Bulk add or modify work items with Excel

Azure Boards | Azure DevOps Server 2020 | Azure DevOps Server 2019 | TFS 2018 - TFS 2013

When you have many work items to add or modify, using Microsoft Excel can save you time. Excel supports adding work items, updating existing work items, adding links and attachments to multiple work items, and more. In addition, you can use native Excel features to support other actions, such as summing a column, copy-and-paste rows, perform fill down, and more.

In this article you'll learn how to perform the following tasks:

  • Choose the type of list or query to support your task
  • Use select Excel features when connected to Azure Boards
  • Import or update work items, either a flat list or hierarchy tree list
  • Publish and refresh your work items
  • Convert a flat-list to a tree-list, change your list type or query
  • Add work items to your worksheet
  • Add and remove work item fields from your worksheet
  • Select user accounts for identity or person-named fields
  • Link work items, find work items to link to, edit links, and more
  • Add attachments to one or more work items
  • Open a work item from Excel to add additional information (opens in web portal)
  • Edit Area and Iteration Paths (opens in web portal)

For information about connecting to Excel, see Connect Azure Boards to an Office client. For answers to specific questions about the integration of Excel and Azure DevOps, see FAQs: Work in Excel connected to Azure Boards .

Note

If you don't have access to Excel, you can still perform bulk import and update using CSV formatted files. To learn more, see Bulk import or update work items using CSV files.

Note

You can also bulk add and modify work items using Microsoft Project.

Prerequisites

Note

macOS isn't supported. Even if you've installed Visual Studio for Mac, connection to Azure DevOps from Excel isn't supported.

  • Installed Microsoft Excel 2010 or later version, including Microsoft Office Excel 365
  • Installed Azure DevOps Office Integration 2019 (free).

    Note

    The only way to get the Team Foundation plug-in is by installing one of the latest editions of Visual Studio or the TFS Standalone Office Integration installer. The TFS Office Integration 2017 plug-in supports connection to Azure Boards and TFS from Excel, Project, and the PowerPoint-based storyboarding tool.

  • To connect to an Azure Boards project, you need to be a member of the project. If you don't have an Azure Boards project yet, you can create one.
  • To view or modify work items, you must have these permissions set to Allow: View work items in this node and Edit work items in this node. By default, the Contributors group has this permission set. To learn more, see Set permissions and access for work tracking.
  • To add or modify work items, you must be granted Stakeholder access or higher. For details, see About access levels.
  • To use the Select User feature, you need to install Visual Studio (at least VS 2015.1 or later version or Team Foundation Server Office Integration 2015 Update 2 or later version. You can download the free version of Visual Studio Community. Get this feature to avoid data validation errors by misspelling user names and when you must assign user names from a large group of user accounts.

To learn more about compatibility requirements, see Compatibility with Azure DevOps.

Choose list and query type

When you work in Excel connected to Azure Boards, you're always working with a query type and a list type. Queries correspond to the queries you create using the Query Editor.

  • Query types:
    • None: Indicates it is an input list.
    • Query title: Indicates the list of work items is tied to the specified query.
  • List types:
    • Flat list: Simple list of work items that shows a single Title column. No link management is supported.
    • Tree list: Hierarchical list of work items that support creating and updating tree topology links, such as Parent-Child links, between work items. These lists include two or more Title columns.

You can add, modify, publish, and refresh work items using any query type and list type.

Query types

Azure Boards supports three query types. The icon next to each query indicates the query type. The first two query types, Flat list of work items and Work items and direct links are imported as flat list queries.

Query type icon list

Only the Tree of work items queries import as a tree list. Direct links queries are imported as a flat list into Excel as modifying multiple types of links isn't a supported feature in Excel.

Tree lists

You can bulk add a nested list of work items, such as a work breakdown structure or a hierarchical set of user stories and customer experiences. For example, you can add a nested list of tasks, subtasks, and bugs, as shown in the following illustration, or linked tasks to product backlog items.

Here's how a three-level nested tree of items appears in Excel.

