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6 Reasons You Should Stop Using Excel As Your Lab Management Software

Categories: Excel, Management Tips
If you are using Excel for your lab management, you're not alone. But, the future of science depends on what researchers are doing now, so it’s imperative that labs have the proper equipment. However, the best computers, bunsen burners, and beakers in the world won’t help if you are managing your equipment with outdated software. So isn’t it time to upgrade from disorderly spreadsheets to something that will actually help? In this article we’ll go through some common problems that lab workers might encounter using Excel and how they might be rectified with the proper solution such as better lab management software. 
6 reasons to stop using Excel as your lab management software

"The science of today is the technology of tomorrow." 

-Theoretical physicist Edward Teller

Without scientists stretching the limits of imagination, the world would be a much different place. Whether working in academia, the public, or private sector, there’s certain equipment that those in this field require to do their jobs. But, even with the latest technology and most expensive machines, you might experience some challenges when it comes to managing your lab’s equipment and resources. And a lot of this can be due to an often overlooked, outdated tool: Excel.

Because of its utility and perceived flexibility, Excel is still widely used in labs for scheduling, planning, and tracking equipment. But we think you should stop. So we’ll give you 6 reasons why. And we'll give you some ideas for computer software that better suited for your lab management.

6 reasons to stop using Excel for lab management


1. Booking problems due to disorganized digital paperwork

Lab management skills include critical thinking, attention to detail, and collaborating. But another important skill you need in the lab is something you learned in Kindergarten: sharing. Because this machinery can get expensive there’s often a limited amount of specialized apparatuses for the entire team. So you need to learn how to share. In order for you to conduct your experiments, this machinery needs to be booked, sometimes far in advance. 

But things can get disorganized if you have a separate spreadsheet, document, or even a calendar for each piece of equipment. Not only is it a hassle to locate the specific piece of information, but updating it, and hoping that your teammates have also updated it, can also sometimes be a problem. Plus, it’s time consuming and frustrating if you have to manually enter in each of your team’s sharing details for each new calendar or document you create. They just are conducive to lab data management.

Likewise, people from other labs might wish to pay you and your equipment a visit. So wouldn’t it be nice to get back to them about machinery availability without cycling through stacks of spreadsheets?

How to solve it using lab management software:

  • Manage your resources

Instead of making an Excel spreadsheet for each resource you need to use, consider resource management software instead. This will track all of your resources, whether it’s a machine, a person, or even the entire lab. And it gives you an overview of everything that’s happening. In a lab, inventory management is important, but so is resource management! Look for some great tools here and find out more why resource management is so important.

  •  Gantt charts for long-term planning 

Excel is not great for planning far in advance. The tiny cells just aren’t intuitive or eye-catching enough to realize that your microscope has already been booked for the time you need it. This can lead to double-bookings and can potentially ruin an experiment. So plan better with a Gantt chart. These visual bar charts can show you exactly when a resource will be in use, days, weeks, or even months ahead of time. You’ll be able to schedule your experiments around when the equipment is available, which means better long-term planning and a more efficient lab.

  • Calendar sync

Another option is syncing your Google or Outlook Calendars to your management software. In Ganttic, syncing is super easy and all updates to the planner automatically appear in your personal calendars. You can choose whether you want one-way or two-way sync to manage if you want your calendar’s info in your planner or not.

With Gantt charts and calendar syncing, Ganttic can prevent you from ever double-booking your equipment again.
With Gantt charts and calendar syncing, Ganttic can prevent you from ever double-booking your equipment again.

2. Outdated spreadsheets aren’t good for scheduling on-the-go

Lab management today is not usually stationary. You may have to grab something from a different department or run an experiment with equipment located across town. Excel can make these on the go activities a nightmare. Conflicts in schedules can arise when you plan a meeting or work event and find out that most of your team is out for the day or working at another lab.

Not only is it harder to track down your team, but if you are the one moving between labs, you’ll need to remember to bring your bulky computer with you to access your spreadsheets. And if you do forget your computer, good luck using Excel on your mobile. Those tiny cells on a small touchscreen are enough to make you lose your mind.

How to solve it using lab management software:

  • Software with flexible, cross-platform usage

Excel was released more than 30 years ago. Technologically, that was a lifetime ago! And since that time, a lot has changed in the way that people work. Remote working is on the rise and workers are no longer chained to a desk or even one device.

Instead, it’s better to choose something that actually works in today’s labs and technological environment. Cross platform, cloud-based software lets you sign in from anywhere in the world, so you can update your plans even without your work computer. Moreover, if you choose software with a dedicated app, you’ll know you’re using something that was formulated for your mobile device. Meaning it actually works on small, touchscreens.  

In Ganttic’s planner, you’ll know where everyone is scheduled to be and what they are working on. You'll see if they are working on inventory management So if someone is out of the lab, you’ll be able to tell if they are working from home, at another lab, or even on holiday.

Read on: for some more tips on how to solve remote work management problems, check out our blog post.

3. Spreadsheets can’t handle changes

Even the best-laid plans are no match against day-to-day life. The only surefire thing you can really count on is knowing that plans will change and you will need to make adjustments.

When you have to deal with scheduling changes, it can be a pain in Excel to pinpoint how exactly that might affect your overall project. And if you need to push back milestones or rearrange the sequence of events, this can be time consuming, tiresome, and easy to screw up. You might miss scheduling an important step along the way, or maybe the equipment you require is already booked for your new time slot. And because you are dealing with so many sheets, you might not catch this problem until it’s too late.

