Excel might be familiar and comforting, but its applications only go so far. And in a project management setting, it can sometimes do more harm than good.
If you want to organize a whole lot of data relating to a variety of parameters, the first place you will typically go to is Excel. It’s reasonably user-friendly, although if you were encountering it for the first time today, you might not think so, and more to the point, it’s something we have all been using for years.
Excel provides all the basics for mapping out data on a grid, and is handy for sorting, filtering and totting up numbers.
As far as it goes, it’s as valuable as a notebook and pencil in your back pocket, and nobody is suggesting you should completely give up either. However, just like that notebook, it has its limitations if you try to push it beyond its practical capabilities. Resource manager tools take the functionality up to the next level and are as big a step up from Excel as Excel is from your pen and paper.
Excel can create problems
The problem with using an Excel spreadsheet is that it can draw you down the rabbit hole. You start using it for what appears to be a really simple project management task. But as the project becomes more complex, and additional factors, processes and stakeholders join the fray, the software starts to buckle under the strain. The trouble is, you can then find yourself too far in to back out.
Excel is fine for logging data after the fact, but where it falls short is in tracking what is actually happening from day to day. Put simply, if you only have a spreadsheet in front of you, it is practically impossible to have visibility of what your people are really doing. Thus, you can end up with one person idle while another is working 16 hour days and on the verge of burn out.
It’s not just lack of information, though. Using Excel can actually give you a false impression as to resource availability. The lack of real-time updates makes it inevitable that from time to time, two people are going to separately allocate the same resource. Chances are, the first you’ll find out about it is when the phone starts ringing.
Mistakes slip in
With the above shortcomings, it is perhaps unsurprising that when Project Managers rely too much on Excel, deadlines are missed more often than they are met, the project goes over budget and the conclusion of the project is a cause for post-mortem rather than celebration.
The right tools for the right job
It’s an old axiom that to do a job effectively, you need the right tools. A resource management tool’s biggest advantage over Excel is visibility. The PM can see not only what is happening and when in his specific project, but also what resources are being deployed more broadly, and how different projects can impact one another.
Drag and drop functionality and a user-friendly interface will also have you wondering whether Excel is really such a simple tool after all. Sometimes, it is possible to get the best of all worlds – you just need the right tools at your disposal.