PMs and PMO Leaders: Lose the Spreadsheets like You (Happily) Lost Big Hair and SEGA

Stuck in the ‘80s? The reality of spreadsheets for today’s project managers

There’s a lot to like about the 80s: Bands like Blondie come to mind as well as for-the-ages performers like Prince, U2 and the Police. Spreadsheets were also a product of the 80s, too. And like parachute pants, Atari and hair metal, we’re all better off without them in 2018.

It’s not just a taste issue: There are some very real signs that your spreadsheets are causing more slowdowns, challenges and issues than they are worth. Chances are you have been experiencing one or more of these issues when using spreadsheets to manage your projects and, worse yet, your entire project management office (PMO):

  • They take longer to update than to read.
  • You find your information by sorting by last modified date.
  • Version control consists of adding increasingly serious versions of ‘final’ at the end (“final2”, “finalfinal”, “FINAL”, “masterfinal”).
  • You need to apply the theory of relativity to update formulas.

Never mind trying to make real-time resource decisions or figuring out where you are against budget. If you are using spreadsheets reports to make decisions, they are at least a week or more out-of-date. If you have multiple or complex projects in your PMO or professional services organization (PSO), the result is the same: You can’t see what’s going on across all of the projects in the organization so you can’t make decisions confidently or move decisively when urgent or innovative projects are on deck.

Disco is Dead

In the early 80s, there was a lot of judgment in the rock world about dance music and disco. Each had its place, but proponents of one or the other were vociferous in their hatred of the other person’s music. Don’t worry—even though you might still rely on spreadsheets to manage your day-to-day projects, we don’t judge. It’s easy to upgrade to a better solution and you can begin right where you are.

When getting started with a new PMO solution, start with a simple list of requirements. Then, work hard in the earliest meetings to understand what you absolutely need to have and what is a ‘nice to have’.  Once the vendors get in the room, it will be easy to be distracted by bells and whistles. Choose to work with salespeople who will help you get down to brass tacks in requirements and allow you to dictate the parameters of Phase One. You can expand the scope after the functionality meets bottom-line requirements.

VHS or Betamax?

VHS won the day back in the 80s over Sony’s Betamax and now, with Blu-ray making a strong showing and then dying out, streaming video services are the clear winner. Lesson to learn? Don’t create a PMO automation project that’s extinct two weeks after you have it—likewise, don’t try to make it too simple. Some companies first going in the wrong direction during planning and then course-correcting to get it right.

Depending on how complex your projects are and what may change over time, it can be difficult to account for everything you might someday need. Better to acquire a solution that isn’t overkill but that you can grow into.

The Future is Bright

Obviously, a mature and change-friendly PMO will make a huge difference in how easily and quickly you can move beyond spreadsheets and gain momentum. Can you implement value-based prioritization? How about complexity of resource allocation or advanced dashboards and reporting? Will you need to track time and expense against projects? All of these questions matter quite a bit when managing expectations among users and coming up with a list of requirements.

Some companies want scenario modelling capabilities in Phase One because it’s so important to their PMO health. Others need iron-clad budget vs. actuals data to forecast while others require portfolio-level dashboards to monitor where they are in the deliverables/timeline/resource conundrums we all face in our day-to-day PMOs. The best PPM tools can satisfy a list of requirements that everyone can live with for years to come.

Listen to KeyedIn’s Scary Spreadsheets webinar for more on this topic.

Shawn Dickerson

Shawn Dickerson

Shawn Dickerson is Vice President of Marketing for KeyedIn, a company with a range of Cloud-based solutions including KeyedIn Projects for PPM (Project Portfolio Management), Projects for PSA (Professional Services Automation) and KeyedIn Manufacturing for enterprise resource planning (ERP). He brings more than 20 years experience in marketing to the KeyedIn team.

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