Tree list of work items, conceptual image

Parent-child links or other tree topology link types support creating a hierarchical backlog structure. The work item types that participate in the hierarchy differ with different processes and are shown in the following images.

The following image shows the Agile process backlog work item hierarchy. User Stories and Tasks are used to track work, Bugs track code defects, and Epics and Features are used to group work under larger scenarios.

Conceptual image, Agile work item type

Each team can configure how they manage Bugs—at the same level as User Stories or Tasks—by configuring the Working with bugs setting. To learn more about using these work item types, see Agile process.

To import a hierarchical list, see Add or import a hierarchical list of work items later in this article.

My queries versus shared queries

You can open in Excel any query you've defined in Azure Boards. That includes queries defined under My Queries and Shared Queries. However, if you plan to share the workbook with other team members, then you should only work with a Shared Query. Other team members won't be able to use the workbook or worksheet if it is based on a personal query stored under your My Queries folder.

Guide to list and query type usage

In general, you Use a flat list to bulk add or modify several types of work items at once, such as backlog items, tasks, bugs, or issues. Use a tree list to bulk add or modify work items and their tree-topology links.

Here is some additional guidance:

  • Use an input list, flat list: To import a list of work items or create new work items, no hierarchy
  • Use an input list, tree list: To perform top down planning and import hierarchically linked work items
  • Use a query list, tree list: To view and modify the hierarchy of link relationships of many existing work items.
  • Use a query list, flat list: To bulk update a list of work items or create new work items, no hierarchy
  • Use an input list, flat list: To import a list of work items or create new work items, no hierarchy
  • Use an input list, tree list: To perform top down planning and publish parent-child linked work items
  • Use a query list, flat list: To create an Excel report based on the query of work items

    Note

    To create an Excel report, you're project collection must be configured to support Analytics reporting. For more information, see Create Excel reports from a work item query.
  • Use a query list, tree list: To view and modify the hierarchy and parent-child link relationships of many existing work items.

Use Excel features

You can use most Excel features when working with a list of work items. For example, you can use the following features:

  • Format a cell or apply conditional formatting to a cell or column
  • Cut and paste from one cell to other cells
  • Cut and paste a single row
  • Sum a column or add other formulas
  • Fill down cells
  • Filter
  • Add multiple worksheets to your workbook

Each worksheet in Excel can contain a different input list or query. However, all worksheets within the workbook must connect to the same project within an organization or project collection.

The following features work slightly differently when working with a worksheet connected to Azure Boards.

  • Each cell or column of cells corresponds to a work item field. Each field is associated with a data type. Excel won't allow you to enter data into a cell that doesn't meet the data type and requirements for that field.
  • You can only insert a single row at a time within the worksheet.
  • You can copy and paste multiple rows within the worksheet.
  • To move a work item within a hierarchy, cut the entire row and paste it under the work item you want as its parent.
  • Use Outdent and Indent to change the location of a work item within the tree.
  • Undo (Ctrl Z) may not work. If you do something that you want to revert, you can refresh the worksheet.

We recommend you publish and refresh your worksheet often to make sure your local work remains in sync with Azure Boards data store.

To learn more about Excel, see Basic Excel tasks .

Sort work items

You can sort work item flat lists using the Excel sort feature.

However, if you're working from a tree list, you don't want to perform any type of sort. Doing so changes the tree structure and therefore the links between work items.

If you want to use Excel to manage the order of your work items as they appear in a team backlog, you can do that by using the Stack Rank or Backlog Priority field (Agile or Scrum process). You can set values in these fields, publish your worksheet, and refresh your backlog. Your backlog items should appear reordered based on lowest to highest number. However, the next time the backlog is reordered from the backlog, the values you entered are subject to change.

If you want to maintain a certain order of work items, consider adding a custom field to manage the sort order, and then use that within Excel to sort your flat list of work items. This option, however, won't change the order that appears in your backlog.

Tasks you can and can't perform from Excel

You can perform the following tasks:

You can't perform the following tasks from an Excel worksheet:

  • You can't delete work items
  • You can't change the work item type of an existing work item
  • You can't move work items to another project
  • You can't import or update test case steps or other test artifacts
  • You can't add work items in any other State than the new State
  • You can't add to a work item discussion thread
  • You can't link to a remote work item.
  • You can't delete work items
  • You can't change the work item type of an existing work item
  • You can't move work items to another project
  • You can't import or update test case steps or other test artifacts
  • You can't add work items in any other State than the new State
  • You can't add to a work item discussion thread.
  • You can't delete work items
  • You can't import or update test case steps or other test artifacts
  • You can't add work items in any other State than the new State
  • You can't add to a work item discussion thread

Import work items, flat list

  1. Open Excel and connect to your Azure Boards project. Use one of the four methods provided in Connect Azure DevOps project to Excel.

    Note

    When you connect to Azure Boards in the cloud, the Team Project Collection is automatically selected as their is only one collection associated with your Azure DevOps Services organization. When you connect to Azure Boards in an on-premises server, you choose the Team Project Collection prior to choosing the project.

  2. In Excel, start with a blank worksheet. If you don't see the Team ribbon (or the Team menu if you use Excel 2007), see Azure DevOps Office integration issues.

  3. Choose New List from the Team ribbon.

    Choose New List

  4. From the New List dialog, choose Input list.

    Select input list

  5. Your worksheet is now bound to your project as an input list (Query[None]), flat list.

    Empty flat list connected to a project

  6. Specify the titles of the work items you want to add and their work item type.

    Add work items to Excel

    Notice how the State and Reason fields automatically fill in with default values once your select the work item type.

  7. Publish your worksheet.

    Publish your worksheet.

    Make sure your cursor is in a cell that contains data. Otherwise, the Publish button might appear disabled.

    Notice how IDs are now assigned to your work items.

    Published work item IDs show in Excel

  8. To assign values to other fields, open Choose Columns, add the fields, make the assignments, and publish your changes.

    Tip

    If you're adding work items that you want to appear on a team backlog, make sure that you add and specify the team's Area Path and Iteration Path. If you need to add Area Paths or Iteration Paths, choose the Edit Areas and Iterations link. The link opens a web browser to the Project Settings page. To learn more, see Define area paths and assign to a team and Define Iteration Paths and configure team iterations.

  9. To open a work item to add more information, Choose the work item you want to open and then choose Open in Web Access. Before you do, make sure you publish any changes you've made.

    Open a work item in the web portal from Excel

    A web browser opens and displays the work item.

    If you make changes to the work item, you should then immediately refresh your worksheet to capture the changes.

Import work items, tree list

You can add a hierarchy of work items linked using parent-child links or other tree topology link type.

Important

Don't sort a tree list. Sorting a tree list can change the hierarchical link relationships.

  1. Starting from Step 5 from the previous procedure, convert your flat list, input list into a tree list. Choose a cell within the flat list and then choose Add Tree Level.

    Empty flat list connected to a project, Add Tree Level

    If the Add Tree Level is disabled, you're working from a query list. To convert your list to a tree list, you must first reconfigure your list to an input list.

  2. Choose the link type to use when adding work items to a hierarchy, and then choose Convert. The most usual choice is Parent-Child. You can only select from tree topology link types. To learn more, see Link type topologies and restrictions.

    Convert to Tree List dialog

    Note the List type has changed to Tree, and a second Title column appears.

    List type has changed to Tree, and a second Title column appears.

  3. To add more levels to the hierarchy, choose Add Tree Level again. For example, if you want to add a hierarchy of Epics, Features, and User Stories, you'll want to have Title 1, Title 2, and Title 3 columns.

    If you want to add tasks, add another tree level to have four title columns. To remove a column, see Remove a tree level.

  4. Save your Excel file.

  5. Enter the Work Item Type and Titles for the hierarchy you want to import. The State fields automatically fill in with default values once you select the work item type.

    Excel worksheet, hierarchical list of work items for import

  6. Publish your worksheet.

    Team Ribbon, Publish link

    Make sure your cursor is in a cell that contains data. Otherwise, the Publish button might appear disabled.

    IDs are now assigned to your work items. In the background, the link type you selected is used to link each work item in the hierarchy. Epics are linked to Features, Features are linked to User Stories.

  7. To check the links made, choose a work item and choose Links and Attachments.

    For example, here we show the Child and Parent links created for a Feature that was imported.

    Link and Attachments, Link tab dialog

  8. To enter a row under a work item where you want to add a child, choose the row and then choose Add Child.

    Team ribbon, Tree group, Add child link

  9. To assign values to other fields, open Choose Columns, add the fields, make the assignments, and publish your changes.

  10. To change the hierarchy, cut and paste the row of a work item to place it under the new parent. Make sure that you select the entire table row. When you publish the change, the old hierarchical links are deleted and the new hierarchical link are created.

    You can use the indent item in tree or Outdent item in tree indent/outdent icons to demote or promote a work item within the tree hierarchy. Verify that the column to the left or right of the parent work item's title is a Title column. The header at the top of the column should read Title n, if it does not, add a tree level.

Remove a tree level

  1. First, publish changes that you have made to work items before you remove a tree level. Removing a tree level requires a refresh, which overwrites data in the work item list. You will lose any data you have not published.

  2. Next, remove any content entered under the tree-level Title number column you want to remove—the highest numbered column—. This should be the highest numbered column in the tree.

  3. Refresh your worksheet. The column containing empty values for the Title is removed.

    You'll receive an error message if you attempt to delete the column.

Useful tips when working with a tree list

  • Excel interprets the data in the Title columns to determine the pattern of links between work items. When you publish changes, any of the following conditions can result in an error, an invalid link, or a tree link to be created between incorrect work items:
    • A row between is blank between two work items within the hierarchy
    • The Title of a work item is in the wrong column. Make sure you enter a title for each child work item.
    • Within a row, multiple Title columns contain data. Enter text in only one of the title columns within each row.
    • The list was sorted. Don't sort a tree list. Sorting a tree list can change the hierarchical link relationships. If you do sort a tree list, you can recover from this operation by immediately refreshing.
  • To resolve an error, see Resolve invalid links.
  • A parent-child linked work item can only have one parent. You can't add the same work item task to two backlog items. Instead, you need to define distinct work item tasks.

Bulk update work items, query list

The easiest way to bulk update many work items is to create a query with the work items you want to update, and then open that query in Excel.

Tip

Follow these tips to keep your work in sync:

  • When you first open a saved worksheet, use Refresh icon in Excel on Team ribbon (Refresh) to download the latest data from the data store.
  • Enter data for additional fields by adding columns to the worksheet using Choose Column icon in Excel on Team ribbon Choose Columns.
  • To avoid data conflicts, publish your additions and modifications often.
  • To prevent loss of data before you publish or refresh, save your workbook periodically.
  1. From the web portal or Visual Studio, create the work item query that contains the work items you want to update. For details, see Create and save managed queries with the query editor.

  2. Open Excel and connect to your Azure Boards project. Use one of the four methods provided in Connect Azure DevOps project to Excel.

  3. If you opened your query from the web portal or Visual Studio, you're done. Make any changes you want. Open Choose Columns, add fields, make assignments, and publish your changes.

  4. If you start from Excel, open a blank worksheet. You can add a worksheet to an existing workbook, as long as you are choosing a query from the same project the workbook is bound to.

  5. Choose New List from the Team ribbon.

    Choose New List

  6. From the New List dialog, choose Query list, and select the query you want from the drop-down menu.

    Select input list, query list

    The icon next to each query indicates the query type. The first two query types, Flat list of work items and Work items and direct links are imported as flat list queries. Only the Tree of work items queries import as a tree list.

    Query type icon list

  7. With the work items imported to Excel, make the modifications you want and publish your changes.

    If you're working with a tree list, see also the information provided in Import a hierarchical list of work items.

Enable Tree commands

If the Tree group commands are not available, your worksheet is configured as a flat list, query list. You must first convert the list to either an input list or a list based on a tree query in order to enable the Tree group commands. To learn how, see the next section on Change your list type or query.

