One of the most common ways in which companies attempt to save on expenditures is by consolidating software purchases, using applications for multiple purposes for which they may not have originally been designed. “Just do it in Excel” – ever heard that before?
Most likely, if you continue to use Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to manage projects and do not see compelling reasons for the change, you are not alone. Launching a project plan in Excel helps list all projects quickly and organize them as needed — and even creating visualizations, like Gantt Charts, is tempting. However, the spreadsheet is not enough when it comes to calculating changes to a project.
Do you Need a Project Management Tool, or is Excel Enough?
Many companies have always used and therefore prefer Excel. Excel has some clear advantages, especially for minor projects or single events. Excel has a wide array of benefits, notably analysis and reporting features. Consultancy firms require precise and detailed data, for example, in connection with varying hourly rates management of fixed prices, and time and materials.
Often, several projects run simultaneously for many customers. This is especially true for cases where the same employee has different hourly rates depending on the type of project. As such, Excel spreadsheets are perfect for tasks such as analysis, but fall short when it comes to project management or project portfolio management in Excel.
Excel’s PROs and CONs List
Five Reasons not to Use Excel for Project Management
- Very time-consuming
Depending on the size and complexity of individual projects, and the number of projects you are managing or participating in, it’s easy to waste significant time finding, updating, and double-checking project information.
- Project information is not up-to-date or accurate
Spreadsheets are error-prone, especially if used by multiple team members. It’s impossible to know if you are working with the most recent version of the spreadsheet, if the formulas are correct, or if any data was accidentally replaced or overwritten. This lack of clarity is a major headache for heavily-regulated industries such as healthcare or finance.
Saving spreadsheets in different locations leads to inconsistent information stored in various silos. If someone has saved the only copy of an important document on their local computer and forgot to share the file before vacation, the project could stop for a few weeks! Added to these frustrations is a lack of ownership; many people may use the file, but no one is in charge of checking the accuracy of your data.
- Lack of collaboration
Excel does not include key collaboration tools such as conversion tracking, file sharing, discussion boards, and up-to-date task lists. Team members cannot easily check the status of a task or identify what they need to do next. They don’t know the overall status of the project or if a teammate is struggling with a task. This information is likely stored in another document in another location-creating even more confusing!
- Too much information
Different team members and stakeholders need different information. Creating individual, tailored views with varying administration privileges is impossible in Excel. Everyone sees the same spreadsheet. This means more time is wasted as individuals try to figure out what is relevant to their work.
- Difficult to report on the progress of the project
As you probably guessed, Excel is not an ideal project reporting tool! This can lead to poor decision-making as relevant data is not easily accessed or is incorrect. Relying on spreadsheets to make key decisions or identify risks can lead to resource conflicts, forecasting issues, and an overall loss of visibility into what is happening on your project.
“But We’ve Always Used Excel.”
There are many arguments for sticking with Excel. Then again, there are just as many arguments against sticking with it.
- Internal disagreements. “Switching systems will result in too much of an internal power struggle, and we simply don’t have the resources for that at the moment.”
- No knowledge of the alternatives. Many companies who use Excel or other “homemade” systems don’t have the resources to research the possibilities and benefits offered by professional systems.
- “It’s much too expensive.” Granted, compared to Excel, which comes with the Office package, a professional project management system costs money. On the other hand, how much money is spent in-house correcting data and fault-proofing in Excel that might otherwise have been spent on invoicing? Over time, Excel proves to be an administrative burden, which slowly becomes part of the daily grind. But consider how many of these hours might have been spent running your business instead? Also, time registration using Excel is often inadequate and imprecise. For instance, try calculating your monthly invoicing percentage based on a mere extra half hour a week per employee. For ten employees, that’s five hours or an extra 20 hours a month. Even though Excel is included in the Office package, it can prove a costly solution.
- No time for implementation. Employees need to work faster and faster. Effective implementation of an external system can prove costly. In the long run, however, it may prove one of the best investments you ever made, as many features are cleared or become far less time-consuming and manageable.
- No system-responsible employee is acting as a supporter and super-user. Small companies often have very limited resources. As a result, switching to a new system may seem insurmountable, as the responsibility is usually vested in management or the CEO personally. And we all know the stress and long hours that go with being a small-company leader.
Switch From Excel to a True Project Management Platform
When using spreadsheets to track projects, what happens when a separate resource is assigned to multiple projects? You must manage resources outside the project plan manually or using a third-party program. Resources are often randomly exceeding accessibility and can waste a lot of time trying to reschedule work.
Suggest here a Planner for lightweight pm/task management and project online for more advanced projects that require WBS and complex schedules
Project Server can draw data from a central, corporate pool of resources. Thanks to this, project managers can quickly see the availability of a resource before assigning a resource to a task.
Project Online helps you quickly:
- Change resource assignments.
- Change project schedules.
- Handle the date changes and their effects.
- Account for all dependencies.
- Show the results and resource assignments.
By exporting project data to Excel, you can continue to use the effective functions of the spreadsheet, while using Project to track resources and plan the project. You can also import or embed Excel data into a project plan.
Switch from Excel to PPM Express
Imagine taking off the training wheels and going straight for piloting a spaceship. That’s what it would be like if you go to enterprise-scale from managing projects in Excel. That’s why you should consider finding something more lightweight first instead.
Create an online project in PPM Express for visibility, status management, and progress tracking, and link your Excel project to it so that you have the best of both worlds. We must make a statement that they need some tool for task management/schedule management – Planner or Project Online. PPM Express has no task/schedule management functionality.
Starting with PPM Express after Excel would be much less stressful and would still take your project management process to the next level. You can create online projects in PPM Express and connect them to your Microsoft Project files. You will gain full visibility for easy status management and progress tracking. With PPM Express, you can:
- View and manage the statuses and progress of all your projects and portfolios in one place.
- Avoid requests for status updates, and milestone/iteration updates from project managers.
- Gain portfolio visibility across all projects.
- Link your existing projects in Microsoft Project, Excel, or PowerPoint.
- Unify status reports, standardized project configuration, and project details.
- Avoid replacing your existing tools.
- Add the bigger picture and portfolio management capabilities.
- Get flexible tools for effective status reporting accessible to all your team members.
- Have maintenance-free technical support and data backups.
- A ready-to-use, Cloud-based PPM solution you can start using in 15 minutes.
- Advanced customization options.
PPM Express not only gives you absolute control and visibility of your MS Project data, but also establishes ultimate portfolio visibility by defining a common framework and linking your existing project data and schedules with a single URL. It doesn’t take loads of time, doesn’t include a painful migration process, or schedule changes, and most importantly allows no data loss. Move to the Cloud PPM and transform Excel project management with portfolio management practices, using business intelligence and analytics to make decisions faster.
Transitioning from Excel to a project management system can make a huge difference in the productivity of your teams. With the transparency of information, errors are reduced, and the workload can be shared. Less time is spent on redundant communication among team members, as responsibility for updating the project is distributed throughout the team.
Everyone knows their part. Higher productivity means better projects and a happier team. Excel is a fine tool for its original intention, but don’t hamstring your business by using it for essential tasks it was never designed to do.