Can You Really Manage A Project Using Spreadsheets?

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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.

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.

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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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