Using Spreadsheets to Manage Projects? At What Cost?

Using Spreadsheets to Manage Projects - At What Cost

Contrary to popular belief, spreadsheets are not free.

I’ll admit it. I’m not exactly an early adopter of new technology. I may like thinking about future devices, but when it comes to learning how to use them and incorporating them into my daily routine, I’m a technical slacker.

And yes, I’m a person who has resisted moving on from Microsoft Excel. I’ve used spreadsheets for the last 20 years and for the most part, they’ve met my needs. However, as I work more and more in the cloud, I realize that spreadsheets are so 2005 – and they are costing us in terms of productivity and accuracy. Here are some of the problems.

Spreadsheets are Single-Occupancy Only

When you use a spreadsheet for team projects, you either have to email copies of the file to team members, or post the file on a shared drive. Only one person can access the file at a time and you risk overwriting the original file if you don’t back it up properly.

Spreadsheets Require Lots of Busywork

After all of your team members have had input, you’ll need to consolidate that new information into the master. Not only is this process very time-consuming, but it is also prone to error. As a project manager, your focus should be on deliverables and results, not on a simple, administrative process. Managing the spreadsheet shouldn’t be anyone’s full time job.

Spreadsheets Interrupt Workflow

Projects are becoming more complex, but spreadsheet technology hasn’t kept up. At a time when tasks are being automated and team members need to be alerted in real-time when it’s time to engage, you can’t afford to be held up by your spreadsheet. And because spreadsheets aren’t equipped with activity-based triggers or alarms, the onus is on the project manager to make sure it is updated and that tasks are moving along.

Spreadsheets Shut Out Partners

In order to access spreadsheets hosted on a network drive, remote team members will either have to VPN in (i.e. access via a virtual private network) or wait for someone to email the document to them. Posting to a shared drive may also lock out extended team members such as external vendors, partners, or customers.

Spreadsheets Don’t Transfer Easily

Have you ever tried to email a 100MB spreadsheet? It usually doesn’t work. A 100MB spreadsheet won’t upload to an online document collaboration application too easily either. Project managers are often faced with the dilemma of having to reduce the size of the spreadsheet or split it up into mini-spreadsheets. And lest we forget, large spreadsheets take forever to download.

Spreadsheets Cause Undetectable Errors

According to financial modeling training firm F1F9, as many as 88 percent of all spreadsheets contain errors, while 50 percent of spreadsheets used by large companies have material defects. If your team members modify the spreadsheet to suit their own unique data needs, they could potentially create hidden formula inaccuracies in subsequent iterations. Version control errors often result in conflicting data, leading to missed deadlines and poor business decisions. And suddenly, this free technology isn’t so free after all.

What is your biggest complaint about using spreadsheets to manage your work?

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  • Scott Burday

    Spreadsheets are a great way to model out what you want to do, but can take you only so far. Limitations with sharing, updates “crossing in the night”, and visibility to the status right now cause many errors.

  • Jeremy D Clark

    I agree: Spreadsheets are not collaboration tools: http://blog.jeremydclark.com/?p=20

  • Alexandra:

    Your article was posted (link) on LinkedIn as worth reading. After further review of your article and in your own words “I’m a technical slacker”, how in the world can you make such statements regarding what Excel can and cannot do?

    Your article is reckless and irresponsible and the fact that you’re a technical slacker, is ignorant. Shame on you. This isn’t an issue of the “tool” (spreadsheets) the issue is with people not utilizing the capabilities of the tool. All of your 6 title categories are inaccurate and misleading.

    For example: the last paragraph: Spreadsheets Cause Undetectable Errors

    First off, regardless if it’s a spreadsheet or database, they all have errors because of the same common denominator, the “human factor”.

    There’s no question spreadsheets can have far more errors because the average person using a spreadsheet can’t do more than do basic multiplication formulas.

    Now for the article you sited from F1F9 posted by CNBC is 2 years old and does not support your statements in your article. Why?

    Because, the F1F9 article by CNBC does not support the topic ”

    Spreadsheet blunders costing business billions” because the reference links in the CNBC article are not about “spreadsheets”, they are about “Fraud” and why small businesses fail, which has nothing to do with spreadsheets.

    In the future if you’re going to post an article on “technology” you really should do your homework first and I recommend that you pull this article.

    Mike McCormick

    • Spreadsheets should be abolished because they are too general. For whatever you are doing, wherever you are doing it. There is a better tool on the market today and I’ll guarantee it.

  • Alex_IntuitQuickBase
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