Spreadsheet tools like Excel were not designed for project management - and project managers were not intended to spend a majority of their time consolidating information. So why do a majority of project managers find themselves drowning in an ocean of spreadsheets?

Usually, it's argued as a cost issue. Companies try to cut costs by consolidating software purchases. They invest in tools that serve multiple purposes, but ultimately, fail to meet the specific needs of the people using them. This is definitely the case with spreadsheet tools, which are well-suited for financial analysis, but rather rudimentary in their project management capabilities.

While using an existing spreadsheet tool for project management may save money in the short-term, the resulting cost of inefficiency is far greater than the dollars saved.

For every $1 billion invested in the U.S., $122 million was wasted due to lacking project performance.

If your job title says Project Manager but you feel more like a Spreadsheet Manager, read on to learn how a project management software can help and use this guide to make the argument for investing in solution.

Why Spreadsheets Don't Work for Project Managers

The Burden of Versioning

Because most spreadsheet tools aren't cloud-based, project managers often spend a lot of time trying to literally get everyone on the same page. Everyone involved in a piece of work contributes their part, making edits to documents, that then have to be consolidated with edits others have made. This burden of creating one source of truth lies with the project manager.

Having multiple versions of a file makes it increasingly difficult to understand what has been done, what needs to be done, and what needs to be done next. As the project progresses, more data is generated, further contributing to the chaos. Instead of spending time adding value to the organization, project managers are stuck playing a game of telephone.

Project management software solutions are almost always cloud-based, which means that team members and project managers can align around one shared source of truth. This not only removes the burden from the project manager, but it also can improve collaboration, and therefore work quality.

No Visibility Into Status

As a project manager, your job is to keep initiatives on time and on budget — accounting for risk, communicating upwards and outwards about status, and providing support and guidance to those doing the work. Using a spreadsheet, project managers have to collect status by constantly interrupting teams, then running back to update the document.

A project management software solution can provide visibility into status at a glance, with each team member updating on their own and automated reminders pushing things forward. Your teams can stay focused on delivering work, and you can get the information you need without having to interrupt them.

Outdated Data

Business agility, the ability to quickly adapt to changes in your environment, hinges on the ability to leverage real-time data. It's critical for any forward-thinking company to invest in tools that enable project managers to easily find and analyze that data — that tool is not a spreadsheet.

Many project management solutions include workflow management tools (such as digital Kanban boards), which help teams visualize and manage their work while providing insight into status for leadership and project managers. For more insight into a particular piece of work, invested parties can go directly to the source and see status information, project history, and any relevant documentation all in one place. This makes it easier for PMs to access accurate data in real-time and drive smarter decision making.

Manual Reporting

With no built-in reporting capability, Excel and similar tools require project managers to spend time manually building reports. With all that manual effort consolidating data and generating reports, there's a lot of room for error.

Project management software solutions have built-in reporting capabilities, that allow you to manipulate, analyze, and communicate data exactly the way you need to. You can also create dashboards to stay on the pulse of whatever metrics matter most to you. So whether you need to create a quarterly performance summary for your executive team or just get a quick glance into your team's productivity this week, the information you need is just a few clicks away.

A Tool Made For You

The purpose of any software solution is to reduce the manual effort involved in a particular task, to provide more insight than would be accessible through manual effort, and to make the life of the user easier. If your current spreadsheet project management system is failing to achieve any of those basic needs, it's time to upgrade to a tool purpose-built for project management.

About the author

Maja Majewski is a contributor to TechnologyAdvice, and content and social media marketer in the B2B tech space. She is passionate about process improvement and productivity. Connect with her on LinkedIn.