With more than 750 million users worldwide, Microsoft Excel is undeniably the most popular spreadsheet product. It’s an effective tool for crunching numbers and creating pivot tables, but for project management, Excel and other spreadsheet programs are slow, error-prone, and inflexible.
Excel spreadsheets fall short for project planning activities such as budget management, document version control, and milestone tracking — areas where cloud-based project management software delivers productivity and improved metrics. Still, Excel’s popularity persists, with 77% of respondents to a 2018 Gatepoint Research survey reporting that they use it to manage their projects.
Your firm can do better! Keep reading to discover ten reasons why Excel makes your projects slower, less accurate, and more frustrating for your team, and the alternative you can try to achieve streamlined, profitable projects.
Tedious and Error-Prone
Spreadsheets are notoriously prone to inaccuracies, especially when used by multiple team members. This is because it’s difficult to see tracked changes or know you’re using the most recent version, and there are no built-in tools in Excel to automatically identify and delete duplicate data. It’s also easy to accidentally replace or rewrite information without any way of knowing.
Spreadsheets don’t exist in a collaborative, centralized ecosystem. There’s no shared dashboard to display real-time updates, and with various copies of a file floating around on each collaborator’s computer, how can everyone stay on the same page? It is challenging to remain on the same page and keep projects moving forward without automating project notifications and reminders.
Excel lacks automatic checks to identify human- or system-created errors, so as an alternative, you should designate one team member to be in charge of regularly checking projects for accuracy. If you switch to project management software (PM software), this is done for you with machine precision. It will significantly reduce the time required to verify data and logic and minimize any re-work needed to fix mistakes.
To be blunt, Excel wastes a lot of time for businesses. Manually finding, entering, and double-checking project information requires hours of your time weekly, if not daily. Since you can’t store all document types in Excel, you have to rely on separate platforms, like Google Drive, Microsoft Word, QuickBooks, even your email inbox, to find all of a project’s reports and files. It’s not a cohesive experience, and navigating between multiple programs and browser windows is frustrating.
Working with multiple spreadsheet versions obscures next steps, who’s in charge, and where a project stands. Beyond creating, tracking, and updating spreadsheets, you’ll also need a project member to spend time building and filling in reports (e.g., resource capacity, employee realization rate, and revenue by project).
PM software operates in stark contrast to this, organizing all data related to project planning, accounting, reporting, time tracking, and more, to automatically populate dashboards and reports in seconds, without any employee time or effort. On the reporting side, software like BQE CORE feeds project data to fill in reporting dashboards in real-time.
Limited Visibility in Excel Spreadsheets
Excel spreadsheets don’t make it easy to know what your team is working on or if an important project update has occurred. If a milestone gets completed or the project hits a major snag, you’ll have to alert team members manually to keep everyone aligned. Wouldn’t it be nice if you just updated your document or completed a to-do, and everyone received an alert automatically?
How does every team member know when a deadline is approaching and who’s responsible? There isn’t a clear, organized way to denote this in Excel. Each person is in charge of tracking their own tasks, deadlines, and reminders, without a way to combine all efforts and see the progress others are making. For a project to run productively, all collaborators need visibility into the schedule, workload, and requirements. Unfortunately, spreadsheets don’t send notifications related to upcoming milestones or deadlines.
Again, if you’re using Excel for projects, you’ll have to assign one person to manage the master file, make all updates, and perform reasonability checks. This is a lot of pressure to place on one employee, as they’ll be in charge of chasing down all other team members for updates, and if anything gets entered incorrectly, a deadline is missed, or duplicate work is created, they're to blame. It’s better to place this burden on software.
No Real-Time Data
To make informed decisions for your business, you need visibility into project performance and profitability. Data in Excel only gets updated when a person manually does it, delaying decision-making. The lack of automated reporting demands time from team members and slows everyone else’s work on a project. This disconnect may cause you to miss an upcoming deadline or ignore misallocated resources.
While you can use Excel to manage many different data types, its spreadsheets don’t make it easy to see a high-level overview of how a project is performing, nor is it simple to communicate updates, roadblocks, and ideas. You will need other programs in addition to Excel, which leads to confusion and delays in sharing real-time data.
