7 Easy Ways to Ditch Spreadsheets

6 minute read

Sara Whitwer

Let’s be honest: most project teams start out using spreadsheets. Many project managers begin their careers planning projects in Google Sheets or Excel.

And because we love spreadsheets and everyone can use them, it feels like a challenge to move on.

However, as your project management maturity levels grow, your teams will realize that spreadsheets just don’t cut it any longer. They need better, slicker ways to manage their work. Executives need robust, reliable reports. No one needs the overhead of maintaining spreadsheets when there are tools out there to give you real-time data.

You’ve made the decision to ditch the spreadsheets. Let’s look at how you can make the transition to mature project management tools as easy as possible for your team. Here are 7 easy ways to move on from spreadsheets.

1. Get commitment to change

First, get support for the shift away from spreadsheets. It should be easy to get executive and team support for introducing new tools, but we know from experience that people are often resistant to change.

Talk about the benefits that a project management app will bring. For example:

  • It’s easier to keep document versions under control because there is only ‘one view of the truth’
  • It’s easier to keep everyone updated with the latest status
  • You can generate real-time dashboards and reporting so management information is easier to create and use
  • It’s easier to collaborate across departments
  • Reporting can be automated
  • Plans are easier to update (because we all know copying and pasting cells in spreadsheets is a pain when something changes)
  • There’s a lower admin overhead
  • Information is automatically backed up securely
  • There’s better security overall because you can control who has access
  • There’s no risk of calculation errors
  • The search feature of online project management tools means you can track down data across projects more easily.

And we’re sure you can think of dozens of other benefits for using project management software that specifically relate to the process and collaboration improvements your team would see.

It’s easier to move to a new way of working when the team is behind you. And with all those benefits, why wouldn’t they be?

2. Identify the data to be migrated

One of the reasons your team hasn’t moved to another tool yet is because it feels like too much work. But you’ll be pleasantly surprised when you look at how much data needs to be shifted into a project management solution!

You can let current projects run with their Excel plans and get new projects to start from scratch in the tool. Your project managers have nothing to worry about as you aren’t adding to their admin burden by making them copy and paste large chunks of data.

Anyone who does want to migrate their data into the new tool can do so. Over time, everything will be in the new tool. Start slowly and you’ll get there – it’s not a race.

3. Choose tools with a low learning curve

Another reason why people are reluctant to shift away from their beloved spreadsheets is because they have to learn to use another tool. So let’s make it easy for them!

Project management solutions are simple to use with a low learning curve. Everything is intuitive. If they can use a spreadsheet, they can use a project management app. Eclipse PPM, for example, has a user-friendly interface so they can get started immediately. Your team can edit project financials, schedule information, and time tracking as if they were working in a spreadsheet. They’ll feel right at home.

4. Use role-based permissions

People feel overwhelmed if they see lots of options that they don’t know how to use. They worry that they’ll click the ‘Administration’ link and accidentally delete their whole project. Role-based user permissions means they’ll only see the features they need to.

No one needs to worry about doing something ‘wrong’ because secure web-based solutions mean they can’t delete anything by accident (and even if they did there’s a full back up).

5. Create templates

Why would I want to start from scratch in a PPM tool when I could just copy and paste my last project scheduling spreadsheet into a new document?

Both experienced and new project managers know the value of templates for saving time and ensuring nothing important is forgotten.

You can create project templates in your software. Give the team a headstart by doing some simple configuration and creating the bones of their project schedule before they even log in for the first time. It’s so quick to set up a new project and create reports that they’ll wonder why they stuck with spreadsheets for so long.

6. Make it hard to go back to spreadsheets

Change management theory tells us that one way to make any change stick is to make it hard for people to revert to the old ways of doing things.

When the old way is harder than the new way, people will find it easier to stay with the new way.

You can’t remove access to spreadsheet programs for everyone because they probably need them for other reasons. But you can encourage the PMO to reject manual reports and ask for them to be generated through your new tool. You can take the ‘how to create a project plan in Excel’ help guide off the intranet and add in new documents about using your project management solution.

Think about how you can encourage people to continue to use the new tools for the longer term.

7. Keep listening and improving

One of the best ways to encourage longer-term use of project management solutions (and any change) is to keep listening to users. How do they feel about it? What else do they need in order to deliver faster and more effectively? What other templates would they like? What process changes would make the tool even better?

Listen, and keep improving. The system users know how the tool works and they will be encouraged to use it if they believe that you are committed to investing in their success.

For additional tips and insights about project, program and portfolio maturity, consider these additional resources:

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