Once in my career, I was lucky enough to work with a true Excel spreadsheet master. Chris could make Excel do anything, except he never used spreadsheets to manage a project. He was a wise man.
Since then I’ve come across too many project professionals, teams and organizations who stretch Microsoft Excel into a project management tool, and unsuccessfully so. When teams use legacy tools for something like project management, they invite in even more legacy problems.
The truth is, spreadsheets are not an effective means by which to manage projects—especially large and complex ones. Planning work in spreadsheets can be time-consuming, unreliable, ineffective and creates silos. Many of you probably already know this, even if you’re currently using spreadsheets. Need more convincing?
Here are five ways spreadsheets make project management a more horrific process than it has to be.
1. Spreadsheets have serious limitations (and people fear them).
There’s a certain amount of fear and loathing around spreadsheets. While my former colleague Chris had above average Excel skills, he later left the project because the client and others were dumping all of their spreadsheet work on him. Few people on the project truly understood spreadsheets. After he left the project, many of those spreadsheets lived untouched on a network drive and project information became even more chaotic to interpret and manage.
Over on the eLynxx Solutions blog, the article Top 4 Reasons Why Spreadsheets are the Wrong Tool for Managing Projects brings up the biggest limitation of spreadsheets for project management: they aren’t designed to store files, annotations, conversations, and related information that are essential parts of project communication and collaboration.
Using spreadsheets limit project access and insight to a small user community (or even a couple of people). To be truly effective and productive, project schedules and information need to be available to a wide range of users with varying technical skills.
2. Forget about collaborating!
Relying on spreadsheets for project management eliminates any chances to effectively collaborate on project information. We’ve all heard (and experienced) what happens when you email project information around with team members updating different versions of the same document.
While Google Apps for Work and Office 365 have put spreadsheets and other productivity apps in the cloud, not every user is going to be spreadsheet savvy. Even if you don’t include formulas, pivot tables and macros in a project management spreadsheet, you have to ask yourself how many of the project team members fire up a spreadsheet on a regular basis. Unless you’re in the financial services industry or maybe the accounting department, I’m guessing not many.
Spreadsheets don’t give teams commenting features and audit trails that are essential to tracking how information and processes change over time. This can become a big problem, especially when some industries require you to log this information for compliance reasons.
You can easily do this on a cloud platform, but not using a spreadsheet. Collaborative and cloud-based project management tools are increasingly important in today’s world of alternative work schedules and remote teams, where hallway discussions and check-ins don’t happen on a daily basis.
3. It’s almost impossible to access updated project information.
In my experience, management by spreadsheets was extremely disjointed. As spreadsheets were sent around to team members, I wasn’t able to change my view of the information. And who knew how updated the schedule and plan even was. The rows and columns were only a bit friendlier and easier to read than the Gantt chart the project team was seemingly trying to avoid.
These days, cloud applications let project managers and teams view their schedules and project data via a range of views that suits their information and consumption needs. And, the better planning tools automatically update plans as changes are made, in real time.
With many of today’s collaborative cloud platforms, a project manager who feels comfortable with a Gantt chart can choose Gantt chart as a view. Likewise, a senior programmer without experience using project management software can view the same data as a calendar or a task list—depending on how they best understand information.
4. There’s no spreadsheet model of project management.
Over at ProjectTimes, David Blumhurst’s article, What’s So Bad About Spreadsheets? brings up an excellent point. While the software development community is making investments in developing Agile methodologies, frameworks, and tools to manage software development, there’s been no investments to improve spreadsheet modeling. Is that a tool in which you want to invest your project’s success?
5. Custom-made project management solutions can be a time sink.
When tools and processes become difficult to use, it’s human nature to invent workarounds. The results are so-called “project management spreadsheets” that are part of a team’s home-grown project management process. The rise of Agile and other processes means the time has come for enterprises still hanging onto their customized project management solutions to decide if the overhead costs are worth the continued investment.
Maintaining tools like custom spreadsheets only add to the costs and frustration of the process. These enterprises need to analyze whether moving project management to the cloud offers access to more usable and up-to-date project management tools for management, teams, and stakeholders.
Spare your team the agony, improve your project work.
Using the right tool for the job applies to many facets of business, and it’s especially true in project management—whether you’re in an Agile environment or not. Sparing your project teams from the wrong project management tools and putting in a user-friendly and effective cloud-based project management platform benefits team collaboration, scheduling, productivity, and overall project tracking better than force-feeding project management data into a spreadsheet or other legacy app.
If this article got you thinking about using a more effective tool to manage your projects, learn more about LiquidPlanner and how the 6 Best Practices for Accurate Project Estimates can increase the success of your projects.