What Are the Advantages and Disadvantages of Using Excel for Project Management?

There are several advantages and disadvantages of using Microsoft Excel for Project Management.

The advantages of using Excel to manage projects are:

  • No learning curve: Almost any Project Manager is familiar with Excel and can easily create a reliable project schedule using this tool.
  • Document compatibility: Most people have Excel installed on their PC, so a schedule made in Excel can easily be read and updated by the project team members.
  • Simplicity: Excel spreadsheets are very easy to read and understand by anyone.

The disadvantages of using Excel to manage projects are:

  • Excel was never meant to be a Project Management tool, and thus lacks some very basic features such as Gantt charts and task dependencies.
  • To account for the lack of task dependencies and other Project Management activities in Excel, some considerable (usually complicated) scripting is often needed and/or 3rd party component installation.
  • Even in small projects, change requests do come in, and Excel has a notorious reputation when it comes to accommodating change requests in the already approved schedule.
  • Excel is a decentralized desktop application, team members and stakeholders have always to ask for the latest copy of the project schedule from the Project Manager whenever they want to consult it (which can create an extra burden on the Project Manager, not to mention the time wasted for people waiting for that document to initiate an activity or take a decision) as opposed to viewing the latest schedule on the local intranet or online in specialized PM tools.
  • Again, since Excel is a desktop application, it is completely out of touch with where Project Management is currently heading: more and more collaboration and transparency.

Conclusion

One could go with the mentality of using Excel to manage small to medium projects in order to produce a fast and easy project schedule (while it’s really not slower in specialized tools; the Project Manager just needs to learn to how to use these tools), however, once the Project Manager starts working on dependencies, and starts seeing those changes creeping in, and, of course, witnessing how the Excel sheet is changing from a project schedule to an unreadable document full of notes, the obvious fact will prevail: Excel is just not made for Project Management, and thus, should not be used to manage projects, no matter how small they are.

© 2009 Project Management Learning – Reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited without the written consent of Project Management Learning.


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