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Spreadsheets are the king of project management support tools because they are most convenient tool to use and the most frequently used tol. How do they compare to project management software? What are the benefits of each and when should you make the switch to project management sotware?

While only you can make the determination as to when you should make the switch, this article will walk through the benefits of each and provide some  guidelines

Depending on which research you rely on, the market for project management software is between 1.5$ billion and 3.5$ billion. That is for software that is specifically designed to support project management. Most organization that have made significant efforts towards effective project management have recognized that is very difficulty   to manage a greater number of of project and people, or a larger project, with the support of technology.

Yet there is not tool for project management that is more popular or widespread than the spreadsheet,  despite the fact that spreadsheets are not designed to be project support tools, Even in organizations  with an established project management tool, spreadsheets  are used.  There are obvious reasons for this. A spreadsheet program is on almost every computer in every organization, people are familiar with spreadsheets and how to use them, and people are pre-disposed to use these “office” types of software tools to solve problems. And I am right there with them. I love using spreadsheets to track all kinds of data. It is easy, convenient, and I  admit ego-boosting to show off  what I can do in a spreadsheet.

With that  in mind, let’s look at some of differences between these two different types of tools. For the purposed of this article, I selected siz critieria by which to make the comparison. These were selected from the feedback of customers and prospects as well as learning what is important  for the successful adoption and implementation of project  tools within an organization.

Data  Mining

Data mining is a huge part of project management tools. The whole reason for having  atool is to collect data, so that you can look intelligently at that data, make sure you processes are performing as advertised, and make god decisions. You need to know which projects and tasks are slipping through the cracks so that you again rect. You need to know when which issues are lurking so that you can address them now before you lose the favor of a critical customer. And you need to see how you processes are  working so that you can continuously improve your processes.

In today’s economy, competitive landscape, and accountability standards you mist have the data. Managers are getting blindsided because they do not know  what is coming and what is gong on. This is where the right project management software tool shines and spreadsheets fade. A  good project management tool will be database-oriented and should allow for different types of and hoc reporting accorss multiple projects. This enables the mining of all kinds of data. You simply cannot do this in  spreadsheet at the same level. If you reall, really know what you are doing if is possible to tie spreadsheet together and generate some integrated data. But that is not  the same thing. You simple cannot, on a whim, mine into the data represented in your multiple spreadsheets. And in today’s environment, this is critically important. Gone are the days when not having the right data is acceptable.

Maintenance and administration

Time and again, I talk with organizations that are spending an amazing amount of time maintain spreadsheets. There is so much time spent on activities attributable to spreadsheet usage.

Tracking down the right spreadsheet

Tracking down the right version of the right spreadsheet

Tracking down the email with the right version of the right spreadsheet

Emailing out the right spreadsheet to the people that don’t have it

Tracking down the people who have the information that is needed to update the spreadsheet

Actually updating  the spreadsheet

Maintaining  the formulas and formatting  of spreadsheet

Updating the standard format of all the spreadsheets to accommodate  a  “process enhancement”

Creating new spreadsheets

Flexibility  

Flexibility is the context refers to the ability  of the tool to adapt to your processes. In practically, this refers to things such as being able to track any type data peculiar to your company

This is harder attribute to measure, especially with the variation in project management software tools. Many tols are very rigid, meaning what you see is what you get. Some tools have became more flexible and  a great deal of adaptability-such as being able to adapt screens and data structures. This has became increasingly important.

Resources Allocation and Forecasting

This is similar  to data mining, but it is so important that I gets its own biling. The management of which resources are assigned to which project and tasks is a critical component of promect management and one of the big differences between spreadsheets and project management software.

There are three critical pieces to ensure good resources management. These include:

A good work breakdown structure

A good estimation of the effort to be expanded on each task

A composite view of this information across all projects.

Because of the single-file focus of spreadsheets, a good project management software systems should win the hands down. A good system will provide views and reports with insight into resources allocation so that you can view problems and do future forecasting. That isn’t to say that you cannot to do this with spreadsheets but it difficult at best and you need to have a very, very good setup.

Final Thoughts

Only you can decide the right tool for your organization. Certainly using spreadsheets is better than using absolutely nothing. They do have value, and they may be a good ift for some organization. However, good, project management software clearly has the advantage for the following types of organizations:

Organizations with more than handful of project to manage

Organization with more than handful of people working on managing projects

Organizations with large or complex projects Spreadsheets are primarily used because of convenience. Hoever, convenience is not a great reason to use a tool that supports you critical processes. Be sure that you select and use a tool that adds to the efficiency and productivity of your people and processes, and not the other way around. This will far outweigh the benefit of convenience

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