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Should Microsoft Excel be banned from the project management arena?

By Marilyn de Villiers
Johannesburg, 17 Jan 2018

Should Excel, often the default software of choice for project management, be banned from the project management arena?

"Yes," says Jeff Harrell, VP of marketing at the California-based Redbooth task and project management platform. He maintains that because spreadsheets are inherently complex and complicated, using them to manage a large project may actually just create additional work and confusion.

According to Harrell, unless you are a numbers guru or tasked with financial modelling and analysis, "it's hard to see how Excel can meet the project management and collaboration needs of today's work teams".

He points out that the most effective teams include experts with a wide array of skills and roles - and different information needs. However, he cautions, spreadsheets like Excel don't let you create personalised views for each individual with different levels of access.

"This means that everything gets dropped into the spreadsheet, and team members are burdened with sorting through to see what's relevant to their unique piece of the project," he explains, and adds that the productivity of team members who don't use Excel may be adversely affected as they "try to decipher dozens of columns, rows and tabs".

Harrell says that a major problem with having project team members who are not familiar and comfortable with spreadsheets is that they often just taken the information they need, and move it into a more familiar tool such as Microsoft Word, Salesforce or Adobe in Design. The result is the creation of multiple files of valuable project information in different formats, all stored in different places.

"Individual, tailored views of data with different administrative privileges are necessary when managing a project. That's why when people use Excel for project management, they often create their own versions of the spreadsheet and version control becomes problematic," he says. "This is the first step on the road to chaos because when a project reaches this point, it's nearly impossible to ascertain whether you have the most current data."

The limited functionality of spreadsheets including the fact that they don't store flies easily, usually don't enable file sharing or activity tracking, support discussion boards or provide at-a-glance update data, don't allow new and different tasks to be added, often can't track dependencies or deliver individual action item lists - can also create difficulties.

Clearly, Harrell continues, in today's workplace in which collaboration has become essential along with real-time communication, file sharing, task prioritisation and project management, trying to keep it all together in e-mail threads or multiple spreadsheets is nothing more than a recipe for disaster.

The answer is to implement one of today's easy-to-use, innovative and seamless project management solutions which are often designed to integrate seamlessly with Box, Google Drive, Evernote, Gmail, and OneLogin, among others.

"These tools offer real-time work spaces in which even global team members and outside partners can keep details and projects up to date. The latest project management tools are now fuelling highly productive, effortless team collaboration around the globe every day," Harrell concludes.