There was a time when only finance and accounting professionals used spreadsheets. That’s because they were designed for recording numbers and performing calculations. Walk into an office today and ask team members in any department, including those as far from finance as you can think of, if they use spreadsheets and it’s likely you’ll hear a resounding “yes.” Just about anyone who can use a computer can figure out how to drop information into boxes and organize it using the spreadsheet software that likely resides on their machine.
Setting up a spreadsheet for a non-financial purpose like sourcing a marketing project can be very time consuming. Plus, it’s not uncommon for spreadsheets to fail to deliver the results their creators envision. The reliability and effectiveness that makes spreadsheets a must for financial activity is often lost when they are, for all intents and purposes, hacked for tasks beyond what they were designed to perform.
Let’s take a look at four reasons why spreadsheets are the wrong tool for managing projects.
1. Coordination Issues
Most projects require the management of a variety of resources, tasks, dependencies and files across multiple roles. Making the necessary connections between all of these elements is not easy, if even possible, using spreadsheets. Many spreadsheets, especially those installed locally on each individual workstation, do not provide real-time or multi-user editing. In an era where more and more individuals are accustom to such features in cloud-based software this can lead to lost, incorrect and overwritten information rendering the spreadsheet useless. Instead of a dashboard to see, edit and communicate information in real-time, updates get emailed and multiple versions of the same spreadsheet lead to confusion.
2. Incomplete Information
Spreadsheets are not designed to be a storehouse of files, annotations, communications and other information that typically gets added onto a project. For example, if an action is delayed, it’s not easy to make a note of why it was delayed and when it is expected to be completed in a spreadsheet. The inability to add additional information as it arises without fear of breaking the spreadsheet can lead to incomplete or incomprehensible information, confusion, delays and the need for additional files outside of the spreadsheet.
3. Tracking is Difficult
Tracking of project details, timelines and other information is often one of the main reasons for using spreadsheets to manage and source marketing projects. Unfortunately, while spreadsheets do a fine job of tracking numbers and calculations they generally do a lousy job of tracking non-financial information. Tracking non-financial details of a project in a spreadsheet often leads to the need for complex workbooks made of multiple spreadsheets and even the use of additional outside files. Suddenly, the idea of having everything organized in one place has morphed into a tangled web without a clear way to keep track of status and progress.
Although many people treat them as such because of their relative ease of use; spreadsheets are not databases. The very ease that causes people to flock to spreadsheets also allows for the all-too-easy deletion, overwriting and re-formatting of information. The danger is even more prevalent in complex spreadsheets where formulas and links are used in an attempt to make them work in ways they weren’t designed to work. All it takes is one errant keystroke replacing a formula with a static value to bring the whole works crashing down.
Convenience and perceived effectiveness make many people believe that spreadsheets can be used for anything. They also think that learning and using software that is purpose-built for the task at hand will be difficult. That perception, of course, couldn’t be further from the truth. Even after learning how to use it, putting the right tool to work for the job always results in better results, increased efficiency and a better return on investment. Using spreadsheets to manage the sourcing of your marketing or direct mail materials is using a tool built for someone else. Maybe it’s time to give the spreadsheets back to the accounting and finance department and use the software made for marketing procurement?