium scores that are still likely to occur. On the status report, it looks like this:

High Risks


Medium Risks


We can use the CountIfs function to tally the risks for each criterion. For High risks, e.g. those with a Calculated risk value of 3.0 or more, and a Last likely date after the status date:

=COUNTIFS(Calculated_risk, ">="&3, Last_Date,">"&Status_Date)

For the Medium count, we’ll use a range of values:

=COUNTIFS(Calculated_risk, ">="&2, Calculated_risk, 
"<"&3, Last_Date,">"&Status_Date)

Getting a Completion Date

Sometimes I need to pencil out a very high-level timeline to determine if a goal is even achievable by some date. So I’ll create a list of tasks, each with a proposed duration, and start date. The assumption is that each task begins the day after the predecessor completes. I can then use the WorkDay function:

WorkDay(Start_Date, Duration,[Optional_Holidays])

This returns the serial number of the date Duration days after Start_Date. I can convert it for display using the Text function, like so:


I can also convert the date to the day of the week, again using the Text function:


This lets me specify a State Date for the first task and durations for each task in the list, with the subsequent start dates and completion date calculated automatically.


Start Date

















Complete on



Of course, the danger in this approach is that by tweaking the start date or individual durations, you can convince yourself that something is achievable simply by giving yourself less time to do it. So, don’t do that.

The ability to create reusable spreadsheets that use Excel functions to provide actionable information from raw data is still one of those skills that will pay big dividends over the course of a career in project management. All you really need is a little imagination and an understanding of what the data actually represents.

New PM Articles for the Week of June 6 – 12

New project management articles published on the web during the week of June 6 – 12. And this week’s video: Ed Deci’s TED Talk on controlled motivation and autonomous motivation. Ed is the co-developer of the self-determination theory, which suggests that we should create conditions under which people can motivate themselves. Just 14 minutes, safe for work.

Must read!

  • Johanna Rothman presents the case for and against estimates, in parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5. This series should be sufficient justification for you to follow her blogs.
  • Nick Statt reports on Microsoft’s new project management app for Office 365, called Planner. Not a replacement for Project, but a collaboration and planning tool.
  • Brad Egeland provides one-page summaries for twelve project management, collaboration, and portfolio management software products.

Established Methods

  • Elizabeth Harrin collected insights from six PM’s on how they manage multiple simultaneous projects.
  • Pat Weaver looks into those cases where the critical path includes task dependencies other than Finish-to-Start links.
  • Clark Wimberly notes that proper preparation is required for a kick-off meeting which will pay dividends throughout the project.
  • Henny Portman reviews “PPM! Manage Your Organization Masterfully with Project portfolio Management.”
  • Cameron Conaway interviews Robin Kwong, Special Projects Editor at the Financial Times, who find clarity by beginning each project with the same question: What’s it for?
  • Kenneth Ashe explains how to create and use an Issues Log.
  • Rob England proposed two deliberately conflicting principles to guide a DevOps transformation, in order to create a dynamic tension. Which is how the world works, right?

Agile Methods

  • Dave Prior notes the untimely passing of Agile leading light Jean Tabaka by pulling two interviews from his archives. A total of 42 minutes, safe for work. She will be sorely missed.
  • Saumya Nigam explains estimation using story points.
  • Faisal Ansari uses the INVEST model to determine whether backlog items are well written, as the first step in splitting them into smaller stories.
  • Emanuele Passera continues his introduction to Kanban series with part 2.
  • Tom McFarlin considers Reid Hoffman’s quote, “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, then you’ve launched too late.”
  • Tami Flowers describes using Lean/ Agile methods to establish a data governance organization framework.
  • Bob Tarne explains the concept of “ready ready.” It’s where you need to begin in order to get to “done done.” You can say that again …

Applied Leadership

  • Suresh MK uses events from the life of Nelson Mandela to illustrate John Kotter’s eight-stage process of creating major change.
  • Kathleen O’Connor interviews Bart Engal on his book, “Leading Through Language: choosing Words that Influence and Inspire.”
  • Lysette Sutherland interviews Dave Hecker on effectively managing geographically distributed software development teams. Just 35 minutes, safe for work.
  • Elise Stevens interviews Gillian Klette on what to do when your project team hates each other. Just 18 minutes, safe for work.

