Updated: May 6
ROBBIE BURNELL ON WHY EXCEL CAN GO DO ONE
The progress and profit of any project is influenced by a variety of factors from time available to healthy scheduling processes, but without the right people in place a company is never going to truly deliver on outcomes. Yet leaders and managers continue to use outdated tools when attempting to deploy and schedule their resources in any formal or scientific way. Teams often stagnate as the same people are put on the same types of work and their ‘worth’ skills-wise is stored anecdotally or incorrectly. This knock-on effect isn’t just damaging to the work and to your client’s perception of that work (goodbye repeat business); in the US alone an estimated $122 million dollars is wasted against every $1 billion invested, purely due to lacking project performance (PMI.org, 2016). Putting the wrong people on your projects is costing your business. Using Excel to mitigate that, well frankly, isn’t going to mitigate that.
EXCEL IS GREAT
You used Excel today right? Or at least this week? The likely answer is yes, and if not then I commend you on either finding the right tools for the job or being able to work without any tool at all. Excel is great for data and, for us millennials, you were probably taught at school this is the organisation tool. It can turn great swathes of data into useful charts and illustrations as well as analyse it. It does mathematics on your behalf and in effect it saves time in completing what would typically be a massively manual task. Also, research tells us your knowledge of Excel probably means you’re probably getting paid more, approx. $100 more per week. Excellent. Whatever your role, there is likely a need for Excel in the day to day. There is a reason the noun for spreadsheet is now, almost universally, Excel.
EXCEL IS BAD (FOR MANAGING PEOPLE)
So obviously this piece was going to have to switch gears; this isn’t an article on the positives of Excel. This switch is framed by a simple question: why as a project manager would your workforce management and resource scheduling be done in a spreadsheet?
The obvious goal of using such a tool relates to anything non-mathematical one puts into Excel - it is done in order to organise and overview. In this case, we are specifically organising and overviewing the workforce so in turn they can be deployed effectively. But let’s put a person into that equation, as you would be doing. Assume you’re doing this exercise to measure a delivery persons availability; we’ll call them Karen. Why are you doing that and for what purpose? Firstly, you shouldn’t be measuring appropriateness for a project simply by time available as it doesn’t equate to productivity, efficiency or effectiveness of that person for the job in hand or within a particular skill set or client requirement. What actually being said is:
“I’m charging the client for X hours so am placing X hours against that task”
“it took X amount of time to do that same task historically”
But Excel isn’t providing you with the data of how productive, efficient or effective this was previously, all it is saying is Karen does or doesn’t have that time available. The process therefore requires some manual re-evaluation. It doesn’t provide a flexible or agile approach and the employee is then purely a commodity based on units of time, which leads to a plethora of other issues (see our post on finite skills). So we can infer that Excel doesn’t create value from a time perspective.
So then let us evaluate from alternative perspective. Perhaps instead you are using Excel to categorise each employee by skill set and deploy on that basis. Fine, but how are you seeking that information and applying it together with other skills and people with a specific job in mind? How are you combining multiple employees to create the right team for that task? Are you managing to do it quickly and at scale? Are you sticking to your go to traditional teams, which as aforementioned, aren’t flexible and agile? Using the find function in Excel won’t build out any healthy combinations for you, let alone the right one. And when you come to deploying the resources you still have to manually locate and place the time.
Furthermore, in Excel, the filters can only go by keywords or phrases, it can’t find the gaps for you (and as with availability, that isn’t the right way to deploy anyway). So, in effect, you’re still doing all the work and perhaps more importantly, it is still taking time. In Precursive’s Agile Workforce research we discovered that 58% of the c-suite are still using Excel for resourcing, but it was either becoming a more unwieldy tool than intended or the spreadsheet had to be so complex it destroyed the purpose of what it was trying to solve.
58% of companies still use Excel to mitigate capacity issues but admit it is inadequate
For each of the negatives above there is a further point to be made - it all requires extensive maintenance. None of this is updated in real-time, rather updates occur either before or after the fact, not during. In effect, it is never up to date. Plus if anything gets missed or is incomplete the whole efficiency purpose of the spreadsheet becomes lost. As most people appreciate, projects rarely run smoothly 100% of the time and ad hoc changes or new business which likely require attention are inevitable. Does Excel notify you when a project goes off-course? Excel doesn’t know what a project is.
Then to confound the problem, when you go beyond Karen (sorry Karen) to global teams, teams which might not even have a direct touch point with the PM, it is almost impossible to keep track of the multitude of updates required from skillsets and experience to time available and pipeline. You want to be able to use your most valuable asset, the resources available, but without a clear, real-time overview this is near impossible.
Excel is poor for a PM specifically for these reasons. The functionality of the tool isn’t fit for purpose with regards to maintaining a modern agile workforce. It’s fit for accountants accounting, not project managers project managing. For dynamic teams you need a real-time, automated tool and not a full-time project in itself.
FINDING THE RIGHT PERSON (THE AGILE WORKFORCE)
So why match people and projects outside of simple time metrics? Well companies with successful and agile resource management are finding that salience to a project results in significantly improved output. For example, passion areas are rarely contemplated in deployment, mainly as skill is seen as the true identifier for appropriate fit to a role. But matching skill and passion to a piece of work means that: