Bulk add or modify work items with Excel

Last Update: 3/29/2017

Team Services | TFS 2017 | TFS 2015 | TFS 2013

When you have a lot of work items to add or modify, using Excel can save you time. 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 parent-child links.

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


You can't use Office Project 365 to connect to Team Services or TFS.

Add work items

  1. If you don't have Office Excel 2007 or a more recent version, install it. For Team Services or TFS 2017, you'll need Project 2010 or a later version.

  2. If you haven't installed a version of Visual Studio (2010 or later) or the Team Foundation Server Standalone Office Integration 2015 (free), you'll need to install one of these versions to connect to a team project hosted on Team Services or an on-premises TFS.


    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. TFS Office Integration 2015 supports connection to Team Services and TFS from Excel, Project, and the PowerPoint-based storyboarding tool.

  3. 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 step 2 or TFS-Office integration issues.

    Create a list connection between Excel and the data store


    If the Team ribbon no longer appears, you might need to re-enable it.

  4. Connect to your team project hosted in Visual Studio Team Services or an on-premises TFS where you want to add work items. If you can't connect, get added as a team member.


    If it is your first time connecting from Excel, you might have to add your Visual Studio Team Services account or on-premises TFS to the list of recognized servers.


    Select input list

  5. Your worksheet is now bound to your team project as a flat list. What this means is that you can add work items to the team project from the worksheet or add work items to the worksheet from the team project.

    Empty flat list connected to a team 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 work items from Excel to the data store

    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. Also, note how you can open a work item in the web portal to add more information.

    Open a work item in the web portal from Excel

    Work item displayed in the web portal

You can make changes to work items in Excel, Project, the web portal, or Visual Studio, or Team Explorer Everywhere.


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.

Select user accounts


Feature availability: To access the Select User feature, you need to install Visual Studio 2015 Update 1 or Team Foundation Server Office Integration 2015 Update 2. Get this feature to avoid data validation errors by mispelling user names and when you must assign user names from a large group of 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.

  1. If you haven't installed or updated to Visual Studio 2015 Update 1, do that now. You need the latest update in order to access the Select User feature.

  2. Click a person-named field to activate the Select User feature in the team ribbon.

    Team ribbon, Select User

    A person-named field is any field whose syncnamechanges attribute has been set to synchronize with Active Directory, Azure 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-dowm menu shows most recently used values


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

Add linked backlog items and tasks

You can bulk add a nested list of work items, such as a work break down 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, as described in the following steps.

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

Tree list of work items

  1. Follow steps 1 through 6 from the previous procedure.

  2. Convert your flat list to a tree list by adding a tree level.

    Convert flat list to tree list

    Notice how the list type is now labeled Tree, and an additional Title 2 column has been inserted.

    Empty tree list connected to data store

  3. Enter titles for backlog items under Title 1 and for tasks, under Title 2. Also, select the corresponding work item type for each. Here we specify Task.

    Tree list of work items to publish

  4. Just as before, publish your worksheet and notice how IDs are assigned to the new work items.

    Publish a tree list of work items

    In the background, parent-child links are created for each task listed under a user story.

Useful tips when working with a tree list:
  • The plug-in 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 parent and child work items is blank.

    • 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 in an Excel tree list.

  • You can use item in tree or Outdent item in tree 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 <number>, if it does not, add a tree level.

  • 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.

  • 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. For more information, see Addressing Error TF208104: Hierarchical Link Relationship Is Locked.

  • When you move a work item, make sure that you select the entire table row.

Work with different list types

Select your list structure based on these guidelines.


List structure

List refresh

Create and publish many unrelated work items

Flat list

Input list

Perform bulk edits on many unrelated work items

Flat list

Query list or input list

Perform bulk edits on many work items and their dependent or related work items

Tree list

Query list

Perform top down planning and publish parent-child linked work items

Tree list

Input list

View and modify the hierarchy and parent-child link relationships of many work items

Tree list

Query list

Review reports based on a filtered set of work items that change over time

Flat or tree list

Query list

Enable the Tree commands

If the Tree group commands are not available, your worksheet is configured as a flat list. You can convert the flat list to a tree list as described in step 2 in Add backlog items and tasks and their parent-child links using a tree list.

Convert a tree to a flat list

First, publish whatever changes you have made. Then, on the Team ribbon, choose Configure, List, and then choose Refresh work items only. This will flatten the tree structure and change the query list to an input list.

Remove a tree level

Remove any content entered under the tree-level Title number column you want to remove—the highest numbered column—and, then Refresh your worksheet.


Always 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.

Convert from an input list to a query

On the Team ribbon, choose Configure, List, and then select the query you want to use. The worksheet will refresh with only those work items returned by the query. Also, if you select a tree query, then the list becomes a tree list.

Add existing work items to a list

If you're working with a non-query input list, you can add work items by choosing Get work items icon from the Team ribbon. If you're working from a query, then you need to modify your query to contain the work items you want. Then refresh your list.

While the examples shown here represent connecting to an on-premises TFS, you can connect to Visual Studio Team Services and bulk add and modify work items. Once you've connected to the cloud server, you use the same procedures to work in Excel.

If you're just getting started, review these topics for more information about work item tracking and using Excel:

To bulk edit links, you can use these clients:

To bulk modify test cases with shared steps, use the web portal Test grid view.

To resolve publishing errors, see one of these topics:

Delete work items

You can't delete work items from Excel. The only way to delete work items is from the web portal or the witadmin command line tool. For details, see Move, change, or delete work items .

When you open a direct links query in Excel, the Team Foundation add-in converts the list to a flat list. While you can modify values for the fields and add work items, you can't view nor modify link relationships.

Multiple worksheets

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

To bulk add or modify work items in a different team project, open a new Excel workbook.

Use Excel cut and paste functions

You can use many Excel features, such as cut, paste, automatic fill, format, sort (flat list only), filter, and add formulas. You can cut and paste rows to re-sequence items within a list and change link relationships among work items.

To drag a work item, select the work item or contiguous set of work items that you want to move, open the context menu and choose Select, Table Row, point to the border of the selection, and—when the pointer becomes a move pointer Move Pointer—drag the row to another location.

Tip: When you refresh the work item list, not all formats may be retained. For example, date formats are set by the server data store. Any changes you make to a date format field will be overwritten with the date format used by the server.

Web portal and Excel access

While you can't open a query from the web portal, you can open the query from Excel. To use Excel, you must get the Team Foundation add-in, which installs when you install Visual Studio or Team Explorer. If you don't have one of these versions installed, install it now. You can install Visual Studio Community for free.

Once you've installed Visual Studio, open Excel and look for the Team ribbon.

Disable the Team Foundation Add-in

If you want to disable the add-in, see Add or remove an add-in.

Enable the Developer tab

See Show the Developer Tab on the Ribbon.

Excel for Mac

Support for a Mac OS is not supported. You need to use Excel on the same computer where you have installed Visual Studio or Team Explorer in order to get the Team Foundation add-in. These applications require a Windows OS.

Feedback and support

We welcome your feedback.

Send suggestions on UserVoice, and follow us on Twitter @vsts.

See also our comprehensive feedback and support page.