Change your list type or query

You can change the work items listed in your worksheet. Specifically, you can:

  • Change your flat list to a tree list
  • Change from a query list to an input list
  • Change from an input list to a query list
  • Change the query your worksheet references

If you want to change your flat list to a tree list, you can. However, if you're list is a query list, then you first need to reconfigure the list. You'll know that it is a flat list, query list as the Tree group commands are disabled.

Team ribbon, disabled Tree group commands

To convert your query list to an input list, follow these steps.

  1. First, publish whatever changes you have made.

  2. Next, on the Team ribbon, choose Configure, List.

    Team ribbon, Configure, List menu option

  3. Choose Refresh work items only and then Apply.

    This choice changes the query list to an input list.

    Configure List properties dialog, Input

  4. To convert from an input list to a query list, choose Refresh from query, select the query, and then Apply.

    Configure List properties dialog, Query

Add existing work items to your worksheet

If you're working from a query, modify your query to contain the work items you want. Then refresh your list. The additional work items will appear in your list.

If you're working with an input list, perform these steps.

  1. From the Team ribbon, choose Get Work Items.

    Team Ribbon, Get work items

  2. Choose the method you want from the three options available.

    Get work items dialog

    If the work items are defined in another project, then first select the Project. Then, make your selections:

    • Query. Use this method when you have defined a query that you know contains the set or superset of the work items that you want.
    • IDs. Use this method when you know the IDs of the work items that you want to link to. In the IDs box, type the IDs of the work items that you want to find, separated by commas or spaces.
    • Title contains. Use this method to find work items that have a common word or phrase in the title field. In the and type list, click the type of work item that you want to retrieve.

    Note

    To minimize the time required to run the query, narrow the filter criteria of the search.

  3. Choose Find.

    Only those work items defined for the selected project and specified work item type are listed. To sort on a column field, choose the column Title.

  4. In the list of returned work items, select the check-box of one or more work items.

    • Select each work item that should link to the current work item. You can also press the SHIFT key while clicking to select a range of work items, or press the CTRL key while clicking to select multiple work items.
    • Choose Select All to select all work items in the list.

Add or remove column fields

If you start your worksheet with a New List, you'll see only a set of default field columns. You can add columns using the Choose Columns on the Team ribbon.

If you start your worksheet from an existing query, you'll see all the column fields defined for the query. From there, you can add columns using the Choose Columns. However, your additions don't modify the underlying query.

  1. To assign values to other fields, choose Column Options to add the fields of interest.

    Choose Columns dialog

    • To filter the fields based on work item type, select the Work item type.
    • To move or remove a field, choose the field and then click the > or < icons.
    • To change the field sequence, move the field up or down in the list using the up and down arrows.
    • You can add a rich-text field, such as the Description field, however you may lose some of the formatting upon publish.
  2. Once the fields appear in the worksheet, assign values and publish your updates. When working with identity fields, ones that accept user accounts, see the next section, Select user accounts.

  3. Save your worksheet.

Select user accounts

You can use the Select User feature to find user accounts and assign values to person named fields. Also, this feature provides access to the most recently used (MRU) values. If your team contains several hundreds or thousands of user accounts, you'll want to use this feature.

Tip

Without the Select User feature, you must enter user names exactly as they are in the database, or you'll receive data validation errors upon trying to publish.

  1. If you haven't installed or updated to the latest version of Visual Studio (at least VS 2015.1 or later version, do that now. You need the latest update in order to access the Select User feature.

  2. Choose an identity or person-named field to activate the Select User feature in the Team ribbon.

    Team ribbon, Select User

    An identity or person-named field is a field that contains a user identity. These fields are typically synchronized to a database of user accounts, such as Azure Active Directory, Active Directory, or a Workgroup.

  3. Begin typing the name of the user account and the Assign User dialog will automatically filter the results until you can select the account of interest.

    Assign User dialog

    Enter a letter to tab to the start of names beginning with that letter. Enter only user names as account aliases aren't recognized.

    You'll notice that as you select user names, Excel remembers your recent selections and you can select those user accounts directly from the field.

