Why Spreadsheets Have No Happy Endings

Kasper Nymand
5 min read

Spreadsheets. Even though they were never meant to manage projects, spreadsheets are still widely used for resource and project management purposes. They might fit fine during the initial months or years of a business’ life, but as the business grows, they often turn into a mishmash of data that nobody likes to deal with, maybe except for that one really passionate Excel guy. Otherwise, it’s often generally just a hassle to keep everybody up-to-date through a shared document.

Just like shared spreadsheets, email threads have the same tendency to become a mess over time. In the beginning, it might work out fine – team members are pinned to the email, and the message is sent to everyone. But after the initial email, the problem often begins to arise. People forget to reply-all, or add their colleagues who might find the information valuable, or maybe half of the folks attached don’t need this specific message. It’s generally cumbersome, and after some time you’re only saved by your email search functionality.

That’s why we’re fond of a more centralized approach, in the sense that your data, communication, and assets are collected and managed from the same interface across the organization. The right people are involved, and everybody can follow the status and communication with regards to specific tasks. You can simply click a button and see what your teammates are doing, or find a person with the exact skillset you need.

Below, we will go through some of the problems related to spreadsheets we often see in digital and creative agencies, or just in general in many businesses out there.

Limited functionality and usability

Spreadsheets, though you can almost do anything in them with a creative mind, are generally not very user-friendly. People don’t understand them clearly since they're basically sheets of paper with a mix-up of hidden commands that you need to become a wizard to get the hang of. Also, only few things can be automated in an ordinary spreadsheet. For a project team, however, it is crucial that the knowledge is shared. Think for a moment, can spreadsheets answer what’s the current status of the project? OR which conversations we used to have? What did we decide? Who’s actually a part of this project or task? Hardly. 

This information is really a struggle to keep updated in a plain spreadsheet. Not in the least bit it keeps everybody in the know about what's happening. You don’t have the same notification functionality as many more centralized systems have incorporated.

Collaboration is not in the nature of spreadsheets

Documents and spreadsheets are designed to be managed by one person individually, and not the whole project team. Just like you wouldn’t have 10 people write on the same piece of paper at the same time. It just doesn’t go well. 

A structured whiteboard, on the other hand, makes a lot more sense. There’s some kind of structure built-in, and everyone knows where to get the information from. It’s quick and brings a better overview. That’s the same approach that we bring into digital project management tools. The benefit here is that the tool keeps a log of all the activities and makes sure everything is at its place. Nothing just disappears out of nowhere, and you can easily share assets from one department to another, or just across the room, in a second.

Project data is not always up-to-date

Another difficult aspect of using spreadsheets to solve management problems is that separate spreadsheets and tools are not always kept up-to-date. Not on purpose, but because people forget about them, or simply just don’t have the time to do so. Often you don’t realize that the changes you make to a task might influence the work of a handful of others. Imagine if you could just go to one person and get all the information you need – that’s what a centralized platform can bring you.

Spreadsheets were not cut out for project management

Managing your resources and tasks are not features built into the world of spreadsheets. You might be able to find some workarounds, and sorta get it working, but ultimately you’ll probably experience problems as time passes by. A digital resource and project management solution can give you a quick overview of the resources currently available, now and in the future, and the tasks currently at hand.

Tool-tip: Forecast has a built-in “quick book” functionality that manages the struggle in finding an available person with the exact skills you need. Simply click the button, choose the role, the skills, and the time when you need the person. Forecast will now provide you with a list of available team members.

Constant maintenance of custom spreadsheets eats up valuable time

Everything manually customized needs special treatment, and so do custom spreadsheets. It’s rare that a spreadsheet works out just the way you imagined throughout the whole lifecycle of the project. You might have to spend time altering the setup, which people need to adapt to, and understand where to find the information they specifically need.

Again, centralized well-thought through solutions are often set up the way they are for a reason. Of course systems need new features, changes, and adaptations over time, but generally, they should work out of the box on a continuous basis.

Moving your team from spreadsheets to Forecast

Finally, the process of getting your team to change might depend on your situation in the organization and project team. If you’re new, you might want to spend two weeks or so getting to know their current project management system – especially if they seem to like it. As most would probably understand, having a “stranger” joining the team and wanting to change everything from day one to another might be annoying. “What do they (“strangers”) know?”

Instead, if you feel that things could be better with another tool, e.g. Forecast, introduce it slowly. Include the team in the discussions and explain what the pros and cons of the old vs. the new are, how long it would take to switch, and how the daily workflow would be for the team in the new setup. Simply having a discussion of these things can greatly improve people’s overall perception and will to change. Easing the switch, you get everything back to a productive level again – hopefully even better than before.

Integrations might also be a great addition to look into. Maybe there are just some tools that your team can’t live without, and why should you then? Look into our ever-expanding catalog of integrations; you might find your favorite tool integrated already. If not, let us know and we’ll look into the possibility of adding it. That way you can automatically import, export, and sync data between all of the tools you need.

A project is really a conversation about stuff that needs to take place. Your resource and project management tool is the central destination for this communication.

After some time, a month or two, with the new solution, ask your team if they like the new approach. If they do, great! If not, what is it exactly and how can we improve? At Forecast, we’re always happy to listen to your feedback, whether positive or negative, please let us know, and we’ll do everything in our power to work it out with you.

Next time you wonder how to use spreadsheets to solve complex problems, think if you need them at all, considering the myriad of automation tools at hand. Click below to learn about the benefits:

AI-powered project management software

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