Project Management Software – A Comparison With Spreadsheets for Managing Projects

Spreadsheets are the king of project management support tools because they are the most convenient tool to use and the most frequently used tool. How do they compare to project management software? What are the benefits of each and when should you make the switch to project management software? While only you can make the determination as to when you should make the switch, this article will walk through the benefits of each and provide some guidelines.

Depending on which research you rely on, the market for project management software is between $1.5 billion and $3.5 billion. That is for software that is specifically designed to support project management. Most organizations that have made significant efforts towards effective project management have recognized that it is very difficult to manage a greater number of projects and people, or a larger project, without the support of technology.

Yet there is no tool for project management that is more popular or widespread than the spreadsheet, despite the fact that spreadsheets are not designed to be project support tools. Even in organizations with an established project management tool, spreadsheets are used. There are obvious reasons for this. A spreadsheet program is on almost every computer in every organization, people are familiar with spreadsheets and how to use them, and people are pre-disposed to use these “office” types of software tools to solve problems. And I am right there with them. I love using spreadsheets to track all kinds of data. It is easy, convenient, and I admit ego-boosting to show off what I can do in a spreadsheet.

With that in mind, let’s look at some of the differences between these two different types of tools. For the purposes of this article, I selected six criteria by which to make the comparison. These were selected from the feedback of customers and prospects as well as learning what is important for the successful adoption and implementation of project tools within an organization.

Data Mining

Data mining is a huge part of project management tools. The whole reason for having a tool is to collect data, so that you can look intelligently at that data, make sure your processes are performing as advertised, and make good decisions. You need to know which projects and tasks are slipping through the cracks so that you again react. You need to know when you will not have enough resources to meet demand so that you can allocate them properly or manage the demand. You need to know which issues are lurking so that you can address them now before you lose the favor of a critical customer. And you need to see how your processes are working so that you can continuously improve your processes.

In today’s economy, competitive landscape, and accountability standards you must have the data. Managers are getting blindsided because they do not know what is coming and what is going on. This is where the right project management software tool shines and spreadsheets fade. A good project management tool will be database-oriented and should allow for different types of ad hoc reporting across multiple projects. This enables the mining of all kinds of data. You simply cannot do this in a spreadsheet at the same level. If you really, really know what you are doing it is possible to tie spreadsheets together and generate some integrated data. But that is not the same thing. You simply cannot, on a whim, mine into the data represented in your multiple spreadsheets. And in today’s environment, this is critically important. Gone are the days when not having the right data is acceptable.

Advantage: Project Management Software

Ease of Use

There are project management software systems that are easy to use. However, spreadsheets clearly have an advantage here. Most people are familiar with how to use spreadsheets; they are comfortable with them, and even like using them. A big reason is because spreadsheets have no structure. People are not usually “forced” into how to use them. They are free to use them however they want. Of course, there is a downside to this. It is very difficult to standardize a process or have any sort of standard data structure when there is no structure in the tool itself. However, from a strict ease of use standpoint, spreadsheets cannot be beat.

You can counter this in project management software by employing good, relevant, and periodic training, keeping your implementation simple, and using helps such as templates. But we’ll give the advantage of this one to spreadsheets.

Advantage: Spreadsheets

Centralized Access

One of the things that organizations are doing today to become more competitive and more efficient is to provide everyone access to the project information that they need. Marketing organizations are putting all of the information online about each client project. Engineering organizations are tracking all schedules and immediately identifying problems. Government agencies are putting all of the various required data online with their projects. And on it goes. The value of immediate access to information is profound. An engineer can look at one system and immediately find the specifications he needs. A client manager can track the status of his client’s projects and identify issues early. A professional services manager can look up the contract information and scope of work for a key project before answering a question.

Productivity means yielding results, bringing things about, or making things happen. This type of centralized access enables those on the front lines of yielding results to know which action to take when.

Project management software, especially online project management software, wins this one hands down. Spreadsheets are not designed for access by multiple people from multiple locations. They are designed with a single file / single user scenario in mind.

