Computers and Technology

Project Management and Spreadsheets – Avoiding a 50% Error Rate

Project management involves planning, estimating and executing tasks. In many industries, the process has forever been managed by a combination of spreadsheets packed with complicated formulas and buried data. However, the future of project management has recently begun to turn over a new leaf with technology in Project Cost Management software.

The key component of any project is data, including cost, time, and productivity. What happens to profits when data values used to plan and measure projects are faulty and inaccurate? What is the root cause and source of these inaccuracies? Spreadsheets have historically been the top resource for managing the numbers within a project, but recent studies have questioned the reliability of the data. A study from The University of Pittsburgh found on average that 50% of all errors are found in spreadsheet data.

It is true that Microsoft Excel, in particular, is a phenomenal tool used by a majority of companies (60% according to Financial Director and Accountancy Age). Although Excel is a versatile tool, with uses extending from performance tracking to calendar management, a simple mistake can mean the difference in millions of dollars.

The fact is: Spreadsheets are commonly misused as a database tool. Microsoft’s Emma Nelson explains Excel is rather an organization tool, “Excel is not a database management system. It is spreadsheet software, and it stores units of information in rows and columns of cells, called worksheets,” Nelson said.

Over the years, Excel has grown to become a force of habit, which in some cases can mean the demise of the goal attempting to be accomplished. Most people find creating a spreadsheet to be easy and convenient; and many feel they have mastered the program. In reality, using Excel can end up doing just the opposite of what it is intended.

Humans are the real problem – operator error is virtually unavoidable with spreadsheets, especially as the documents become larger and more complex. As an experiment, ACM Transactions evaluated 9 experienced spreadsheet developers as each built 3 different sheets. They found that each developer made at least one error.

The solution to this reoccurring problem is simple, there needs to be a centralization of all data and a standardized process with a management system. Hard Dollar Corporation addressed this problem and conceptualized a new-aged technology to more efficiently manage all aspects of a project. The user error is generally eliminated because HD software calculations replace manually entered content. Through collaboration, users can effectively estimate, schedule and control the project all on one screen.

For those who are still on team excel, no worries, data from a spreadsheet can be directly integrated into HD software. This allows for compatibility and a simpler, more accurate process. The HD system is designed to give automatic real-time data. Instantly the project goes from a flat document with columns, rows and formulas to a constantly changing, live tool.

The process of project management hasn’t changed; time and money are still very important factors. However, as the complexity of projects increase with thinner margins, limited credit availability, and tighter controls, there is no room for errors. Spreadsheets, while a great way to organize, need to be combined with a database driven management system to maximize the all-important cost and productivity of a project.