Managing business workflow and task tracking is at the heart of professional project management, and there are a wide range of tools to help you. We are all familiar with PRINCE2, SCRUM and Waterfall terminology, but no matter what methodology you choose to follow, you will always come back to practically track tasks and workflow.
The question is: can Excel handle the job? Is Excel robust enough to use as a tracking tool or do you need something stronger? We will explore the pros and cons of using Excel as a task tracking tool.
8 Advantages of Using Excel for Project Management, Workflow & Task Management
Excel is ubiquitous and easy to use, so many companies prefer to use Excel, and for small projects and single instances, it has some clear advantages:
- Part of MS Office Suite – so almost everyone has it and there is no additional cost!
- Adaptable – Excel lends itself to being adapted to suit a company’s specific requirements.
- Shared Drive – all data is available locally and can be accessed by anyone with access to a shared drive where the file is stored.
- Analytical – Excel comes with a wide range of reporting tools, including matrices and charts, and it is easy to create pivot tables and customize data as required.
- Readily Available Data – data is held internally and there is no need to export data from external systems.
- Standardization – if you have common-billing or hourly employee rates, Excel will easily report on sum totals (and the same generally applies for any small in-house project).
- Data Replication – data is very easily copied to wherever else you need it, but this is also one of the major drawbacks of Excel when you have anything other than a very small project.
- Simple-to-Use – Excel is universally used, and almost every staff member will know how to use Excel’s basic to intermediate functionality.
So, Excel seems pretty capable when it comes to handling small, in-house projects and clearly, it is a powerful application.
But, what are the disadvantages of using Excel more widely?
Disadvantages of Using Excel for Project Management, Workflow & Task Management
Beyond small, simple, in-house projects, the shortcomings of Excel become only too apparent very quickly. Frequently, a company will have multiple projects running at the same time, with shared resources across them. Where additional complexity is introduced, such as managing fixed prices, and allocation of resources such as time and materials, then Excel becomes unwieldy at best, and a disastrous choice for tracking, workflow and project management for most.
Here are some of the most common disadvantages of using Excel:
- Inflexible – Excel’s flexibility is tested and found wanting as soon as you need to make changes to task lists, hourly rates and so on. Excel is very clunky when it comes to changing input across multiple tabs or spreadsheets, and there are problems with who will actually be responsible for making these changes and what happens when a mistake is made (as it inevitably will).
- Data Security – as everyone has common access to the data you are using, and as the files themselves are so readily copied across other applications or storage media, then you have a clear implication for the security of your data, which is frequently very sensitive.
- Time Registration – Excel does have a time registration feature, but it is not very accurate and requires time registration to be performed concurrently with the task in question. Time registration is also subject to manipulation, and project outcomes and invoicing can be significantly skewed in positive and negative directions quite easily.
- Very Long Formulas – if you are working with multiple projects, typically each project assigned to a spreadsheet tab within a master file, then you are going to see some very long formulas and very huge files. The issue here is that if you make a mistake in one formula, you are going to replicate that error across your file, and hunting it down and correcting it becomes a major task that is highly inefficient.
- Rigid Template – while Excel is customizable to an extent, you are essentially strait-jacketed across the spreadsheet file with your template design. No matter how well you plan your template, it will not be suitable for all projects you will have to manage at any one time. Inevitably, you will find yourself trying to figure out workarounds, and this makes Excel time-consuming to use and prone to errors.
- Correcting Data Errors – who is going to be responsible for correcting data errors? What happens when a staff member opens a file to see error messages? More than this, Excel is notoriously difficult to use when you are trying to recreate data once you have closed the file.
- Lack of Mobility – how many times have you seen staff working on a project or task using a handheld device? Now ask yourself how they are going to log their time when they have completed the task? Excel on a Smartphone is almost impossible to use, and time registration and logging will frequently be omitted.
- Complexity – while Excel can be customized, frequently the person who handles this is the one who has the most IT or PM experience. But what happens when they leave the firm, are out sick or away on leave? Who will provide users with support?
- Standardized Industry Reporting – there is no way for Excel to provide a standardized way of reporting for your industry, for instance with data retrieval on all your staff, tasks and projects and then providing insight using pricing/rates or time registration when it comes to invoicing.
- Ownership – who actually owns the Excel file? This is a serious drawback, especially when you have multiple users working on spreadsheets at the same time. Version control on a shared drive is almost impossible, and how do you ensure there is only one spreadsheet containing all of the time registrations?
- Task Completion – custom solutions will provide for a view which quickly shows you the level of completion of various tasks, however Excel relies on a complicated series of formulas to do this. This makes it difficult to maintain and errors are common, while project progress is not so easily demonstrated to project owners and users.
Introducing HighGear for Workflow Automation and Task Management
HighGear is a proven, enterprise task management solution, which is simple to use, easily deployed and costs a fraction of other professional management tools. Used by small, medium and enterprise-class organizations such as NASA, Lockheed Martin, and Beazley Insurance, HighGear’s workflow automation and task management solution suits the challenges Excel cannot handle:
- Collaborative Task Management – enjoy a streamlined processes across multiple departments; centralized data and reporting; record task collaboration and create an audit trail for compliance; and easily store and retrieve work artifacts.
- Workflow Optimization – simply automate recurring processes; enforce compliance, procedures and timelines; and create effective rule-based routing of tasks and work items.
- Organizational Visibility – view all activity with a simple hierarchical UI; ensure each staff member knows what they should be doing and when; allow and manage customer access; and enjoy the benefits of enterprise dashboards and detailed team performance.
- Improved Accountability – connect assigned staff to tasks they are responsible for; justify staffing decisions and resource allocation with metrics & KPIs; identify bottlenecks and quickly identify effective solutions to them; and measure and report on team productivity.
HighGear is easily configured, accessible anywhere on a laptop, desktop or mobile device, and developed to be a completely open solution, which means it will integrate with any other platform you may be using. HighGear can be customized to suit your specific needs and enjoys outstanding levels of support, all of which make HighGear the logical choice for your business when Excel is not enough.