    Assigned to field, Drop-down menu shows most recently used values

You can perform a number of actions from the Links tab of the Links and Attachments dialog. Specifically, you can:

  • Review the existing links defined for the selected work item
  • Add links to a selected work items to one or more work items or select objects
  • Delete links
  • Open a linked work item (opens in the web portal)
  • Edit the link type of an existing link
  • Add columns to the Link list and sort on that list

For more information on linking work items, see Link user stories, issues, bugs, and other work items.

You can't use the Links and Attachments dialog to bulk update work item links. You can only bulk update tree-topology link types using a tree list.

  1. To link a work item to other work items, choose the work item and then choose Links and Attachments. From the Links tab, choose Link to and then choose the Link Type and work item(s) you want to link to. Choose OK and then Publish.

    Links and Attachments dialog, Add links

    When finished, choose Close to dismiss the dialog.

  2. To link several work items to the same work item(s), multi-select them by using Ctrl-click for consecutive rows, or Shift-click for non-consecutive rows.

From the Add link dialog you can open a secondary dialog to help you choose one or more work items to link to. If you are going to find and list work items to link to by using a saved query, first define the query that you want to use.

From the Add link dialog, choose the Browse button (Visual Studio) to open the following dialog.

Choose Link Work Items dialog

The Choose Linked Work Items dialog works in the same way as the Get Work Items dialog. To learn more, see Add existing work items to your worksheet described earlier in this article.

  1. From the Links tab, choose the Columns icon, and add the fields you want displayed. Here we add the Assigned to and State fields.

    Links and Attachments dialog, Links tab, Added columns

  2. To reorder the links, choose the field to sort the list on that field.

    To reorder the links, choose the field to sort the list on that field.

This dialog works in the same way as the Get Work Items dialog. See Add existing work items to your worksheet described earlier in this article.

Open a linked work item

From the Links tab, choose the linked work item, right-click to open the context menu, and choose Open Linked Item.

Links and Attachments dialog, Links tab, Open Linked Work Item

The work item opens in your web portal.

You can edit any link listed. You can change the link type and the work items linked to.

  1. Choose the link and choose the Edit icon.

  2. Change the link type as needed.

    Links and Attachments dialog, Links tab, Edit link dialog

  3. To change the work item linked to, enter the ID of the work item, or choose Browse to find the work item(s) to link to.

    The Choose Linked Work Items dialog works in the same way as the Get Work Items dialog. To learn more, see Add existing work items to your worksheet described earlier in this article.

Add attachments

  • To add attachments, choose the work item, then Links and Attachments, and then the Attachments tab.

    Choose the file you want to attach, then choose OK and then Publish.

    Links and Attachments dialog, Add Attachment

    When finished, choose Close to dismiss the dialog.

  • To add the same attachment(s) to several work items, multi-select them by using Ctrl-click for consecutive rows, or Shift-click for non-consecutive rows.

Create a report

You can create a report or chart from the web portal for flat-list queries. See Track progress by creating status and trend query-based charts.

Important

You can only create an Excel report using New Report from an on-premises Azure DevOps Server. These reports require that your project's project collection is configured to support SQL Server Analytics Server.

You can create a report using the New Report feature based on a flat list of work items.

Create a report using the New Report feature.

To learn more, see Create Excel reports from a work item query.

Resolve publishing errors

To resolve publishing errors that arise when working in Excel, see one of the following topics:

  • Resolve data conflicts: A data conflict occurs when a field value is changed in Azure Boards since the last time you published from Excel.

  • Resolve data validation errors: A data validation error occurs if a field value violates the rules for that field and work item type.

  • Resolve invalid links in a tree hierarchy: An invalid link occurs if a team member views work items in Excel as a hierarchy or tree list, and moves a work item or sorts the list so that it breaks the dependencies between work items. You can resolve this error by reviewing the error message and repositioning work items to reflect the work item structure.

  • Address Error TF208104: Hierarchical Link Relationship Is Locked:
    If you receive error TF208104, changes you made to the fields are published, but all changes you made to the link hierarchy are not published. At least one of the link relationships defined for the work item is locked by another process, such as Project Server integration.