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6 Reasons Why Project Management Is Impossible With Spreadsheets

Managing projects with spreadsheets

This is a guest post by Pavel Aramyan and was sponsored by Easy Projects.

If you use spreadsheets to do multiple calculations, that’s great! But if you use them for project management… Wait, you really do that?!

Well, there really are teams that use spreadsheets not only for statistics, but also for managerial purposes. Though there are a bunch of really cool project management tools there, some people still stick to spreadsheets.

One advantage of spreadsheets is that most people have Excel installed in their PCs, so there will be no document compatibility issues. However, do you need this? Are you concerned only with the document compatibility problem? What other advantages can a spreadsheet provide you with for a successful implementation of a project?

My answer to all these questions will be, ”No, I do not need spreadsheets for project management, as they only hinder the process of effective collaboration.” You need proof, don’t you? Here are 6 reasons why project management is impossible while using spreadsheets.

1. Risk of error

Spreadsheets are error-prone; though they are easy to use for statistical calculations, they are not databases. When people try to use spreadsheets as databases by linking together formulas and complex calculations, the risk of losing important data or information is huge. Just try to re-format or delete a few figures or to replace a formula with a static value; you need to be a mathematician to handle it all.

Pavel Aramyan

Pavel Aramyan, from Easy Projects (not a fan of spreadsheets)

2. Lack of security

Security is another important point when dealing with spreadsheets. There is no comprehensive solution to the spreadsheet access issue. Not everyone in the team should have access to the files (just for safety reasons; for example, people may accidentally delete things). However, it’s difficult to grant or not to grant access to users when it comes to Excel spreadsheets.

3. Nearly no teamwork, collaboration or communication

Planning, forecasting and project management in general involve lots of collaboration. It’s natural for team members to communicate, discuss things, make decisions, plan activities, change goals, alter deadlines etc. Normally two, three and even more departments are involved in the sharing process.

How do you see that collaboration working using a spreadsheet? Is everyone going to update the same document and then email it to the rest?

Time consuming as it is, the use of spreadsheets does not encourage communication. Spreadsheets do not provide teams with the opportunity to comment on things or discuss ideas. However, to me, it’s crucial to have a chat or at least a commenting tool for remote or international teams. Even people working in the same department would benefit from a tool like that on a daily basis.

4. Loss of key information

This comes as a continuation of the point above. When I say, ”sharing,” I mean being able to edit and comment on one document at the same time.

For example, if a project event was delayed and you want to tell your team why it has been delayed, you may try to comment under the deadline or somewhere near the calendar date for that event. Another team member may want to comment on your explanation about the delay and so on. A spreadsheet does not allow several people to work on it simultaneously. Moreover, when people alter the document and send it to one another, vital information may be lost between the versions.

One more unpleasant thing I noticed when I worked predominantly with spreadsheets is that the same information may appear in the same document twice because people are reluctant to delete information “in case it’s useful in the future”. This results in confusion.

Gantt charts, on the other hand, make it clearer to see what’s there and what’s missing because of the way they are structured. When you make changes and hit ”Save,” the Gantt chart updates instantly. This helps organize things more productively, and your software probably makes it possible to see what’s changed if you ever want to look back.

5. Tracking becomes super-difficult

One file is not enough to store everything about complex projects. But multiple files and folders may make it nearly impossible to track the progress of the project.

I understand that project managers must track the status of things but spreadsheets will hardly ever let you do that.

Why is tracking so hard when using spreadsheets? Well, while spreadsheets are a great tool for doing calculations and tracking numbers, they’re not good for tracking information not related to numbers (for example, event descriptions, guidelines, to-do lists etc.) .

I can guess that as a project manager, you want to have everything organized in one place to be able to easily track the progress and the status of tasks. If you’re using spreadsheets, that will remain a dream.

6. Poorly managed project history

Project management is all about planning and implementing things. After you implement ideas successfully, you start documenting them as good practice for further use. If you ever succeed in managing a project with a spreadsheet, you will then find it’s virtually impossible to use it again in the future, either as a lessons learned exercise or as a template for future initiatives.

Spreadsheets just fall apart so much that you cannot figure out how things are interconnected unless you’re working with them day-to-day. Because deleting things may have dramatic results; people colour in unnecessary data, then they use other colours to highlight important information. It’s meaningful in the moment, but a month later no one understands a thing.

I’m not against spreadsheets. They are good for calculating data, project budgets and analysing statistics, but it’s not always convenient to use them for more complex tasks.

After reading these 6 reasons for not using spreadsheets in project management, you may be thinking about getting an alternative project management tool for your team. Believe me, that’s the best thing you can do for a successful project implementation. Using the right tool in your business will also make your team happier.

Tell us about a project management tool (either online or offline) that you use in the comments section below.

About the author: As a part of the team, Pavel often shares his expertise on the Easy Projects’ blog dedicated to project management. Pavel is also a doctor who happens to have an MBA degree and a strong passion for business writing.

About Elizabeth Harrin

Elizabeth HarrinElizabeth Harrin FAPM is a professional project manager and award-winning blogger behind A Girl's Guide To Project Management. She's passionate about demystifying project management and making tools and techniques work in the real world. She's also the author of several books including the PMI bestseller, Collaboration Tools for Project Managers.
Elizabeth lives in the UK with her family. She uses her organisation and project management skills at home, and also to help other bloggers at Totally Organised Blogging.

Comments

  1. Dave Gordon says

    23 November, 2015 at 1:35 am

    My rebuttal: The D-Day invasion was planned without a single computer, and so was the Trans-Continental Railroad. Still, most projects are short-term, low-budget activities involving fewer than a dozen people. And a large fraction of those projects are managed by people who are not primarily project managers. When used as a flexible database on a shared platform like GoogleDocs, the spreadsheet is a cost-effective way to get “just enough” project management. Yes, they are flawed, but documents are rarely the root cause of a failed project.

    • Elizabeth Harrin says

      23 November, 2015 at 8:38 pm

      Thanks, Dave. Sometimes I think it’s too easy to forget that a lot of great work was done before about 5-10 years ago when we had online collaboration tools! Thanks for reminding us.

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