The Disadvantages of using Spreadsheets to Manage Projects

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The author spent the first part of her career working in IT and IT Project Management in the oil industry and investment banking on complex global projects involving the management of outsourced project teams. She now runs a digital marketing company with particular expertise in technical SEO and Content Marketing.

While projects can be managed effectively with spreadsheets if the project is small, simple and has well-defined boundaries there are disadvantages to using spreadsheets because they do not offer a range of capabilities and controls that are likely to be required for larger and more complex projects.  They can, of course, effectively assist in managing the standard three parameters of time, cost and scope that are important to all projects but they do not assist in decision-making situations occurring due to risks materialising or changes being requested.

Purpose built project management software, on the other hand, adds value by helping the project manager and the stakeholders to make more informed decisions at critical points. Some tools even provide the ability to try out “what-if” scenarios to determine the viability of implementing a change and its effect on the overall project success.  Some of the features and functionality that are not available in spreadsheets but would typically be provided by project management software tools are listed below:

  • Prioritise project tasks based on their cost
  • Real-time sharing of project data, status and reports
  • Calculate the benefits of the project in terms of ROI
  • Use what-if scenarios to assist decision-making for change requests
  • Easily build reports, forms and workflow diagrams
  • Alignment with best-practise project management methodologies
  • Ready-made templates included for reports and forms
  • Audit trail for different versions of project documentation
  • Easy sharing between departments

So project management software tools can, in fact, enable business-critical decisions about a project to be made based on reliable data rather than, as is often the case, based on unreasoned feelings or office politics. And they ensure that project tasks are properly prioritised so that the end-product of the project delivers real business benefit.

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Project management has developed into a fully-fledged chartered profession since the granting of the Royal Charter in the UK to The Association for Project Management (APM) in 2017. Training courses for project managers were already available and highly popular to help people gain professional project management accreditation, but with this wider recognition of the profession it is now seen as a desirable career path for many. Whilst the APM has the coveted Royal Charter and continues to develop its APM PMQ (formerly the APMP) programmes, there are also other internationally recognised qualifications that continue to be highly regarded such as PMP and PRINCE2.

Organisations have become increasingly project-focused in this era of rapidly emerging new technologies and they value the expertise that comes with experienced and fully qualified project teams and managers. By investing in their project management capability businesses can be confident of delivering their new projects in time and on budget more often and more successfully. Many major corporation are now training their people to have the right project management qualifications as well as relevant experience, through internal Learning & Development (L&D) programmes; or by using external project management training providers.

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