Spreadsheets are not collaboration tools

I love spreadsheets: they are great for data analysis, creating charts and sometimes for presenting information. However, I have worked on numerous projects where spreadsheets are used for issue tracking actions and issues. Often this is because they are the only tool available – that’s a management failure – and sometimes because a spreadsheet is the default tool for the project manager.

The problem is that it is very difficult to use spreadsheets collaboratively – telling your team to ‘just update the spreadsheet on the shared drive’ doesn’t work: either they don’t update it, or they add information in an unstructured way and the project manager has to tidy it up later. Either way, the project manager ends up doing unnecessary work gathering the inputs and actively managing every issue within their project – information that is usually well known to the team, which they would share if they could.

If you are the project manager, resist the use of spreadsheets and use a more appropriate tool for tracking your project. There are lots of options available, depending on the size of your project and organisation: for small projects and teams, you might find Trello or Basecamp are perfect. For larger projects consider Jira, which can extend far beyond issue tracking with numerous add-ons.

Of course, you still need a spreadsheet, because you have to communicate to others outside the project team who don’t have access to your collaboration tool: just export the items you want to share into a spreadsheet, apply a bit of formatting and maybe a pivot table, and you have an instant report.

In summary, if you want to produce an insightful table or a pretty chart, use a spreadsheet. If you want a collaboration tool, use something else. The subject of using the right tools for your situation, is something I will return to in future posts.



Spreadsheets are not collaboration tools — 1 Comment

  1. One of the many benefits of using a tool like Quickbase to manage projects over spreadsheets is having accurate real-time data to automate your reporting and ability to lock down who is automatically sent that report at said day/time you choose or when you decided to manually send. The report is already created for you, formatted how you like. Not sure why anyone would take the time to export to a spreadsheet when the tool should give external third parties access (through access controls) to any approved tables/reports via any Internet connection.

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