Pot Pouri

  • David Manheim looks at complexity, reification, Goodhart’s Law, and why measurement is hard. So is spelling reification.
  • Travis Bradberry explains why you should work for 52 minutes, then take a break for 17 minutes. Got your timer ready?
  • Abby Wolfe shares an infographic on the high-impact LinkedIn profile updates you should make when job-hunting.
  • Seth Godin suggests we talk slowly, because “um” doesn’t add as much value as silence.


New PM Articles for the Week of April 25 – May 1

New project management articles published on the web during the week of April 25 – May 1. And this week’s video: Nixie Pixel explains how to install and use KeePass, my favorite every-platform password manager. Just over six minutes, safe for work.

Must read!

  • Lynda Bourne expounds on the nature and sources of reputational risk and dealing with reputational risk events.
  • Cade Metz reports on the founding of OpenAI, the new firm founded by Elon musk and Sam Altman which will create transformative technology and then give it away.
  • Bertrand Duperrin shares his analysis of PWC’s 2016 Global CEO Survey. Key takeaway: business has to redefine success in order to be successful.

Established Methods

  • John Goodpasture: “Risk management does not set policy for the project office; it only sets the left and right-hand boundaries for the vision, or for the project policies.”
  • Laura Barnard explains why PMO success is driven more by building trust than by establishing repeatable processes.
  • Ryan Ogilvie lays out some strategies for what to do when your IT service improvement program stops improving – there are paths past the plateau.
  • Rich Maltzman notes project portfolio management lessons in Ken Burn’s documentary, “National Parks: America’s Best Idea,” and E.O. Wilson’s “Half Earth.”
  • Danie van den Berg makes the case for diagrams and visuals, and just drawing things during meetings.

Agile Methods

  • Lisette Sutherland interviews Johanna Rothman on organizing geographically distributed teams. Just 33 minutes, safe for work.
  • Bart Gerardi shows how and when to use a story point value of zero.
  • Vyom Bharagwaj describes two common estimating techniques: Wideband Delphi and Planning Poker.
  • The Clever PM begins a series on Product Management Fundamentals: Working with designers.
  • Alex DiPasquale outlines the importance of properly written acceptance criteria.
  • Dave Duggal notes that the proliferation of API’s, whether SOAP /WSDL or REST, is making every software app a collection of integration experiments.

Applied Leadership

  • Harry Hall tells how to manage that project team member who isn’t performing.
  • Art Petty speaks out on the “inner game of leading,” meaning the mental attitude that drives our behavior.
  • Tony, Renee, Craig, and Tyson interview David Marquet, author of “Turn the Ship Around!” Just 40 minutes, safe for work.
  • Elise Stevens interviews occupational psychologist Sharon De Mascia on developing a coaching approach in project management. Just 19 minutes, safe for work.
  • Shawn Quigley and Jon Quigley note the critical contribution of project management to the Learning Organization.
  • Bruce Harpham interviews Steve Ressler, founder of GovLoop, on becoming an effective leader.

Pot Pouri

  • Elizabeth Harrin reveals her recent reading, from the inspirational “Personal Best” to “The Social Project Manager,” to a travel guide and more.
  • Penelope Trunk notes that Generation Y is starting new businesses at a slower rate than Gen X. Entrepreneurship is being replaced with free-lancing.
  • Jeff Collins lists five skills that project managers should include in their resumes, preferably in describing their accomplishments.
  • Sara McCord identifies four behaviors that can derail your job search – even when you’re a perfect fit.
  • Alyse Kalish posts an infographic on various ways to make yourself fall asleep faster. Not listed, but my favorite technique: three-suit Spider Solitaire [yawn] …