Are Spreadsheets a Costlier Project Management Tool?
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 haven’t 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 alternative—and it sometimes is. Why wouldn’t it be? It’s familiar, it’s flexible, and best of all it’s 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 it’s 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 you’re 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 date—but these are hours you don’t have. Eventually, the man hours cost of building and updating your spreadsheet tool will be the same as if you’d bought a dedicated project management tool in the first place. Free? Not really.
Even if you have a central location for your project management spreadsheet’s files, you’re 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, you’re going to have 8 different reports to collate into a single Master file. More work for you.
Not only that, but you’ll 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 don’t know about you, but Excel can be a bit of a pain if you have information distributed over different locations. You can’t display two worksheets at the same time, but if you use entirely separate files, that’s more things to update and track. It can be awkward, unwieldy, and frustrating when you’re under pressure, and you’ve already got enough of that to deal with.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m 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 you’re not paying a cent.
Image credit, Flickr, Roscoe Ellis
Patrick Icasas is a former marketing project manager with 7 years of marketing and PR agency experience, managing creative projects for brands such as Nokia, Verizon Wireless, and Adobe. He now spends his time helping people make the most out of their project management software and entertaining his 5 year old daughter.