“We shape our tools and afterwards our tools shape us.” – Marshall McLuhan
Spreadsheets are amazingly, versatile tools. With enough effort you can do a lot with them, but the question is: Just because you can do it, does that mean you should?
People tend to use what they know, so naturally Excel can be seen as the quick and dirty choice to manage a project. What can and does happen is that one project will turn into two and two will turn into five. Suddenly, a company finds that they’ve got dozens of projects being managed in Excel. They start to create fancy formulas and reports. And the cycle continues…
While it’s easy to see why companies may fall into this trap, there comes a time when the leadership team needs to acknowledge that it might be time to look for a better alternative. Here are 5 reasons why leaders eventually want to move away from managing projects with Excel:
No Real-Time Collaboration
Project Management tools today are built with the express purpose of total team collaboration. Teams are able to see everything that’s happening within one or more projects, communicate with their team members, view documents and comment on activity all with a web browser or even a mobile device! Excel requires one person to be in the document at a time, severely limiting the usefulness to all but a few team members.
Lack of E-mail Integration
Using Excel to manage projects means that those teams are eliminating one of the most valuable resources available to them – e-mail! Now, we typically tell our clients to stay in the tool and out of email, however, the notifications that you get from modern collaboration and project management tools can be vital to keeping team members in the loop on tasks and priorities. Teamwork Projects, for example, can send a daily email that outlines a person’s late, current and upcoming tasks. If properly used, this can keep staff on track and focused throughout the day!
Risk of Losing Historical Information
Any Project Management Tool these days is able to handle changing data. The ability to work in a dynamic environment without the need to worry about whether your information will be lost is critical to running a successful team. Once changes are made and saved in Excel, the history is gone. Typically, historical information is what helps teams learn how to do better by allowing leaders to measure past performance to gauge future work, so it’s imperative that companies use tools that can maintain a history. Excel is not built to work that way.
Lack of Profitability and Utilization Metrics
Sure, an Excel guru can spend lots of time creating formulas and graphs to produce metrics on team productivity, profitability and capacity, but our question is why? There are countless tools that are infinitely better at delivering these reports, without having someone (often a person in a leadership position) creating spreadsheets. Think of the hourly rate for that person building, massaging, correcting and finally generating the reports in these spreadsheets. They could be focused on managing the team to be more effective or possibly even out selling more products and services. Once a leader looks at it that way, it doesn’t usually take long to start looking for a better option.
It’s Not a Scalable Solution
Growing a company while managing projects with Excel will start to become really difficult. Here’s why:
Excel isn’t meant to be used for the amount of information that a company in growth mode is generating. Take a digital agency for example – if they are at even $1,000,000 in revenue per year, the number of projects they are running will cause Excel to be slow and cumbersome, especially when multiple staff members are trying to access and update it. Google Sheets is marginally better for collaboration (not document storage and Gantt charts however), but being web based means it is extremely slow at updating and loading – wasting valuable execution time for your team.
If you’re currently using Excel to manage projects, it means you’re a ‘doer’! Good for you! Perhaps, though, it’s time to start thinking about moving to something that was specifically built for project management. Using a tool like Wrike, Basecamp or Teamwork.com (our favourite!) can significantly improve the effectiveness of your project team. Productivity goes up, missed deadlines go down, which always make leadership, staff and clients happier in the long run!