Can You Really Manage A Project Using Spreadsheets?

In small, relatively simple projects it is not uncommon to find the project manager using a set of spreadsheets to manage the project schedule, the budget and the scope of the project. If the project involves just one internal department and a small project team using spreadsheets often avoids the necessity for stakeholders to get to grips with a project software package they are unfamiliar with. In business spreadsheets are frequently used for many purposes so everyone will be familiar with their capabilities.


Spreadsheets are readily available, simple to use and understand and a convenient way to share data between the client, the stakeholders, the project manager and the project team. The basic data can be used to generate project schedules and reports, and will even provide the option of connecting to a database to retrieve additional information.


Spreadsheets have many advantages but because they are under the control of individuals, they are not so well-suited to complex projects involving departments across an organisation and externally where it is important to have a single, central data repository and a controlled suite of reports and metrics. Indeed there very flexibility and ease-of-use can be counter-productive, encouraging individuals involved in the project to update worksheets, re-format them and modify them to add their own data. The central, common set of data can, over time, become lost in a variety of personalised worksheets and uncontrolled versions making it difficult to be certain of the accuracy of the data.


But, more importantly, spreadsheets lack the controls that are required to prioritise tasks, manage key decision points and effectively handle milestones in a project particularly with respect to changes to the schedule.


So, spreadsheets can be, and are, used for project management in small, simple projects, which are well-defined, but for larger and/or more complex projects they do not offer the controls and standards required to manage and report the project status accurately across a large organisation.