June 20th, 2019
Excel is one of the most popular software tools in the world, used across many industries and disciplines. And while it serves its purpose in most situations, there are definitely some shortcomings when it comes to project controls.
Simplicity and familiarity are the main reasons people like using Excel, but as your requirements get more complex that is where the problems start.
As the amount of data maintained in Excel increases, it becomes cumbersome to analyze and generate insights from the data. Graphs and charts can be done in Excel, but they are complicated to build. Even worse is trying to maintain accurate and up-to-date information. Project teams often spend countless hours collating, compiling, and maintaining data when using Excel.
Additionally, reporting to and collaborating with project stakeholders usually needs to be done outside of Excel. This makes it difficult to drill into the data and find answers when questions arise.
The bottom line is this: Excel is not a solution equipped to manage the complex projects of this day and age. Instead, you need tools with built-in analytics (reports, charts, graphs, and dashboards) at a click of a button. You need to be able to collaborate with team members knowing everyone is working on the most accurate and up-to-date data, at the right level of detail. You need to be able to drill down into the data to find root causes so you can take corrective action to keep projects on budget.
Now, let’s discuss a few of the areas where project teams can increase the value they add to projects by moving away from Excel, and instead using an enterprise solution designed for project controls.
1. User Dashboards
User dashboards are a great way to see the status of your project(s). Dashboards can be configured so that users can see the progress of projects, changes happening within projects, and risks involved with projects. Project budgets can be viewed at a glance.
By using an enterprise solution with real-time access to all project related data, you can easily tailor dashboards fit for any role within the organization. Provide valuable information that is relevant so you can gain quick insights to make better decisions.
Time-phasing budgets is critical for project controls and it can be extremely challenging in Excel. This is especially true when there are different methods that can be applied within numerous levels of work breakdown structure. Time-phasing is required for accurate cash flow management and for the establishment of the performance baseline needed for SPI calculations.
This is useful information to the project manager(s) and other important personnel in the industry. It is a great way to stay within budgets.
3. Charts & Graphs
“A picture is worth a thousand words.”
How much time is needed to accomplish activity “X” in the project? What is the project completion status? What is the project budget status compared to contracts on a monthly basis? Can you show me current budget, current forecast, actuals on a single graph? What do our current project risks look like? Can we view labor, materials, and other costs on monthly basis for the duration of the project?
Using an enterprise solution designed for project controls eliminates the challenges of manually compiling data. This means you can quickly generate charts and graphs to help you answer these questions confidently. How long would it take you to answer these questions using Excel? Would you be confident in the data behind these charts and graphs if they were generated using Excel? How would you share access with all of your stakeholders in a way they could drill down into root causes with one click?
Collaboration is one of the most critical components of any project. When miscommunications happen, errors occur, and project performance suffers. Currently, communication between team members is via multiple platforms (email, skype, and other platforms). There is no way to trace communications related to a task since multiple platforms are involved.
Excel is no help here. On the other hand, having all collaboration centralized in a project performance hub facilitates, tracks, and documents communication. Having everything within one platform allows communication to be easily traced back to a task.
Data breach and security concerns are of utmost importance in the industry today which cannot be compromised at any cost. When data is spread over multiple platforms, keeping data confidential can be challenging. This is especially true when sharing and managing data through Excel.
Conversely, you should look for a platform where communication and project data files that are relevant to tasks can be stored in a single location.
You Deserve Better Project Controls
In summary, while Excel may work for other industries and disciplines, today’s project controls require a more robust tool to keep projects on budget and schedule. Having all project data in a centralized hub reduces the amount of time spent on low value activities, while providing useful insights, facilitating collaboration and transparency, and driving project performance.
For more on how the challenges of using Excel in project controls, read the “Where Your Project Cost Reporting is Falling Short” blog post or watch the “Evolution of Cost Reporting” webinar, now on demand.
Rahul Shinde is an experienced business consultant in the oil & gas and power industries. He is skilled in business development, project controls, engineering design, and technical support. Rahul has been in pre-sales and services roles with Hexagon PPM for 10+ years, providing strategic sales support and tailored solutions through services to major owner operators and EPC’s in the process industry. He holds a Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from California State University Long Beach.