Lost Project Details
Because Excel wasn’t built for project management, it’s cumbersome to capture a project’s details and dependencies. It is extremely limited in the context of a multi-phase project with various teams, milestones, and moving parts. If a task is delayed, it’s not easy to note that in a spreadsheet, notify all users, and communicate the updated deadline. With the dependencies set by project management software, your dashboard reflects that information and helps you adjust if something goes off track.
Other details that are difficult to capture using spreadsheets include updated files, project notes, task assignments, fee schedules, project groups, and time and expense tracking. This creates information gaps and fragments communication, which can lead to missing a crucial step in the project, going over budget, or under-billing clients for your hard work.
Poor Team Communication
Spreadsheets don’t offer the critical collaboration tools that foster smooth communication across your team. These are prevalent tools in project management software, including file sharing, automatic report delivery, discussion boards, team calendars, and goal monitoring. If team members can’t easily check the status of a task or find next steps, they won’t know the overall project status or if there’s a delay.
Cloud-based project management software allows you to assign different access to stakeholders. With a spreadsheet, there’s only one version with one level of access available to everyone using it. What if certain people are entitled to know more than others? You can set custom permissions for payroll, performance, staffing, and more using CORE.
As mentioned above, using Excel often leads to duplicate versions of a file, with no clear indication of which one is the master file. Even if users are all working from the same version simultaneously, you’re at greater risk of human error, such as an incorrect edit or accidental delete. File version history doesn’t always make it easy to see who made the error, when it occurred, or restore the version you want. Using spreadsheets collaboratively is a risk that can cost you significantly.
Zero Customer Support
While Excel has been around since 1982, its customer support doesn’t match what cloud-based solutions and SaaS providers offer. Seriously, have you ever heard of someone having a great experience with a human member of Microsoft’s support team? They can’t “log into” your spreadsheet and help you troubleshoot if something is miscalculated, accidentally deleted, or the program crashes. In contrast, BQE Software offers 24/7 customer support and will help you best utilize your project dashboards and reporting.
Lack of Built-in Reporting
Excel spreadsheets do not have any built-in reporting for profitability, revenue, cost analysis, earned value, etc. Instead, project managers are responsible for manually building these reports and maintaining them, which takes time.
While Excel has some templates you can start with, you’re essentially starting from scratch when creating specialty business reports. Excel has very limited capability for reporting, even if your project manager has advanced Excel skills. You also have to consider security concerns, human error issues, and lags in data updates.
CORE provides numerous reports and dashboards that make it easy to understand and share information on project performance, profit and loss, current cash flow, employee workload, and much more.
Your company and its projects are unique, but Excel and other spreadsheet products aren’t built for customization. If you do try to customize a spreadsheet, it will require significant manual effort to compile data and edit its formatting. When you have a lot of information, as is common in a multi-phase project, it takes a lot of effort to make a spreadsheet appear clean and organized.
In comparison, project management software is made to be easily scannable and understandable but still highly customizable. Its dashboards come with various filters and sorting options, so you can access the information you need in your preferred format. Instead of fighting with a product that wasn’t meant to accomplish what you need, we recommend investing in technology that offers a greater degree of personalization and less effort on your part.
Difficult to Track Time
Projects require time tracking for accountability purposes. Business owners and project leaders need to know exactly how long employees spend on individual tasks or the project as a whole to be able to plan more precise projects in the future and identify areas lacking efficiency.
Excel offers no method to track time beyond serving as a place to manually add time entries. When you use time tracking software instead, you save time and record it more accurately using stopwatch timers, prefilled timecards, and a mobile app, allowing you to track time and expenses on the go.
Your time entry process should be efficient, so you instead focus on profit-driving activities. As long as you rely on Excel to plan and track projects, you’ll never have built-in time tracking, and there will always be an extra step in your project management.
How BQE CORE can Make Project Management Easy
Where Excel creates problems for projects, CORE solves them. With BQE’s agile project management platform, your business can achieve greater accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility.
Data management is serious. You can’t make smart decisions based on flawed calculations — no one can! Switching from spreadsheets to software will enable you to minimize manual work, enhance collaboration, reduce human error, improve data security, and quickly provide real-time updates to project stakeholders. You’ll no longer experience issues with version control, data centralization, or accessing pre-built KPI dashboards.
CORE makes project management simple and more effective. Start your free trial today!