Using Spreadsheets for Project Management is a Thing of the Past

William Delaney

With the global pandemic hitting the business sector hard and a predicted economic recession looming, it’s not surprising that many organisations are looking to reduce spending, and generally software is on the list of cut-backs.  

If you work within an operations department, senior executives may be pressuring you to move your project planning back to Excel. Of course, it can be hard to challenge orders coming from the top, but undoing the damage of using the wrong software is even harder!

When weathering the storm of financial upheaval, companies often seek to consolidate their software solutions to minimise operating costs. This can result in the haphazard approach of bending the functions of platform A to suit the needs of X, Y and Z (and sometimes the entire alphabet!). Rather than paying for a purpose-built solution, companies pressure project managers to migrate back to Excel.

Excel is an amazing tool for financial or analytical departments of an organisation. And while it does hold some very basic features for project management, it is often more of a hindrance than a help in this field. Here are some reasons why:  

Flexibility is lacking

While Excel gives users the ability to set up a spreadsheet from scratch, from there its flexibility is somewhat lacking. Adapting timelines and managing changes to an Excel document is tedious. Usually, one person who is seasoned in the software needs to manage the document, which causes an unsustainable reliance on one individual and can easily impact planning and execution.


Tracking changes is challenging

We’ve all pulled data from Excel at some point and it’s usually not that big of a deal. When it comes to sharing that data, however, it can be a nightmare. Presenting a report on ongoing or completed projects from Excel is tedious. You’ll need to add additional views to show simple things like workloads and deadlines, not to mention updates, and from here try to manually summarize it all together.  

Of course, with Excel you also run the risk of changes being made to the sheet without your knowledge, as viewing change history is not available. This means that mistakes can easily slip through the cracks, and project results could potentially be false. This type of risk is averted within a purpose-built project management software, as all changes are tracked and transparent.  

Insights are limited

Projects are usually managed by one individual; however, they rely heavily on input from their team to coordinate and update the project status. The type of feedback and input required of a successful project is simply not possible on the latest version of Excel.  

On top of this, the size of a project’s Excel document is often far too large to share, causing issues when coordinating data. Again, this can cause companies to rely solely on one designated person, and with only one set of eyes maintaining the sheet, mistakes can easily slip through. Human error needs to become part of the project management planning. With a project management software, multiple project participants can give feedback in a clear way directly into the software, limiting the room for error.  

Collaboration is complex

Whilst Excel is an incredible resource, there are reasons why people spend thousands on courses just to get their heads around it. The tool is extremely complex and is not designed for project management. In fact, it could be said that it is only suited to solo work, and using it for collaboration is simply not advisable. This means that teams require multiple sheets that can easily become muddled upon consolidation, adding more time-consuming admin work for the project manager: time that could be spent making better products.

Loss of data  

The limited level of detail available on spreadsheets makes them unsuitable for ordering and prioritising tasks: an essential part of project management. Often, highly important details are added to a single row within the sheet, immediately becoming lost in the data. With such limited detail, essential steps within the projects can be easily overlooked, causing crucial errors.

Updates are inadequate

While accuracy is something many people associate with Excel, it’s not the spreadsheet that maintains this accuracy, it’s the person managing it. Usually this person is the project manager themselves. A huge amount of manual effort is required to keep a project’s Excel sheet up-to-date, and generating updated reports can be incredibly time-consuming. It can easily cause tension between colleagues, as team members feel pressured by constant questions like “are you finished yet?”. Again, with only one person managing the Excel sheet, room for human error pops up.  

Generating reports is a huge effort

When it comes to pulling reports from Excel, unfortunately there is no built-in reporting feature. Reports need to be created from scratch, which is both time consuming and admin-heavy. Generating reports requires advanced knowledge of Excel, such as the creation of Gantt charts or visual report sheets for budgets or resource allocation. This means that it’s not easy for management to just pull reports, and requires a middle man – the project management expert or a business intelligence analyst.

Purpose-built is always best

Project management requires collaboration from numerous angles, from participants giving feedback, to senior management seeking reports, to project managers maintaining status updates. Excel simply can’t grant this level of functionality and thus, if you and your team are serious about efficient and accurate project management, dedicated, purpose-built software is required.