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Hidden Sins of Using Spreadsheets to Manage Projects

One of the most widely used tools for project management today is the spreadsheet. Spreadsheets are ubiquitous, heavily relied on by organisations to manage data and make critical business decisions. However, contrary to popular belief, spreadsheets are not free.

I will admit that I did not adopt early to new technology and when thinking about using future devices and incorporating them into my daily routine, i’m somewhat of a technical loafer.

I’ve used spreadsheets for nearly most of my working life and as a result, I had become lazy in moving on from excel as this met my needs. However, as I work more in the cloud it began to register that spreadsheets are so dated. Continuing to use this method would only cost in terms of productivity and accuracy.

Spreadsheets have collaboration inefficiencies

Spreadsheets have been used for team projects, the downside to this is that only one person at the time can access a file. There is the risk factor of overwriting the original file. The file has to be kept on a shared drive. If that is not accessible then e-mailing or sending copies out can prove to be detrimental.

Spreadsheets require lots of maintenance

When all team members have updated the spreadsheet you will then need to consolidate the data and update the information onto the main spreadsheet. This can prove time-consuming and leaves room for errors. Your objective as a project manager is to focus on deliverables and results not the simple administrative task of the process. The task of managing the spreadsheet should not be anyone’s full-time job.

Spreadsheets have an inadequate workflow

Spreadsheets have not kept up with new technology and as Projects are becoming more complex, tasks are becoming automated, therefore team members need to be alerted instantly as you can not afford to be held up. Spreadsheets do not have an automated trigger or alarm and it is not equipped for providing on-the-spot information, thus, the onus is left on the project manager to ensure that information is accurate at any given time.

Spreadsheets are disconnected

In order for a remote team member to access information from the host spreadsheet on the network drive, the member will either have to VPN (i.e. access via a virtual private network) request that a copy of the document be emailed to them.

Spreadsheets don’t transfer easily

Project managers are often faced with the dilemma of having to reduce the size of a spreadsheet or splitting it into mini spreadsheets. Have you ever tried sending via email a 100MB spreadsheet? Large spreadsheets also  take forever to download.

Spreadsheets have no traceability

You cannot manage something that you cannot track. With spreadsheets, project information is usually scattered across multiple files and folders. There is no easy way to get a complete view of the project’s progress and status. This can delay decision-making and increase time to market. Plus all spreadsheets contain errors as many as 88%. This statement was made by the financial modeling training firm F1F9. They also stated that 50% of spreadsheets used by large organizations have material defects. On a lot of occasions, spreadsheets are modified by team members to suit their own data needs and as a result, this could create hidden formula inaccuracies. It can also lead to conflicting data, missed deadlines, and bad business decisions based on inaccurate data. So are spreadsheets really free? I think not!

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