5 Reasons to Stop Using Excel for Virtual Team Project Management
Excel is a ubiquitous office tool. And with good reason! Beloved for its versatility, it can be used in just about any industry - from design to engineering to managing lab equipment. However there are a few things that those spreadsheets, mind the pun, just do not excel at. One of these is managing projects virtually.
An ever increasing trend in the modern workplace, remote work and virtual teams are being turned to more and more. As it offers numerous benefits and allows people to work from anywhere there’s internet, it’s not surprising that many organizations are beginning to utilize this practice. There are, however, specific challenges for virtual teams to overcome, and one of these can be finding the best tool for connecting your members who might be scattered across multiple continents.
It then might seem natural to then turn to your ever trustworthy spreadsheets. But before you do, stop! Give us five minutes and we’ll give you five reasons why it might not be the best idea to use Excel for your virtual team project management. Start the timer…
Reasons to stop using Excel for your virtual team project management
Why shouldn’t you use Excel to manage your virtual projects? Well, for starters:
1. Information is disjointed and out of date
2. “There ain't no such thing as a free lunch”
3. Spreadsheets create more work for your PM
4. Excel is collaborative snake oil
5. Customization is limited to nonexistent
Let’s dig a little deeper into each of these, to see what we mean.
Information is disjointed and out of date
Remember that game, “telephone” from your childhood? Sitting in a circle with a group of your friends you would whisper a sentence in your neighbor’s ear who proceeded to pass it on. By the time the sentence came back to you, it was likely incomprehensible from the original and you and your mates would laugh and laugh.
When you use Excel for your virtual project management, you are playing the modern, international version of “telephone.” But when it comes to work projects with real world deadlines, the results just aren’t as hilarious.
As PM on a virtual team you need to make a schedule based upon availability, workload, time zones, skills, and dozens of other factors. So when Michael in Nigeria informs you of a schedule change, and Angela in Georgia says something else, it can happen that the schedule you finally come back with is nothing like it was originally. Especially if you can’t take into consideration task dependencies, timeline conflicts, or overutilization. Making it more confusing for everyone in the end.
This confusion is only compounded by the need to reshare the updated spreadsheet. But when you’re collaborating from all corners of the world, it’s not efficient or wise to clog your team’s inboxes with multiple iterations of the same schedule.
Tip: A better way of communicating your schedule changes is with software that offers real-time, instantaneous updates. A lag in communication means a lag in your plans, so get everyone on the same page from the get-go. See our article on some better virtual collaboration software that can help.
“There ain't no such thing as a free lunch”
This popular adage, sometimes abbreviated to TANSTAAFL, dates back to a common American practice in the early 20th century. By offering a “free lunch” centered around salty food, bars and saloons could entice customers to come in for a drink (or two or three) to wash down the fare. It illustrates why you really can’t get anything for free, and why cutting corners in the work process, isn’t actually the best idea.
Many companies use Excel for their project management, because they already have the program installed. So what’s the point in paying for another piece of software? Well between the high cost of multiple license fees (we’ll get to that in a minute), the price of errors associated with manual inputting and reporting, and the amount of time and effort that goes into learning and using the program, Excel isn’t actually as cost effective as many people think it is.
Especially if you’re relying on the software to help you with the management of projects worth a considerable amount of money. Are you really willing to risk economic ruin for your company for a “free lunch”?
Tip: Properly dedicated resource and project management can actually save your company money. Not just by making your work flow more effective and saving you time (which we all know equals money), but through enhanced features such as Gantt charts, Calendar syncs, and reporting. Find your new favorite tool through our list of alternatives to Excel or some great resource management tools.
Excel creates more work for your PM
If you are organizing your projects in Excel, you need to make sure that everyone can open and view said projects. In order to do this, all your users need to have access to the software. This means that the onus is on you, the PM, to make sure everyone has Excel installed. Something you don’t really want to deal with.
