Why spreadsheets increase the risk of project failure

When it comes to project management, it might be a good idea to give spreadsheets a miss and choose a specialized software.
23 May 2018

Team Ganttic provides project managers with better tools. Source: Ganttic

Whether you’re working on enterprise-wide projects or just replacing your old marketing software with something more GDPR-ready, the truth is, you’re working on a project.

To make the project successful, you need to constantly track and monitor the progress of the project – and traditional spreadsheets just won’t do.

Ivar Veenpere, CEO of Ganttic, a high-level software for resource planning and project portfolio management, explains why spreadsheets increase the risk of project failure:

Time, money, people, equipment, and machinery are some of the resources that must be artfully deployed to optimize project management success.

You must know if you have the right quantity of all these vital ingredients to match the scope of the project. Your operation should be lean and effective, rather than flabby and wasteful.

Accurate resource planning is the key to getting this right.

Projects suffer when goals are not clearly defined, or when their scope creeps beyond the original objectives.

Any changes to the project must be evaluated to decide how, and if, to implement them, weighing up the impact on resources, and the possible effect on budgets and deadlines.

Poor communication, between upper management, project leaders, and teams, is catastrophic. There must be strong stakeholder engagement and clarity among all levels on long-term and short-term goals, tasks and task dependencies, deadlines, and milestones to reach along the way.

The flow of conversation, facilitated by real-time insights about the status of the project, resource utilization, and task completion, helps keep everyone and everything on course.

With this data at their fingertips, project managers can ensure that deadlines are realistic, resources are being challenged but not overbooked, and everyone is on the same page, and accountable for their contribution.

The success of project management, particularly project portfolio management, clearly depends on the tools you use to keep you bang-up-to-date with how ‘the plan’ is unfolding. If you are using Excel spreadsheets for project planning, you’re vulnerable to a number of risk factors.

While Excel is an excellent tool, it is not tailor-made for planning projects and managing resources.

It copes fine when you are dealing with one project and a small team, but cracks start to show as the number of projects and resources escalates.

The main problem is that spreadsheets fail miserably in fostering effective collaboration. When they are emailed back and forth for team members to make additions, changes aren’t seen in real-time and there can be confusion over which is the latest version.

Another big issue is that, in Excel, it is hard to track workloads and utilization, which can result in resources being under-or-overbooked; potentially bored or burnt-out.

In addition, crucially, spreadsheets don’t take kindly to being radically changed. Merging and unmerging cells when a plan has to be quickly adapted is a laborious and time-sapping process.

At Ganttic, we hear time and again how project managers have become frustrated and weighed-down by using spreadsheets for planning.

Common irritations include the lack of custom views to help them oversee both short-term and long-term plans; and the absence of custom data fields to enable them to group resources – for example, by the department.

Some managers say that spreadsheets aren’t helpful for their field workers. Their on-the-go workforce needs access to the latest plan, in particular, their own tasks, on their smartphones.

The conclusion they come to is that they need software that is a better fit for the job that they do – that takes the guesswork out of planning and scheduling resources, and that supports great communication and reporting.