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Why you Shouldn’t Use Excel & Online Spreadsheets

April 17, 2013

Let me give you 4 reasons why using spreadsheets is a bad idea, actually a
really expensive bad idea at your place of work. And I’m writing this as
someone who has sat in too many meetings where spreadsheets are the
primary tool for displaying and tracking data and status.   What I’m talking
about is using spreadsheets as primarily a table…   because its easier to
work in, than use the tables in Word or some other application.

Let me give you a little bit more context.  Last week I was sitting in a
meeting in Redmond, working on a project with major technology players.
It was an all day meeting.  The kind you fly everyone in for, and costs lots
of money.  And you probably guessed it from the title, but yes, we used a
spreadsheet to review “all” the relevant data and discussion about next steps.

And I was thinking this is such a waste; I’ve got to write about this…
maybe to purge my soul 😉 – but hopefully to help  you avoid this common
practice.  I’m putting the headings in green, because they all represent
dollars down the drain.  Ok, here we go.

1. No History – when you use spreadsheets to present information, it
inevitably is a snapshot.  Hopefully a current one.  The problem is you
can’t very well see what the spreadsheet looked like last month, or the
month before that, and even if you could locate them to pull up, you
don’t easily see trends without having the trend data in view in one screen.
So you go back to relying upon memory for what happened last month
and the all important “Why did we get that result?” question.

What’s that phrase about those who don’t learn from history are bound
to repeat it?  Must have been talking about reviews based upon spreadsheets.

2. No Context: Speaking of the “Why?” question, data in spreadsheets
may have a comments column added to it, but most of the time there’s
little explanation  for what’s displayed in the columns.  If something is
ahead or behind, there’s  no clear explanation of “Why” that is recorded.
So that get’s handled verbally,  which of course doesn’t get recorded,
so it’s mostly lost when you go to meet next time.  Data without context
is worth less, and always risky in my book, since everything is open to
conjecture and that means conversation and posturing… more time waste.

3. No Follow-up: The typical conversation about data displayed in a
spreadsheet eventually generates some to-dos, or action items or what-ever
you call them at your office.  Guess what?  They typically don’t get recorded
in the spreadsheet.  If they did they would have to get transferred some-
where else to make follow-up easy (read happen).  Actually I notice that
mostly stating, but not recording to-dos coming out of the meeting makes
people feel temporarily comfortable that someone took on the responsibility
to do something, not that anyone is going to actually follow-up.  In the
meeting I’m writing about, I notice we hit a couple of key to-dos that were
the same ones agreed to almost a year ago.  We also came up with two
next action steps, but no one wrote them down.  Would you bet on what
will happen to them?

4. Creation Expense: Someone has to create these spreadsheet/table
presentations.  That means each one of these costs time and money to
put-together, because every spreadsheet starts out blank to begin with.
In this case I’m sure it took the executive presenting more than
a half day to research and create the spreadsheets used.  There really
are better uses of time, and easier ways to pull the data together in
a few minutes, not hours… so let me give you an alternative.

First of all I think of information as recycle-able, something you
leverage.  Are you with me?  I want to manage information, to record
it,  to display, to analyze it… all in such a way that it’s reuseable.
That is, I want to put it in one time, but have it be available for multiple
purposes, all without having to create new documents for every purpose.

You’re never going to get there if you manage information in spreadsheet
tables.  You won’t get there if you manage by email, because it’s just
another form of the same problem.

This is why I use ManagePro… why I’ve been using it for 20 years.
It’s one solution for dumping in all the information I have
to manage,
and then reusing it for 101 purposes. And that can
range from having the information at your finger tips to answer the next
tech support call, to defining requirements and deliverables for the
next project, to mapping out strategy and scorecards.

Bottom Line:
Managing information via spreadsheets, acting as tables, is
an overly expensive, inefficient process on lots of levels.
When it comes to a general management tool for managing
information, ManagePro is a much better solution.
Take a look at this video, it says it better than I can write it, and
do yourself a favor and use spreadsheets to crunch numbers and
ManagePro to manage everything else.  Let me know if you feel the same way.

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