Plus, what happens if you are working with freelancers in Thailand? Or you have clients in South Africa who want an update? It means that for you to be able to share your project progress and plans, you need to ensure that they too have their Microsoft Office accounts in order. Which is made even more painful by the distance and possible miscommunication along the way.
There are of course workarounds for this. You can always open your spreadsheet up in Google Sheets for a free cloud-based variation. Though this often comes with its own set of problems, such as improper formatting and a higher risk of errors. And getting these small changes to comply can be time consuming, frustrating, and are honestly unnecessary.
Similarly, what happens when the plans change? Not only are you stuck merging cells and reformatting schedules, but without simple drag and drop you also have to manually input data into your new plans. And don’t forget the work that goes into emailing out the new updated sheets to the rest of your team, keeping your fingers crossed the whole time that they check their inbox before the new deadline.
Ditching your Excel for project management habit will make it easier on yourself, your team, and everyone else who you need to share plans with. And speaking of collaboration…
Excel is collaborative snake oil
When it was released 30 years ago, there was little need to share and collaborate on your spreadsheets. And if you did, well that’s where your friendly office printer came in. Now that things are more commonly shared virtually (much to the delight of mother nature and anyone who’s ever dealt with a jammed printer), Excel has not really kept up with the times.
The release of Office 365 seemed to be the magical cure-all, but there’s still a number of prominent issues that you should know before applying this snake oil. Firstly, to actually allow collaboration on your spreadsheet, everyone must be working with the same version of Excel. So if you’re using an older version, it can happen that you don’t have access to the same viewing and editing rights. Which might defeat the purpose.
Secondly, enabling collaboration can mean potential conflicts can occur. For example, resource stealing or overbookings are more prevalent when you have multiple people with editing rights. And because Excel requires such a steep learning curve anyway, the program might scare away some potential users on your team.
Thirdly, to access the cloud-based software, your organization needs to pay a monthly subscription per user. This isn’t the best option for virtual teams which are often put together and dissolved quickly. Because before any work gets done, management must ensure that all users are paid for. Workarounds do exist, but this often means that these users aren’t privy to certain features and there’s a cap on the amount that can be shared.
Fourthly and to the last point, Office 365 actually contains a much more limited version of Excel. There are a number of features that aren’t readily available with the cloud-based variation - here’s actually a handy guide of all the features that are NOT available.
Tip: Many of our clients migrated to resource management because of the frustrations they experienced with Excel. To learn more about how they have come to be more efficient and organized sans spreadsheets, check out a few of our case studies.
Customization is limited to nonexistent
People love Excel because you can do basically anything in it - from simple budgeting to more intense calculations and everything in between. However, that doesn't mean there aren’t some serious limitations, and when it comes to customization there’s actually a lot that is lacking.
Want to add in some info about your team’s working hours, time zone, location, or anything else? Well, be ready for A LOT of supplementary sheets containing the details you want included about your assets. And once you have that info, actually doing anything with it can be tedious and requires nothing short of a college level course in Excel. Yes, filtering and adding certain parameters can be done. But the amount of time and effort to learn how to do that, apply it, and utilize the results is just too much for most to bother.
So what happens when the one person who does know Excel, leaves? Or is transferred to another team? We’re guessing all those sheets will end up on an unused drive somewhere. And the rest of the team will be scrambling to implement another project management tool in the meantime.
Tip: You can use Ganttic’s Data fields to add in any kind of data you want about your team. Want to know which product designer in the Eastern Time Zone is available next month for a new team project? Simply click the “filter” icon and pick your parameters. Once you know who’s available you can assign the project and its tasks to your resource of choice. This lets you build your virtual dream team and choose the right resource for the right task.
Accelerate virtual team project management without Excel
It’s obvious that Excel has its place in the world. But when it comes to project management, there is just so much alternative software that does the job better and without having to rely on workarounds, mind-numbing formatting, or adding more stress to your team and their projects.
Virtual teams especially, require different management styles, so it’s only reasonable that they would also require specific tools to help with their project management. Whether your team is located in the same office, different cities, or even different continents, they all require a management system that can keep them on track and on the same page.