Risks and Hidden Costs of Spreadsheets as PM Tool

spreadsheets-costsSpreadsheets have been around for more than 30 years. It is thought that spreadsheets have helped the past economy by enabling companies to organize data and even automate it in a lesser degree through formulas. However, as the economy advanced, so did the market, technology, project requirements and business landscape. In today’s project-driven world, the spreadsheet’s limitations are obvious. Continued use of it as a project management tool can be very risky and costly in the end.

Article Summary

Recently, leading business and database software provider QuickBase published a study based on 700 business users. The insightful article discussed point by point the characteristics of spreadsheets, why people use it, its limitations, and the risk and hidden cost of using it as a PM tool. The article also discussed better alternatives fit for today’s global market and project-driven initiatives without the inherent dangers in spreadsheets. Online customizable applications as an alternative have numerous ready-made PM apps, relevant features and free trial period.

Why Spreadsheets are Popular

Most computers come installed with office suites that include spreadsheets. They can be downloaded quickly, too. People are familiar with them. It takes a short time to create a project document with it. Furthermore, it will not cost the company anything to use it as an official document. It can be easily viewed, copied, edited, and be updated by all team members, senior management, partners and clients.

The Wrong Project Management Tool

Unfortunately, the spreadsheet is a productivity tool for a single person. It is not designed for collaboration. People used email as a work-around to overcome this limitation. That resulted in emailing a number of people of copies of the document. To get an update from them, the project manager has to wait for the updated document to be emailed back. Only then can the manager start to consolidate the data manually. Of course, data can be copied and paste, but it takes only one mistake to produce an inaccurate data or report that serves as the basis for critical decision making processes.

Some businesses try to use version control, but members working on remote places can have a hard time accessing the document. Multiple staff would have to wait for the document to be checked in before it becomes available and race against each other to put in an update. Other problems exist, such as getting very big in bytes, can be accidentally edited and reformatted, does not have an audit trail that complies with strict regulations, lacks security and permission levels, and is not the best tool to attach other documents, images or photos.

What PM Tools Should Have

According to the QuickBase study, it takes an average 6 hours per week for managers using spreadsheets to manually notify members of project changes, due dates and new tasks. About 4.75 hours on the average is also spent weekly to consolidate data from multiple spreadsheets. The right PM tool that can streamline and fully automate data gathering, tracking and communication activities will result in improved productivity. When team members can access up-to-date information anytime, anywhere, they can also decide better. Real-time updates provide managers with a more accurate picture to better spot problems and identify opportunities. Also, a single web-accessed or on-premise server housing a PM application reduces security risks and places a stricter permission-level access. (See our Top 5 Online App Builders for Creating Your Own PM Tool)


Better Than Spreadsheets

Today, many cloud-based project management software have intuitive and simple interface like spreadsheets. They can be deployed just as fast without expert IT help. Some are more flexible and adjustable to particular requirements. They are customizable to workflow so that only the required data is entered, minimizing errors and mistakes. They are affordable with low start-up costs and have scalable pricing plans that are ready for growing businesses. Cloud-based solutions only need a browser, are updated regularly and maintained efficiently by providers. QuickBase is a cloud-based customizable database software with strong project management functionality. To know more about the platform, read our QuickBase review.

Recommended Project Management Software

If you’re interested in learning more about top rated project management software, the editors at Project-Management.com actively recommend the following:

Jose Maria Delos Santos

Jose is a subject matter expert and member of the writing team for Project-Management.com and Bridge24. He has written hundreds of articles including project management software reviews, books reviews, training site reviews, and general articles related to the project management industry.