I have to admit: dedicated project management software can be daunting. You have to migrate everyone to a new system which, despite all of your tests, you havent really used in a live environment. Costs range wildly depending on the brand or number of features. Even free ones need a significant time investment (or are not really free).
Spreadsheet software such as MS Excel appears to be a much better alternativeand it sometimes is. Why wouldnt it be? Its familiar, its flexible, and best of all its free (or at least pre-installed on many office computers).
But in reality, you might be paying a higher price than you think.
Time is Money
In project management, the saying time is money is not a metaphor. Time literally costs money, and its your responsibility to be as efficient as possible. Hence the proliferation of project management software that comes pre-loaded with features like charts, graphs, and forms.
But if youre using a plain-Jane spreadsheet, you have to build all of those features from the ground up. You can easily spend hours tweaking the spreadsheets and plugging in data to keep them up to datebut these are hours you dont have. Eventually, the man hours cost of building and updating your spreadsheet tool will be the same as if youd bought a dedicated project management tool in the first place. Free? Not really.
Even if you have a central location for your project management spreadsheets files, youre still going to run into trouble keeping things consistent and current. Team members will need to enter their hours and task updates, and if eight team members do it on their copy of the file, youre going to have 8 different reports to collate into a single Master file. More work for you.
Not only that, but youll also have to worry about file security. It would be pretty inconvenient if someone overwrote the most updated Sharepoint file (that you spent 3 hours updating) with a version that they saved two days ago.
I dont know about you, but Excel can be a bit of a pain if you have information distributed over different locations. You cant display two worksheets at the same time, but if you use entirely separate files, thats more things to update and track. It can be awkward, unwieldy, and frustrating when youre under pressure, and youve already got enough of that to deal with.
Dont get me wrong; Im not saying spreadsheets are a bad idea. In fact, they can be ideal project management tools depending on the situation and the person using them. But, like any other project management tool, trying to shoehorn an ill-fitting tool into your project can be very costly, even if youre not paying a cent.
Image credit, Flickr, Roscoe Ellis