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Why Spreadsheets Are Bad For Planning

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Don't use a spreadsheet program like MS Excel to track and plan your team's to-do items. Yes, it gets the job done. Yes, it's easy to sort and print, and yes, it's probably already installed on your computer, but I urge you to resist the temptation. Here's a few reasons the spreadsheet is a sub-awesome planner.

Poor Collaboration

If you've figured out how to effectively use the "share workbook" feature, I'm all ears. Most of the time I've seen this devolve to "Patrick is in charge of the spreadsheet, so nobody go into the share drive and edit it!". Not to mention the pervasive "Oh, I have a different version printed out."

No Relationships

There's value in breaking large tasks into smaller ones. Sadly, in a tabular format, representing this in Excel is tricky. How do you show the supertask's progress based on subtasks?

Spreadsheets Are Volatile

Excel wasn't built to be a standalone application. There's nothing to keep people from spawning tons of copies, deleting it forever, or fouling it up. Most teams will scrap whatever format they use on one project and reinvent it on the next. There's no chance to compare the metrics of how long things took from project to project.

As possible alternatives I humbly suggest:

In the end, your tool doesn't have to be fancy. What's important is that you put some rigor around your tracking. People will take the tasks and tracking more seriously when there's a solid tool behind it, and they know their information will be an input to the next project's planning.

Published at DZone with permission of its author, Aaron Oliver. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


fight club replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 12:15am

Collaboration  is very good.

Wojciech Jakobczyk replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 8:52am


I can agree with some of the listed weak points of Excel, but come on, can wiki be in alternative given this context?

Google doc? If you want to maintain privacy of your organisation (or your customers), then you end up with tons of codenames for projects, deliveries, etc...

Aaron Oliver replied on Mon, 2009/01/26 - 10:58am in response to: Wojciech Jakobczyk

I'm not saying a wiki is ideal, just that it beats a spreadsheet, mainly because it provides a single, authoritative tracking location. Plus it has revision history.There are certainly better and worse solutions, but just about anything beats a spreadsheet.

Kerdudou Ronan replied on Fri, 2009/04/17 - 4:02am

In our Company we use a global web application to manage projects, it's named Project-Monitor.
-> French site about it (can't find it in english but the app support multi-language).

In this application we can plan lots of things, linking tasks (assigned to users) to project milestones, collaborate on the project. This same app can plan budgets, risks and results for the projects and consolidate data in differents usefull ways.

it's a really powerfull tool. For Programmers' projects we can also use it as a bugtracking system... Our personal planning can apear in outlook or google calendar by ical feed.

It's also in this app that we do reporting of our work time.

(but it's not a free app)

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