Why Excel Doesn’t Work as Your Company’s Project Management Tool

Jim Harkless

In tough times, companies cut corners on software.

That’s why many teams turn over their project management duties to Excel.

Often, these moves are prudent, allowing business owners to refine and simplify their processes, eliminate waste, and preserve their employees’ livelihood. At the same time however, companies should not skimp on essential engines to drive business. It is the difficult job of upper management to make the tough calls as to what expenses are wasteful, and which are necessary investments in a company’s well-being.

It’s not Microsoft’s fault that Excel has become the de facto project management tool for most teams.

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. Software can be very versatile, so this is often a tempting route to saving some cash. However, when software is stretched to its limits and can no longer meet the needs of its users, it’s time to invest in specialized software tailored to the needs of the business and market.

“Just Throw It In Excel.”

Ever heard that before?

In some instances, businesses will use Microsoft Excel in place of targeted project management tools. After all, its familiar and its “free” (no extra out of budget expenses).

While Excel is a great program that can benefit end users greatly in calculations, data visualization, and spreadsheet creation, applying it to project management is detrimental to the productivity of a marketing or estimating department. Let’s take a look at five different reasons Excel comes up short at managing crucial projects.

23 Excel Tips & Tricks To Conquer Your Spreadsheets

7 Reasons Why Excel Doesn’t Work For Project Management

1. Limited Insights = More Mistakes.

Projects require multiple people working on different tasks at once and then coordinating and updating statuses. But the latest plan in Excel is on one specific person’s computer. And the file is now too big to keep reloading into your shared document manager.

Managing data this way works great when flying solo, but proves problematic when the work needs review and input from coworkers. Effective project management requires coordination across multiple people and teams.

Multiple versions of a file make it increasingly difficult to know what changes to make and what to do next. The data may not get updated. As the project continues, mistakes and missed deadlines are likely to add up.

2.) Project updates are inefficient in Excel.

The person keeping the latest version of the Excel file usually has the burden of keeping it accurate. This means that person is THAT person – the one constantly asking “are you done yet?” to other members on the team for updates. This is time consuming, inefficient and can sour team relationships. It also leads to more errors, because there is no team-wide transparency. The keeper of the spreadsheet is primarily responsible for versioning and quality control.

3.) Excel is not flexible enough.

It sounds crazy, right? Any Excel sheet starts off blank. How is that not the ultimate in flexibility? But it’s actually quite limited. It becomes nearly impossible to track changes and alter timelines within an Excel doc, unless there’s one super user with a PhD in VLOOKUP. Your whole team can’t do those things and you become reliant on only one person or a few people for project changes.

Excel Project Management

4.) Excel lacks high-level summaries.

Uh-oh. Your VP is making a presentation to senior leadership and wants a project update. In Excel, you’ll need to create additional views and even more tabs just to summarize the roadblocks, show team workloads and project updates.

Fickle spreadsheets that are constantly changing hands across email or server drives are always changing–and it’s difficult to keep track of where the project was six months before, let alone years ago. In contrast, quality project management software always has a full change log and project history.

The detailed information in an Excel spreadsheet typically does not give a quick update. Instead, management dashboards in project management software can offer broader picture views and reports.

5.) Project details can get lost in Excel.

Because it can be cumbersome to maintain, Excel as a project management solution doesn’t work. Project detiLS are often listed as a single project per row. With this limited detail, key steps in the process can be missed and delays in one step can push out the completion of the project, with little advanced notice. Excel has no way of showing these dependencies. It also can’t adjust to fit in new tasks.

6.) Confusion is the norm.

Ever left a team meeting wondering exactly what you are supposed to do? Excel doesn’t help that problem. It can’t provide each team member with his/her own to-do list of what they need to do for the project. Instead, each team member would need their own personal Excel sheet within the larger workbook (there’s that versioning problem again).

7.) Reporting is a manual process.

With no built-in reporting, Excel requires the project manager to build reports, which wastes time. Specialty reports such as Gantt charts, workload reports, project roll-ups, budgets and resource allocation take advanced Excel skills.

Also…

There’s no customer support.

Since Microsoft sells Excel as an upfront installation, there’s often little use in phoning up support when something goes awry. With the recent shift to cloud-based project management however, companies are offering nearly universal support to their loyal subscribers should things go wrong.

Make the Change

Transitioning from Excel to a project management system can make a huge difference in the productivity of your teams. With transparency of information, errors are reduced and the workload can be shared. Less time is spent in 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.