It was a dark and stormy night. A man sat alone in a darkened office building, light from the computer screen in front of him highlighted his expression of fear. Row after row of numbers in disparate spreadsheets filled the screen. Was the project on time? Was it on budget? THERE WAS NO WAY TO KNOW!
A project falling behind schedule or over budget is one of the scariest things out there. Take the Sydney Opera house an example, it was initially budgeted to cost $7 million but ended up costing more than $100 million! That’s 1400% over budget. (Irvine, 2013). But, there are things you can do to avoid these kinds of horror stories.
One of the most common problems that lead to project failure is the use of spreadsheets to manage the project. Study after study has provided evidence that most spreadsheets are likely to contain errors within their data or formulae. “All in all, the research done to date in spreadsheet development presents a very disturbing picture. Every study that has attempted to measure errors, without exception, has found them at rates that would be unacceptable in any organization… With such high cell error rates, most large spreadsheets will have multiple errors, and even relatively small “scratchpad” spreadsheets will have a significant probability of error.” (Panko, 2008). While mistaking a single digit may not seem like a huge error, it can create significant consequences; throwing off an estimate or forecast by even a fraction of a percent can potentially affect the final results of a decision. Meaning that a wrong choice may be made, risking the entire success of the project.
Implementing a robust project management lifecycle solution to manage your projects instead of using spreadsheets helps you to keep your projects running smoothly.
Some of the things that project controls software, like ARES PRISM, offers that spreadsheets don’t include:
Human error is one of the most concerning problems with spreadsheets. Cost management tools often offer data validation to ensure that all data is entered correctly.
Data is continually changing over the course of a project and using Excel you have no method to see what changes have been made, nor who approved them. This makes it nearly impossible to discover where or when a mistake was made, as well as who approved a change or why. With a cost management system, you can monitor changes and see when they were made and by whom. This means you are always able to backtrack through your data to confirm accuracy.
Ideally, every project should be managed in a consistent manner. Consistent processes, consistent reporting, consistent calculations. This can be difficult achieve when projects are being managed with spreadsheets. Off-the-shelf project management software, like ARES PRISM, helps organizations to standardize their processes and create reports in the same format with the same calculations every time.
The bigger the project, the more complex the spreadsheet. This increase in complexity limits how scalable the solution is. Project management tools are capable of managing projects of any size without altering the processes used.
Ease of Use
While at first glance spreadsheets seem simple to use, increased project size increases complexity. This complexity means that often the spreadsheet’s creator is the only one that understands how the spreadsheet functions. Whereas using a project management tool, once someone has received the necessary training they will be able to manage any project in the software using the same methodology each time.
In a project controls environment, integration of project, program and portfolio data is essential to make key business decisions. Spreadsheets leave data trapped in silos leaving projects vulnerable to errors. With an integrated project management system, data is pulled from various sources and brought into a central data warehouse.
This Halloween, make sure your projects aren’t turning into a horror story! To learn more about how reducing dependency on spreadsheets improves project controls processes, read our case study: Pristine Data Quality Greatly Improves Project Analysis.
This case study shares how a large Engineering & Construction organization in North America used PRISM to improve quality and consistency of data output. The company was able to greatly improve data analysis by standardizing business processes, improving approval cycles with change management, and reducing dependency on spreadsheets.