Should I Use Excel for Project Portfolio Management?

Low cost and easy to use, Microsoft Excel® is arguably one of the most widely recognized software tools out there. Not only does Excel support business activities like budgetingreportingtime tracking, and data analysis, it also has crept its way into our personal lives in the form of password management and personal finances. Heck, I’ve even been known to use Excel during the holiday season to track what Christmas presents have already been purchased. Because of Excel’s large range of functionalities, people are typically very familiar with how to use it.  

Because so many people know how to use Excel and because it has a wide number of applications, some organizations have adopted Excel to manage their project portfolio. While Excel is undoubtedly a powerful tool, you may be wondering if it is powerful enough to be used as a project portfolio and resource management solution. This post explores the pros and cons of adopting Excel to manage your project portfolio so you can understand if Excel is right for you.

The Pros of Using Excel

I can remember learning how to use Excel in high school computer lab class and luckily for me, very little has changed so I can still use those lessons I learned years ago.  If you weren’t exposed to Excel in school, you likely received some type of on-the-job training or maybe even taught yourself because Excel is just so useful for many applications. You’re probably already familiar with the pros of using Excel, but let’s quickly review to make sure we’re on the same page:  

  • Familiarity – People are familiar with Excel and can perform the basic functions quickly and easily. This means you won’t have to spend a lot of time and money on the Excel training.  
  • 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 and customized to meet your organization’s needs.
  • Analysis – Excel includes many functions that support data analysis like filters, pivot tables, charts, sort by column, and advanced look-up. 
  • Reporting – Excel offers built-in reporting features that make presenting your data easy.  

There’s a lot you can do with Excel and the cost of using, maintaining, and training employees can be quite low. But is this enough for successful project portfolio management? Let’s now take a look at the reasons why Excel may not be the best choice for PPM.  

The Cons When Using Excel for PPM and Resource Management

Excel was never built with PPM in mind, so consequently, it has some considerable drawbacks when used in that context. One analogy to explain this mismatch in offerings is brushing your teeth with a paint brushWhile the two tools have similar components – handle and bristles – and used for similar purposes – applying a paste-like substance, toothbrushes and paint brushes are not interchangeable. The same can be said for Excel and a Professional PPM Software Solution. The following points will explore specific characteristics of Excel that may cause roadblocks when managing your resources and project portfolio. 

1. Managing Changes Can Be Tedious

No matter how well you plan in advance, things will always change. In the world of project portfolio management and resource management, you have to react to these changes quickly to keep your organization moving forward. Changes to portfolio priorities, employee availabilities, deadlines, or project timings need to be reflected in your planning to ensure the information is accurate and actionable. In Excel, recording these changes is a tedious task. Manually updating data across multiple tabs and tables is time-consuming and leaves lots of room for error.

2. Lack of Control and Security

Excel is easy to share, and users can quickly download files to their desktop computers. While this seems like a positive aspect of the tool, it can cause some serious problems. Let’s say a hypothetical organization manages its project portfolio in an excel worksheet. If two project managers add project updates to the file, such updates will only be reflected in the file they own. It would be impossible to know for certain which file contains the most accurate and up-to-date information. If you’ve ever sat in a meeting with colleagues specifically to combine updates made in individual Excel files to one master file, you know how annoying this can be. In addition, Excel poses a security risk as it can easily be sent to a third partyFor example, the portfolio worksheet mentioned above may accidentally be forwarded in an email attachment. 

3. High Vulnerability to Errors

Complex formulas are often used in Excel worksheets to calculate data or represent dependencies across tabs. When used correctly, this feature can save time and brain power on the users’ behalf. As soon as a mistake is made, however, these formulas can duplicate the error across the whole document. To fix the problem, the initial source of the error must be found and corrected, causing a headache for everyone involved.

4. Inadequate Visualizations

When compared to other visualization and reporting solutions, Excel is fairly limitedWhile the tool does offer the standard pie, bar, and line charts, these visuals have few customization options and aren’t created with PPM in mind. You can always download Excel templates for PPM and resource management, but such templates aren’t nearly as interactive or user-friendly as other PPM solutions. In addition, these Excel visuals are often spread across multiple tabs so it is easy to lose transparency, especially for large companies. 

5. High Complexity

While your employees most likely have a basic understanding of Excel and its most important functions, they probably aren’t experts and you will need someone in your organization who can utilize more complex functionsEven if you do have a qualified IT specialist or expert Excel user on staff, all the reports and models they create may create further complications if that person decides to leave. In addition, your teams may also have more data than they need. Sifting through irrelevant data to determine what is the most important for your project portfolio is not only tedious but a waste of valuable time. 

A Professional PPM Software Solution Makes More Sense

Like a paint brush for dental hygiene, Excel was not made for project portfolio management and resource planning. Consequently, using Excel for PPM will create many complicationsIn contrast, a professional PPM software is specifically made to manage your project portfolio and is based on experience and best practices. With a true project portfolio management and resource management software solution, you can: 

  • Quickly see what has changed by comparing scenarios or viewing a change log
  • Protect your data from external parties by using a solution with high security and privacy standards
  • Utilize integrations to import, export, or update data, ensuring the information is accurate
  • Create and customize powerful reports for your data with integrated reports or third-party reporting tools without the help of experts
  • Reduce complexity and increase transparency with interactive views

Use Excel with Meisterplan 

Two hands holding puzzle pieces

So Excel might not be your best option for PPM, but this doesn’t mean you should drop Excel completely. In fact, there’s probably no way you’re going to get rid of Excel – it still has lots of useful functions! If your teams are already successful using Excel for recording project status updates, tracking project budgets or submitting vacation requests it doesn’t make sense to change that. You need to be able to still use Excel while relying on a more powerful PPM software.  

Meisterplan is a project portfolio management software that makes it easy to import data from the spreadsheets you know and love (or at least tolerate). With Meisterplan, you can simply copy and paste the cells in your spreadsheet directly into your Meisterplan system. When you need to retrieve this data, you can quickly export an Excel file of your project portfolio. You can even report on Meisterplan data in combination with Excel worksheets. To explore all your options for Meisterplan-Excel integrations, schedule a one-on-one demo with one of our experts.

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 | Interra Credit Union