Project management, from start to finish, is by no means an easy task. (pun not intended) You need to make sure everyone knows their tasks and the timeframe for completing them.
Still, no matter how good a planner you are, the universe generally likes to fiddle with just about any carefully laid out plan. To keep tabs on everything (your sanity included), you need a good project management tool. Preferably one that’s easy to use so you won’t waste a lot of time learning it.
But if you asked a few team leads about what project management tool they use, you’d learn that a quite a lot of them still rely on plain ol’ Excel. Yes, we were just as surprised when we asked around. Given the success of tools such as Basecamp, Jira or Slack, you would think that Excel has been replaced by something better when it comes to project management.
However, people are generally comfortable and slow to change. Adopting a new tool means learning something new and there’s a certain uneasiness associated with that. Moreover, given the information overload and the hectic pace of the day to day life, it’s easy to understand why people are reluctant to pick up something new.
Still, there are 5 very sound reasons why you – or anyone using Excel for project management – should consider switching to something a tad more up to date.
It’s downright ugly
OK, this might not be a valid reason in and of itself. However, data visualizations can make a world of difference when managing team projects. The right charts will tell you in a second what task your team members are supposed to be working on, if they’re on track or not.
By default, graphs created in Excel can he hard to read and to understand, mostly due to the quirky color schemes. Also, unless you use an Excel project management template, you need to go through the pains of choosing the right charts and graphs for your needs.
By contrast, project management tools like Toggl Plan generate easy to read charts from the data you put in. Additionally, graphs come with color schemes selected by a professional. This, in turn, gives you a helping hand for making data easier to understand.
It’s hard to keep team members updated
Unless you use a cloud solution like Google Drive or Dropbox, every time you make a change to your Excel file, you need to send the updated version to your team members. Each and every single time. This can result in a lot of back and forth, stress and a high chance that your team is not using the latest version because Excel….
Doesn’t allow for collaboration
Let’s imagine this simple scenario. You’re managing a team of three. There’s you – the team lead, Liz – the designer and Tim – the copywriter. You create the initial project plan, email it to Tim and Liz. However, they each have something to add, they each make a few changes and they resend the file. To go the full-length scenario, let’s imagine that they both edited the same field – let’s say deadlines. We know – by now it’s a full-length horror movie, right?
This situation can be avoided by using a shared calendar or any other online tool that allows for collaboration so every team member can see the changes made to the project plan. No unnecessary back and forth, no overlapping. All team members get instant access to the latest version of the plan and everyone stays informed.
Steep learning curve
Excel serves a lot of purposes, from data analysis to record keeping to what have you. It is a powerful tool, there’s no doubt about it.
But powerful tools come with a lot of options. Which usually translates to a steep learning curve. Finding what you need is seldom that straightforward. Selecting the appropriate graphs, charts, and tables – all that takes time and patience.
There is a shortcut to this – namely Excel project management templates. Still, even with that, you’re bound to spend some time until you find a template that matches your needs.
Compared to that, project management tools are designed for one purpose only: to help you plan and manage your projects. They provide you exactly with the tools and the options you need for creating plans, assigning tasks and collaborating. This, in turn, makes them easier to learn – once you get past the initial apprehension of learning something new. Also, a lot of software products provide onboarding materials, structured knowledge bases and online support to help you navigate the tools.
It’s difficult to create reports
A key task in project management is creating and sharing performance reports with team members and your upper managers. To this end, Excel might not the best option.
To create reports with Excel, you need to create a new version of the file you already use. Next, you need to update the data, check and double check all the dates. You’ll also spend some time formatting and editing – chances are your superiors don’t need all the information included in the project planning sheets. Oh, and you need to do this manually. Every single time.
Here, again, dedicated project management tools have a clear advantage as most of them allow for creating periodic performance reports.
What’s more, you don’t need to input data manually. Reports are generated based on the data from your project plan. Additionally, chances are that the report layout was created by a design professional. Your reports will be clearer and you’ll look better in front of your superiors.
To wrap things up…
We’re with you on this one – adopting a new tool is never easy. But, all things considered, it can pay off big time in the long run. A tool that is designed for managing and planning projects will make your life a lot easier by helping you focus and by helping you collaborate with your team members. You know what they say – a little hard work goes a long way.
Andrei is a Growth Hacker on Teamweek's marketing team. He is the person behind most of Teamweek's SEO-driven projects, including the budget calculator and the worst productivity tips generator. He enjoys writing about project management, graphic design, and anything tech.