Why you should reconsider using Excel for project controlling.

Business Project controlling Purchase order Software

Spreadsheets like Excel are widely used by businesses for different tasks and are for many reasons a tool that is difficult for organizations to be without. The flexibility of a blank spreadsheet seems to be limitless. The cost of using it is close to zero. What’s not to love about this? On the other side, using Excel for project controlling has some serious limitations that can be extremely expensive in the end.

Let’s have a closer look at some reasons why using Excel for project controlling is a bad idea.

1 – Using Excel for project controlling can be extremely time-consuming

Project controlling can be complex and as Excel is not designed to manage this. Typically, businesses experience this when the projects become bigger and more complex. Some of the main reasons for time waste are:

  • Multiple manual data entries
  • Searching several sources for relevant project information
  • Consolidating information from multiple sources
  • Double and triple checking data quality takes time
  • Ad-hoc report creation often becomes the norm

2 – Team collaboration is close to impossible

Often spreadsheets are stored at a server where all team members might access and update information. However, these spreadsheets are not built for multiple users working in them simultaneously.

As a result, a few team members become responsible for updating this valuable data and the rest of the team will need to be updated on project status continuously.

Spreadsheets are simply not designed for team collaboration.


3 – Using Excel for project controlling results in a high risk of losing valuable data

Do you take backups of all your spreadsheets daily? Most likely not, very few have well-documented backup routines for their Excel sheets.

Storage services can help but there is always a risk of data loss, especially if multiple users have access to the same file.

Given that these spreadsheets in many cases contain your most valuable data you must be certain that data security and backup routines are 100%. This is difficult to manage with Excel without very strict access restrictions and backup routines in place.


4 – No real audit-trail available in spreadsheets

An audit trail gives you information on who has done what and at what time this was done. Important if you want to get more detailed information behind the data you see in front of you.

You are limited to see who has accessed, edited, and saved the file in Excel. There is no easy-to-access log history on who has done what in the spreadsheet as you would have in dedicated systems for project controlling.


5 – High business risk of being dependent on few people.

Most of the team members do not understand how your spreadsheet is built and to what purpose it serves. Not to mention what to do if data is missing or not showing as expected.

Often, the businesses or project teams have 1 person who fully understands this. The risk of operating projects like this is huge. What happens if this person is sick or something happens when on holiday? Or perhaps worse, quits the company?

Systems and tools that are of high importance for the business should not be people-dependent as often is the case with Excel spreadsheets.


6 – Using Excel for project controlling leaves you with no dedicated support function

Who provides you with support if you are stuck with a problem in your spreadsheet? Your team needs to manage this. Typically, it will be the Excel expert or the person who created the spreadsheet. The result is often misunderstandings and more errors as you do not want to bother your colleague with issues that can be considered less important.

Support is typically a part of your agreement when using specialized software for your project controlling and should not be underestimated.

7 – Not possible with role-based access for team members

In every project there will be users with different need for information. Access to certain information can often be restricted. Setting up solid routines for this in spreadsheets is extremely difficult. As a result, you end up creating multiple spreadsheets for different purposes.

Add several projects with a certain degree of complexity and you can quickly experience chaos. Role-based access is important as it protects sensitive data and ensures higher team efficiency as users are not lost in large spreadsheets with data they do not understand.


FINALLY, it’s certain that several team members will dread using spreadsheets for this purpose. At the same time, you might have colleagues who love Excel and believe that it can manage whatever you throw at it. You should at least be aware of these limitations before deciding to use Excel for project controlling.


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