When you first start taking on new projects and new clients, you might rely on Excel or Google Sheets to scope out the work and maybe even collaborate. This workflow could be enough for smaller projects with just a few team members, but what about bigger projects? Spreadsheets actually become a hindrance once you bring on more team members, take on more complex projects or have to manage multiple projects at once.
If you’re a project manager and you feel as if you are drowning in spreadsheets, you’re not alone. Many PMs are frustrated by their organizations’ overreliance on spreadsheets.
Here are three signs it is time to look for a better tool and give up spreadsheet-based project management.
1. You Spend Excessive Time Editing Your Spreadsheets
To get an idea of how involved spreadsheet management is, the team at Sales-i reports that users spend 12 to 18 hours each month updating their spreadsheets, citing data from Ventana Research. This includes “data cleansing, updating, revising and consolidating information.” This lost time doesn’t discriminate. It applies to small businesses and large enterprises alike — and from entry-level employees to the C-suite.
Not only does spreadsheet management take up time, but many of the documents you rely on could contain bad data. Jason Stevens, editor of The Software Masterminds, shares a study showing that 88 percent of spreadsheets contain errors. For example, Stevens points to the Fidelity Magellan Fund which miscalculated $2.6 billion in promised stock earnings from an errant minus sign due to human error.
That said, many errors in project management aren’t the fault of project managers, the consultants at HFEx Limited write. Systems are improved throughout the project, the needs of the clients change, and quirks in the development process make change necessary. Even the best-managed projects require a level of flexibility that simple spreadsheets cannot accommodate.
Spreadsheets were made for static data management. They weren’t made to anticipate changes to client needs or adjustments because of scope creep.
2. Your Attempts at Collaboration Have Too Much Friction
Most business activity requires some collaboration and all project management involves at least two parties, but spreadsheets can be poor tools for working with others.
“Throughout the project, it’s essential to keep an ear to the ground and make sure every party involved has common goals and is fully aware of the requirements,” explains Olga Semusheva, project manager at Astound Commerce. “And it’s collaboration that helps you achieve this.”
Collaboration within your company needs to meet the challenges of today’s workplace.
Spreadsheets Limit Remote Collaboration
Spreadsheets are often locally stored files, whereas cloud-based project management tools are remotely accessible and will always have updated data.
“Increasingly, teams and organisations are becoming more decentralized,” writes Louie Andre, an analyst at FinancesOnline. “Regardless of where the people may be, with the help of SaaS project management software, the members can access the project with ease.”
Spreadsheets Aren’t Communication Tools
Communication is at the core of collaboration. If project managers and stakeholders can’t communicate with employees and clients, then they can’t adjust the project scope and make sure everyone is on board.
In an article for Quantified Communications, CEO Noah Zandan reports that leaders spend about 80 percent of their workdays communicating — responding to emails, taking phone calls, sitting in on meetings and answering one-off questions. Furthermore, the average business spends about 17 hours a week clarifying previous communication, which translates to an annual cost of at least $525,000.
Today’s project management tools are built with a focus on communication. With features such as comments and real-time notifications, communication is centralized and thus, it’s easy to keep everyone in the loop.
Project Management Is Becoming More Collaborative
The need for an effective management tool is further emphasized by changes in project management styles. There has been a rise in collaborative project management methodologies in which multiple people take on leadership roles.
Yuliya Skorobogatova, head of content at Bitrix, Inc., writes that collaborative project management relies less on a top-down approach and is a flatter alternative to dividing up work. However, collaborative teams need technology that helps them work together.
“Typically, the traditional approach relies on a collection of outdated tools that mirror its one-to-one and ‘closed’ nature,” Skorobogatova writes. “This causes team members to have tunnel vision by focusing on their own responsibilities without an understanding of how they fit into the grand scheme of the project.”
If leaders want to test different styles of management and empower team members, then they need to invest in the right tools and use them effectively. Attempting to shoe-horn a modern structure into an old system will only leave teams frustrated.
3. Your Employees Are Asking for Better Tools
The biggest sign that it is time to move beyond spreadsheets for project management is when your team members start finding and testing solutions without you. These could be veteran employees looking for help or new team members who expect your company to keep up with industry standards.
Your employees use various tools throughout the day, pairing their spreadsheets with free collaboration tools to get their work done. According to a report by Okta, shared by the Wall Street Journal, most businesses use an average of 129 apps per day. Larger companies will use more than 200 apps per day, ranging from time management to communication tools.
Author and researcher Alexandra Samuel, writing in the Harvard Business Review, says in the last 15 years she’s tried dozens of project management tools. “I’ve liked some of these apps enough to use them for years or recommend them or even implement them with my colleagues. But I’ve found that when my projects or team change, I almost always end up changing my productivity system, too.”
Instead of asking employees to scramble and find their own tools, your company can step up and invest in task management software that consolidates the total number of tools team members use and allows work to get done in one central location.
Improved project management and productivity also increases engagement. Employees better understand what is expected of them and feel that their leaders are providing the support they need.
“A great way to help your employees be more productive is by equipping them with the right tools – to ensure that they can go about doing their jobs effectively,” Himanshu Gupta of Exotel discusses at ReadWrite.
The tools that have worked for your team in the past might not work in the future. While your projects might have benefited from spreadsheet management, it could be time to move on to a better option.
Cloud-Based Project Management Can Help Your Organization
Even if spreadsheets seem to be working for your project management needs right now, changes in the future of your industry could drive you to adopt better solutions.
“It’s not just the tech industry that’s undergoing these changes,” writes Nikolaus Lang, a global leader at the Boston Consulting Group. “All industries – including traditional ones such as banking, healthcare, consumer products, logistics, and automotive – are seeing an evolution of their products and services, and a need to collaborate differently.”
Fortunately, developers are meeting the needs of a variety of organizations. They know the entire economy is changing, and the project management tools that you use need to change, too.
You can continue to move forward with Excel spreadsheets in your workplace, trying to use the wrong tool for multiple jobs, or you can find a more flexible option that makes communication and collaboration easy — all while saving you time and money.
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