Why even sophisticated spreadsheet solutions are unsuitable for project management?

In this article:

Where are the limits?

Granted, the title is a certain roundhouse. Of course, spreadsheets can help in project management to some extent. But this is exactly where we start because there are limits to the use of spreadsheets.

First, it must be clarified what is meant by spreadsheets. The internet-savvy user will certainly google and find out that a spreadsheet is mostly equated with tables in the format of Excel or other spreadsheet programs. This is not completely correct. Rather, spreadsheets are several tables that are summarized in documents. These tables contain, e.g., tasks, resources, timelines, and other things. You can achieve a project management overview by linking data within the tables.

But already here you can see a certain limitation of these spreadsheets. If you only have a few projects that must or should be carried out, the administration via the sheets is surely possible. However, if the number of projects increases, these tables will quickly become confusing.

Another limitation is the complexity of the projects themselves. If the projects contain only a few tasks that must be completed, this can surely be displayed in the tables. However, as soon as the complexity of the projects rises and more work packages or tasks must be managed, you will quickly reach limits with tables.

A not immediately apparent limit of spreadsheet-oriented project management is the resource management. First, only the human manpower, i.e., the team within a project, should be considered here as resources. If only a few people are concerned within the respective projects, they can still be managed in a limited manner. However, managing increasing resources quickly reaches its limits. This can already be seen if you deal with three people in a project and 20 people must be planned in another one. The management of further resources becomes difficult since no spreadsheet can manage the utilization or availability of resources across projects.

There is also the risk that committed and thus approved resources will be entered in the tables, but there is no general possibility of tracking binding commitments. A respective project management software works with resource requests and the booking or approval of requests. Approved resource requests are documented in the project management software and therefore are more binding as they cannot simply be deleted or changed.
If additional resources such as rooms, vehicles and other materials are added, the complexity of the resources escalates and produces further problems for the handling of the spreadsheets, as these resources sometimes must be used beyond the own project limits.

The biggest obstacle for working in project management without software is already clearly to see in the explanations above: the complexity of projects.

We now know the limits due to the mere number of resources and the complexity of single projects. But let’s increase the grade of the complexity of the projects themselves. Many projects are are in progress from start to end. Within the project, there are work packages that run one after the other, sometimes in parallel. However, there is a clear start and an end to the project.

But what if a project can only be completed if a task within this project is that large that it represents a project of its own. We are talking about sub-projects within a project, then. From this point on, you must expect a loss of control over the projects if using spreadsheets.

We can sum up that spreadsheets can be an alternative to software for smaller projects with few resources. However, as soon as the complexity or the number of necessary resources increases, the use of spreadsheets is only possible with a very high amount of work. Also, there is always the risk of a loss of control with spreadsheets. Spreadsheets hardly have any structure of privileges. This means that control and tracking are practically impossible.

With increasing complexity, increasing number of projects, or also increasing number of resources to be used, it makes sense to use project management software. This ensures the clarity of the projects in a multi-project overview. Also, the software increases the clarity within complex projects and offers a precise overview and control of the available resources.

As multi-project management software, KLUSA offers the best conditions for its users here. KLUSA gives a direct overview within the project management software, from the demand to project and resource planning with subprojects up to the controlling of the single project steps. Using the resource workflow, approvals of resources are made binding and can be rechecked at any time. The management information system (MIS) allows an overview of the entire company’s projects.