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Excel Stole My Confidence! Dispatches From the Project Management Front Lines

The old adage “confidence is key” is no truer than in the projects industry. Often though, project-focused organizations lack confidence because they cannot obtain a clear and accurate picture of project and portfolio data. This inability can often be attributed to their use of a fractured web of third-party software, home-grown solutions and Microsoft Excel to manage their large capital projects. In this blog post, we’ll be focusing on the latter – Excel. 

We’ve all encountered Excel. It’s a flexible tool that anyone in a professional setting is familiar with. This is why project-focused organizations can fall into using them to manage their projects. While Excel is a useful and necessary tool for professionals in all industries, it was not created specifically for project management. Because of this, Excel lacks the work processes (document management, resource planning, risk management, etc.) that empower the confident actions necessary to ensure project success.

For the remainder of this piece, we’ll explore how and why relying on Excel to manage your large capital projects hinders the overall confidence of your employees and stakeholders. Then we’ll discuss how arming yourself with a purpose-built, project management solution will maximize project success and assist your organization in achieving its business objectives. 

Excel Demands the Manual Maintenance & Compilation of Project Data 

Excel does not automate the inflow and outflow of project data. Due to this, all data must be manually added and extracted from the tool. As data amounts increase over the lifetime of a project, it becomes impossible to maintain a reliable data environment. Human error is bound to affect project data, making it null and void upon analysis. 

Excel hinders the planning and management process as the manual compilation of project data to generate insights creates cumbersome, low-value work for professionals whose talents are best spent elsewhere. Because Excel does not provide built-in  dashboards, data must be compiled and then generally presented outside of the tool – leaving opportunity for human error to strike once again. 

Excel Does Not Foster Transparency 

All project stakeholders should have visibility into project data. However, when an organization chooses to manage their projects with Excel, stakeholders must rely on project professionals to relay all project information. Unlike purpose-built, project management solutions, Excel does not offer user dashboards. Dashboards can often be configured to meet the needs of each stakeholder – providing them with a clear and personalized picture of the project data that matters most to them. Because Excel does not offer this capability, stakeholders are often left in the dark regarding project progress. 

Excel also does not allow users to drill down into project data when questions arise. Limited to reports with only summary data, project professionals often struggle to pinpoint the causes of negative project outcomes in time for corrective actions to be taken. This lack of visibility ultimately contributes to delays, cost overruns and more. 

This is compounded by the amount of time it takes to compile the necessary reports in Excel.  When a monthly cost report takes weeks to create, information is not timely and corrective action on reported issues may be impossible.

These issues combined cause blind spots that will most often be filled with the biases of the stakeholders and professionals. This lack of transparency usually results in the project spiraling and stakeholder finger pointing ensues. Thanks, Excel. 

Excel Discourages Integration

Excel is a standalone tool. It does not integrate well with many other vital, commercial project industry software used within an organization. In fact, it often becomes the default solution to fill the gaps between solutions when true interoperability does not exist. 

Yes, systems may be programmed to export and/or consume data from Excel spreadsheets, but this is a workaround.  It often does not alleviate much of the resulting manual processes that come from missing required functionality in support of key project and portfolio processes and reporting.

This causes project data to become siloed. When project data is fractured in this way, the organization cannot obtain a clear picture of project progress. This inability to bring together project data causes the manual maintenance and compilation of project data and the lack of transparency discussed above.

Excel is Not a Secure Platform 

When you collaborate with several people at once, Excel doesn’t provide a straightforward way of knowing who’s accessing which files and what they’re doing with them. Not only can this be frustrating because you can’t easily track changes, but it’s also a security risk.

You could compromise your customer’s security needs if the wrong person accidentally reveals sensitive information. Without an adequate access control system, proprietary information or future plans could slip into the hands of your competition, putting you at a disadvantage. In short, Excel lacks auditability and accountability.

Unlike Excel, ideal project solutions offer built-in access controls to foster a secure environment for project data. As discussed above, you can also control what each user can view and edit by providing them with personalized dashboards and user permissions. In this way, you can keep track of what everyone on your team is viewing and changing.

Excel Undermines Credibility 

Excel does not support project predictability, as defined by accurate and timely forecasts. As you can imagine, information delivered slowly with hidden errors can undermine your confidence and your organization’s credibility. As discussed earlier in this post, when using Excel, project professionals often struggle to pinpoint the causes of negative project outcomes in time for corrective actions to be taken. 

The Construction Industry Institute (CII) reported that on average, forecast variance reporting starts at 65% of project duration. These variances should often be known and reported much earlier in the project. Once this difference between planned cost and expected cost is communicated at this stage, it’s too late to change. Surprise! Project costs seem to have risen unexpectedly. 

But stakeholders and project executives hate surprises. By using Excel, instead of being known for delivering projects on time and on budget, you begin to be known for delivering projects late and over budget. Because of this, you lose business and your bottom-line suffers. 

Trading Excel for Enterprise Project Performance

Hope is not lost for those needing rescue from the Excel pit! Project-industry leaders are turning toward an enterprise project performance (EPP) solution. An EPP solution remedies all the problems caused by Excel and, in doing so, reinstates confidence throughout an organization. With an EPP solution, you get the benefits provided by an enterprise system that overcome the limitations of desktop productivity tools while also enjoying the ease of use and flexibility provided by Excel. In short, it brings the entire project lifecycle management system into a single, reliable, powerful platform.

Excel, while it has helpful and powerful attributes, is simply not built to serve as a project management solution. The shortfalls become ever clearer as the size of the projects you manage grow. EPP software on the other hand, is a purpose-built solution that promotes confidence by enabling project managers to: 

  • Spend more time on high-value tasks and less time on data management and compilation, 
  • Build a transparent environment with personalized, role-based dashboards to keep stakeholders informed, 
  • Integrate vital, third-party solutions so that all project data is housed in a single location,  
  • Maintain the security of project data using its built-in access control system,   
  • And consistently deliver projects on time and on budget to protect the credibility of the overall organization. 

Hexagon’s EPP solution, EcoSys™, provides robust capabilities to support project portfolio management, project management, and project controls right off the shelf.  To see how EcoSys can help you maximize project performance, request a demo today.

About the Author

James Tauladan is an experienced sales director and digital transformation leader with 20+ of experience in the fields of engineering, construction and enterprise project performance.

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