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Metal Toad Templates Part 1: Spreadsheets versus PM Tools

I’m starting a new series dedicated to sharing project management templates we’ve created and frequently use at Metal Toad. We use various tools on projects (Harvest, Jira, Basecamp, Trello, Invision, etc.), but like many others we’ve talked to, we still use plenty of spreadsheets and documents to improve project tracking and documentation. Yes, there are tools that accomplish what we’re looking to do, but many don’t do it well enough, and others do it too well. Sometimes a spreadsheet is just right. Using a spreadsheet over a similar tool makes sense based upon the overall value provided by each based on the variables below:

  • Time required by the PM to manage
  • Time required by the rest of the team to use
  • Ease of client use (if client-facing)
  • Ease of use understanding reports
  • Automation of reporting
  • Depth of reporting
  • Cost of the solution

If your potential tool solution doesn’t win out significantly over a spreadsheet, then it’s probably to your benefit to stick with the spreadsheet and figure out ways to make the spreadsheet better.

Now all of this tool talk should come with a caveat, which is that in my book, tools are always secondary to process. My process looks something like:

  1. Identify a process gap or area of improvement that needs better tracking and reporting
  2. Prototype your process with a spreadsheet until you’re successfully able to gain insight into your issue
  3. Once a spreadsheet gets big enough that it starts to feel bloated, either look at paring back the spreadsheet or evaluate tools that seek to solve the same issue in a way that matches your process.

Have I mentioned that I love prototyping with spreadsheets? My teammates will happily tell you how giddy I can get when solving a complex problem or answering an important business question with a spreadsheet!

If you constantly find spreadsheets can’t provide the value of tools, then perhaps your spreadsheets could use some improvement. Future posts in this series will help with that.

Date posted: January 6, 2014

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