How to solve it using lab management software:

  • Simplify changes with the right features

If you do need to make changes, look for management software for your lab with features that will make the process faster, easier, and with less stress. Drag and drop means you can pick up a task and allocate it to another time or resource. In two clicks, you’ll be able to make the updates to your schedule that you need. Plus, you’ll still be able to see the dependencies and if something else is scheduled for your new timeslot. Meaning there won’t be an overbooking.

Another handy feature is picking up and moving the entire project. In Ganttic, this is called shifting projects and it allows you to move the entire project, tasks, and resources to a time that better suits you. Just choose the new start date and everything is moved. No need to manually input new dates or make certain that your bookings or resources don’t overlap. Because everything is already in your planner, you’ll be able to see how it affects your other plans before you shift. This will save you time and stress.

  • Be alerted immediately of updates

Don’t be caught off guard when changes do happen. With the right lab management software, you can see these changes in real time on your computer. So if there’s a delay or setback, everyone will know immediately. You can also stay up to date with features such as alerts and notifications. In Ganttic, for example, you can be alerted when changes happen to your scheduled plans. Or set up notifications for your whole team, so they know to check their planner when you make updates.

4. Spreadsheet chaos prevents you from seeing the big picture

For many labs, spreadsheets are a way of life. Not only are they used for bookings and inventory management, they are used for extracurricular things as well. Conferences, upcoming events, published papers, important dates for funding, project start and end times, etc. When there’s separate sheets for every aspect of your work, that creates a lot of “noise.” In your inbox, as well as on your computer desktop, work stations, and break room bulletin boards.

It’s difficult to plan a project from start to finish in spreadsheets. And it’s almost impossible to plan multiple projects for dozens of people. Doing so makes you choose between one long sheet or various sheets which spread your information out. Neither option gives you a proper timeline of events and both are a headache to comprehend.

When a lab is overburdened with spreadsheets, it’s tough to see the big picture. You can’t conveniently compare various sheets with one another to see the overall progress your different teams are making.

How to solve it using lab management software:

  • Get an overview

Running a lab with multiple concurrent projects requires a tool that gives you an overview of everything that’s going on and everything that is to come. Software suited for project portfolio management works well. As do programs with a long-timeline that’s easy to scroll through. Customizable options like color coded projects and tasks make it clearer when you have a lot going on at the same time. Get a bird’s eye view to get a sense of your progress, milestones, and future.

Lab research is already stressful. Paring down on your various spreadsheets will go a long way in toning down the chaos. 


5. Spreadsheets aren’t made for sharing

All these spreadsheets are difficult for your labmates to keep straight, but they make it harder for your stakeholders and bosses to see what’s going on as well. There’s always the chance for mix ups when you have to send dozens of separate sheets to multiple people. And using Excel for lab data management means more misunderstandings can arise when everyone is unsure of which file is the up to date version.

On a daily basis, the use of spreadsheets can also cause frustrations. If a last-minute scheduling hiccup occurs, it can be difficult to reach out and inform everyone about the changes. It’s time consuming to relay that information in an email, but if you don’t and just share another spreadsheet, they might not notice the updates.  

How to solve it using lab management software:

  • Automatic report options
In a lab you need your reports on experiments, but why stop there? It’s also useful to get reports on your resources, projects, and team. If this sounds like extra work, it’s actually not. A lot of software for computer lab management comes with the capability to generate automated reports. Select the interval you’d like to receive your report along with what aspects you want measured. This is a useful way to get quantitative data about your lab to make more thoughtful decisions.
  • Convenient sharing

An overview of and report are great, but only for those who see them. So make sure everyone can. Choosing software that allows easy and free sharing is imperative. In Ganttic, you can send your Gantt charts and reports to anyone with an email address. With no extra sign ups or additional charges, and no matter your plan. Plus, you can manage accessibility, viewing and editing rights before sharing. That way your team, third-parties, stakeholders, and bosses can all be involved, in whatever way you need them to be.

Lab work requires communication and collaboration. Choosing lab management software better suited for these can help you work more effectively. 
Lab work requires communication and collaboration. Choosing software better suited for these can help you work more effectively. 

6. The cost of spreadsheets

Of course this isn’t the problem with all labs, but we do know that science is often underfunded. This lack of finance can make it difficult to make the next big breakthrough or solve the current crises plaguing the earth.

If your lab is experiencing this underfinancing, then it might seem obvious to use Excel. It’s a program you probably already have on hand, so it doesn’t require additional fees, right? Wrong! Excel requires different licensing fees for each user. This can make it harder for smaller research facilities to add to their staff and grow. The workaround is using Google Sheets. But with all the noted problems of spreadsheets, maybe it’s wiser to invest in something that will help you grow and achieve the results you want.

How to solve it using lab management software:

  • Upgrade to scalable, better suited software

There are tons of alternatives to Excel out there. And most come with a free trial. If cost is something your lab has to worry about then consider software where you pay per resource, not by user. That way your entire lab can access your plans and schedules and everyone will be on the same page in regards to bookings and equipment usage.

  • More organization means more savings

And once you do upgrade to a more specialized software, you’ll see savings elsewhere. Better equipment bookings mean less erratic hours and cuts to overtime. Better stock taking means less duplicate orders. And better software means less spreadsheets. Which means less stressful, time consuming, and tedious working conditions.

Start experimenting with something other than Excel

You don’t have to have the genius of Einstein to realize that Excel may not be for everyone. Although it is an often great, versatile tool, in the lab it has a lot of shortcomings. Especially when there are more suitable tools available at better prices. Start experimenting with something that can actually help you manage your lab and its equipment.

Interested in better lab management software? Try Ganttic for 14 days, no credit card needed. And free yourself from spreadsheet hell.