The Cost of Using Excel for Plan Management: Limited Access

By Paige Pulaski

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The Cost of Using Excel for Plan Management: Limited Access

Excel and other live spreadsheet programs like SharePoint and Smartsheet are omnipresent in planning. Whether you’re running point on change management, cost reduction, process improvement, or strategic plans in your organization, you know the limitations and frustrations that come along with using spreadsheets to compile and track project status information.

But the really disheartening thing is that even though we all use spreadsheets to monitor our plans (well, 86% of us anyway), only 17% of Excel users report having no problems in their planning processes due to shortcomings in the software they’re using.

Okay, quick math here –

That means more than 4 out of 5 business leaders are suffering from spreadsheets because it’s too expensive and time-consuming to seek a more effective solution.

The bad news? You’re paying a costly price by not making the switch to something better.

In part one of this blog series, we talked about the bad data you become prone to when using complicated spreadsheets to track metrics and try to gain a high-level overview of all the initiatives your organization is monitoring. In this post, I’ll point out the additional unseen dollars you’re losing by continuing to use a method that you know doesn’t work. “It’s too big of a change initiative to justify spending time and budget,” is just not a good enough reason to stay with the status quo anymore.

What you may not realize in trying to use spreadsheets to track and monitor your plans is that your collaboration and access to the data sucks.

Cost of Using Excel for Strategic Plan Management

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Granting Access to Your Spreadsheet: Be Careful What You Wish For

You likely belong in one of three camps.

1. “We just email an Excel document around and let each department make their updates. Then, we compile them as best we can before our quarterly update meetings.”

I don’t think I have to tell you guys that you’re living in version control hell. Even if you’re filtering all these versions through one person to make updates, you know you always run the risk of an old version coming back to haunt you when you least expect it.

Or, worse yet, Dave from HR will forward the wrong version that’s missing data or has outdated metrics to Jessica in Sales, and you’ll get the pleasure of playing detective through multiple versions, emails, and hard drives to get the data back on track.

2. “We don’t use Excel. We use online spreadsheets [Smartsheet, Google Sheets] or file sharing services [SharePoint, Dropbox, network drives] to make sure anyone can make changes to our planning document at any time.”

I’ve got some questions for this group.

  • If more than one user is editing the same cell at the same time, how does that affect data input?
  • Is your work automatically saved?
  • Does your process track change?
  • Is past data recoverable in case there’s a mistake?
  • Is it easy to export with real-time data?
  • How do you know if the data is updated or past due?
  • When was it last updated, and what is the context of the update?
  • How do you know who missed their deadline?
  • Who’s verifying the updates for accuracy of input?
  • Can coworkers comment and provide their own information?

Keep in mind, with a solution that’s designed to support multiple contributors, 26% of Excel users reported that their chosen spreadsheet solution still couldn’t handle the number of users that needed to provide updates. If this is your chosen best-fit tool…why aren’t you holding it accountable for the one thing it’s supposed to solve for you?

Granted, multiple editor spreadsheet tools solve some of the problems surrounding access and visibility, but the biggest issue left unaddressed is data flow. Even though these solutions accept changes from many users, they still require someone to look for the data in another program and manually enter it into this increasingly brittle document.

What’s more? Multiple users = lack of uniformity. If you don’t have one designated person (or software) dictating the way a metric is reported, you’re likely suffering from slightly different formatted versions of the same document. Who wants to sort out that mess? (That’s rhetorical; no one.)

3. “We don’t want to allow just anyone to make changes to our planning document, willy-nilly. We rely on one person only to make all the updates to a single document to keep our data as clean as possible.”

This group’s number one problem is lack of visibility. Obviously, if only one person has access to the spreadsheet on their hard drive and they’re in control of distribution, no one else experiences the transparency needed for a healthy, proactive, collaborative work environment.

Your second biggest problem? You’ve created an “Excel Guru,” and this is not an easy situation to dig yourself out of.

You know how it happens: You’ve overcomplicated your Excel tracking template to a point where now only one person knows all the formulas, what to add where, and which conditional formatting, color coding, and naming conventions exist (and why).

Why is this bad? What happens when your Excel Guru – the only person who knows how to decipher your precious spreadsheet – leaves the company? Will you have the history and knowledge you need for a new employee to pick the document up and understand what’s going on?

Limited Access, Too Much Access, and Lack of Visibility: Reasons to Make the Switch

Essentially, when you’re trying to execute your plan, you need to hold people accountable for two things: 1) executing the items they’re responsible for, and 2) making regular and timely updates. If you’re missing either of these elements, your plan will be in danger of failing. Spreadsheets’ inability to provide an easily filtered big picture view and provide quick and simple updates fails with both scenarios.

The introduction of specialized planning software solutions has changed the game for organizations who have been quick enough to adapt. 53% of businesses using solutions specifically built for planning experienced better quality of results than they had the prior year, whereas only 5% of Excel users improved their results. If your goals are to improve business outcomes and you’re part of the 95% of organizations still using Excel to unsuccessfully monitor your plans, there’s money and time on the table that you must allocate more effectively.

The three circumstances described above are costing you productivity. And, as we all know, productivity is the amount of work ($$$) done over time ($$$). If you think that paying for a software solution like AchieveIt wouldn’t give you a big enough return on your investment of on-boarding time and budget, realize that this nonsense of sending around spreadsheets and chasing updates is wasting much, much more time and money. Our new whitepaper goes more into this.

If you’re interested in nipping your visibility and reporting problems in the bud, request a demo and we can talk about ways that we might be able to help improve your processes and implement change in your organization. Be your company’s hero; help them stop running in circles, give them back their peace of mind, and free their Excel Guru.