Man sitting at desk struggling with using Excel as a PPM tool.

Microsoft Excel® is one of my favorite tools. I’ve been using Excel for my entire career, so I know it well. Like me, you are likely familiar and comfortable with Excel. You can use Excel for so many things including budgets, sales tracking, data analysis, reporting and the list goes on. What about for project portfolio management (PPM)? If your company is looking for a PPM tool, then you want to find a tool that fits your budget, is easy to use, and quickly accomplishes the necessary functions. So, the question is: does it really make sense to use Excel for PPM and resource management?

The Pros of Using Excel

There are so many positive things about Excel so this list could go on for days, but I will try to narrow it down to a quick list of some of the main benefits you gain when you use Excel:

Project portfolio management with Excel
  • Familiarity – Your employees are familiar with Excel, and can perform at least the basic functions quickly and easily. So, you don’t have a lot of training expenses that go along with it.

  • Accessibility – Most companies already have the Microsoft Office package, which includes Excel, so there are no additional software costs.

  • Adaptability – Excel can be easily adapted to meet your company’s needs.

  • Analysis– Excel includes many functions such as filters, sorting, pivot tables, charts, and advanced look-up, which make it perfect for analyzing data.

  • Reporting – Excel’s built-in reporting features makes presentation easy.

You can truly accomplish a lot with Excel, but now let’s take a look at what it can’t do for resource management and project portfolio planning.

The Cons When Using Excel for PPM and Resource Management

1. Managing Changes Can Be Tedious

No matter how well you plan, things change. As PMO leaders, project managers and resource managers, you know that you have to be able to react quickly to those changes. Juggling changes to priorities, time constraints, resource capacities, employees and their abilities is a constant endeavor. Especially, if you manage multiple projects across your entire organization. So, you need a flexible solution that can easily process the constant updates. In Excel, recording these changes is a tedious task. Often, you must manually update the data across multiple tabs and tables, which is time consuming and nerve-racking because it leaves a lot of room for error. And then once, the data have been updated, you still have to take the time to analyze that data to determine how to react to the changes.

2. Lack of Control and Security

Problems arise when Excel is used for resource planning on the department level. Multiple people may need to access the same file at the same time. Suddenly, you have several different versions of a spreadsheet in circulation. So, the big question is: who has the file that contains all the correct and most up-to-date information? On top of that, because Excel is so popular, there is also a security risk that your resource portfolio could reach external parties; for example, it may be accidentally forwarded in an email attachment.

3. High Vulnerability to Errors

In Excel, you work with long, complex formulas to represent dependencies between different projects and resources. As soon as an error sneaks in, it is reproduced throughout the document. To fix the problem, the initial source of the error must be found! Even one single missing minus sign can have serious consequences. Plus, if multiple people are updating the spreadsheet, it is nearly impossible to determine who was responsible for the mistake. Just for the fun of it, google Spreadsheet Horror Stories. The results should be enough to convince you!

4. Inadequate Visualizations

In Excel, it is difficult to properly display the progress of a project and what milestones have been achieved. Also over-allocations and resource conflicts that are graphically displayed in other PPM solutions are not so apparent in Excel. There are Excel templates for PPM that you can download, but these don’t come close to being as user-friendly and adaptable as in other tools. So, it is easy to lose transparency and a quick and obvious visualization of the project portfolio, especially for large companies with an extensive portfolio of projects whose information is spread across many tabs. You have to manually go back and forth between those tabs to get the information that you can see at a glance in other PPM solutions.

5. High Complexity

While your employees have a basic understanding of Excel and are familiar with the most important functions, most are likely not experts. To accomplish the more complex functions in Excel can be rather confusing. You also may end up having more data than you need, so then you have to sift through the irrelevant data to determine what is the most important for your portfolio planning. To use Excel for PPM, a qualified IT specialist or expert level Excel user must design special models, templates and formulas, which may create further complications if that employee leaves the company at some point. When you use a Lean-PPM Tool, you focus on the essentials and avoid these complications.

A Professional PPM Software Solution Makes More Sense

Excel was simply not made to be used alone for project portfolio management and resource planning. And when you take into consideration the amount of time and effort it takes to try to use it for that purpose, then you may realize that it is more expensive than you originally thought. On the other hand, a professional PPM software solution is based on experience and best practices. And though the initial investment may be more than simply using Excel for PPM, in the long run using a real PPM solution will quickly pay off in the amount of time and effort that you save.

Plus, you will get many additional, specialized functions by using a software solution designed specifically for PPM and resource management instead of using Excel. With a true project portfolio management and resource management software solution, you can:

  • Link resources to different work calendars to correctly calculate their capacities or their FTE value

  • Create scenarios, and immediately see the effects changes will have on your entire project portfolio, resources and budgets

  • Quickly switch between different views and display your resources by role, department, or location

  • Give others limited access rights, for example, give a team leader access to his/her sub-portfolio to edit only that team’s projects

Meisterplan customer Darrin McLaughlin

“There is no other product that does what Meisterplan does in terms of portfolio management and resource management without unessential extra features. If there were another product that does what Meisterplan does, I would have found it, because I tried them all.”

Darrin McLaughlin, Senior Vice President/Technology Officer at Interra Credit Union

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