Advantage: Project Management Software

Maintenance and Administration

Time and again, I talk with organizations that are spending an amazing amount of time maintaining spreadsheets. There is so much time spent on activities attributable to spreadsheet usage:

Tracking down the right spreadsheet
Tracking down the right version of the right spreadsheet
Tracking down the email with the right version of the right spreadsheet
Emailing out the right spreadsheet to the people that don’t have it
Tracking down the people who have the information that is needed to update the spreadsheet
Actually updating the spreadsheet
Maintaining the formulas and formatting of the spreadsheet
Updating the standard format of all the spreadsheets to accommodate a “process enhancement”
Creating new spreadsheets

And the list goes on. The point is that while any tool will take time to maintain, spreadsheets take an inordinate amount of time because they are single-user focused. Only one person can update them at a time. They also take time because they are file-based, meaning that you have to maintain separate files. Unless an organization is really good with a process to manage these files (the exception not the rule), the files tend to be stored in a hodgepodge of locations with non-standardized file names and even non-standardized layouts. If you take the time to study the amount of time people take to maintain these spreadsheets, you will be amazed.

On the flip-side, project management software also takes time to maintain. I cannot say otherwise. It takes time to make sure the data is correct in the system, that processes are being followed properly, and to simply get information in the system. One of the flip sides of this is that many project management software systems enable the entry of information by everyone so that one person does not have to both find and enter the information. In this scenario, the maintenance is more truly maintenance than continual, non-stop data entry.

There are some ways to minimize the amount of maintenance and time spent on project management software systems, and these are focused on the initial setup. If you setup the system well, the maintenance time is reduced. Using items such as templates and pre-setup reports really help to minimize the amount of time spent in the tool.

While both types of tools require time, a well setup project management software system definitely has the edge over spreadsheets.

Advantage: Project Management Software

Flexibility

Flexibility in this context refers to the ability of the tool to adapt to your processes. In practicality, this refers to things such as being able to track any type of data peculiar to your company (i.e. adding fields), or implementing a new project template.

This is a harder attribute to measure, especially with the variation in project management software tools. Many tools are very rigid, meaning what you see is what you get. Some tools have become more flexible and allow a great deal of adaptability – such as being able to adapt screens and data structures. This has become increasingly important.

It is difficult to perform a direct comparison because it really depends on the project management software system that you are evaluating, but in reality many systems will not be as flexible as a spreadsheet. In a spreadsheet, you can create a new column or row on a whim or create a brand new spreadsheet to track new information. Obviously there is a downside to this flexibility, specifically the difficulty in standardizing a process. However, from a strict look at flexibility, we have to give spreadsheets the nod. But I caution you to test your project management software system for flexibility and do your own comparison.

Advantage: Spreadsheets

Resource Allocation and Forecasting

This is similar to data mining, but it is so important that it gets its own billing. The management of which resources are assigned to which projects and tasks is a critical component of project management and one of the big differences between spreadsheets and project management software.

There are three critical pieces to ensure good resource management. These include:

A good work breakdown structure (breakout of the tasks in a project)
A good estimation of the effort (not duration) to be expended on each task (and thus project)
A composite view of this information across all projects

Because of the single-file focus of spreadsheets, a good project management software system should win this hands down. A good system will provide views and reports with insight into resource allocation so that you can view problems and do future forecasting. That isn’t to say that you cannot do this with spreadsheets but it is difficult at best and you need to have a very, very good setup.

Advantage: Project Management Software

Final Thoughts

Only you can decide the right tool for your organization. Certainly using spreadsheets is better than using absolutely nothing. They do have value, and they may be a good fit for some organizations. However, good, project management software (especially enterprise-level) clearly has the advantage for the following types of organizations:

Organizations with more than a handful of projects to manage
Organizations with more than a handful of people working on or managing projects
Organizations with large or complex projects

Spreadsheets are primarily used because of convenience. However, convenience is not a great reason to use a tool that supports your critical processes. Be sure that you select and use a tool that adds to the efficiency and productivity of your people and processes, and not the other way around. This will far outweigh the benefits of convenience.

While spreadsheets do have a couple of inherent advantages, such as a natural ease of use and flexibility, you can employ best practices to minimize any downside to project management software. For example, use templates as much as possible, simplify screens as much as possible, document clear processes, focus on those processes instead of features, provide good training, and create good, relevant reports. Combining this with the inherent advantages in project management software will help to create efficiencies, increase productivity and resource utilization, and to become more competitive.

How To Find A Great Deal When Shopping Online

No matter where you shop, you want to get the best deal for your money. Online shoppers are no different. Here are some ways to find great deals when shopping online.

Shop for deals online after a major holiday occurs. The best time for shopping is after Thanksgiving. Retailers in stores and online are looking to maximize their profits with your shopping dollar. Most of your favorite outlet stores will be offering popular items on sale at a fraction of the cost to attract more customers.

Some online retailers offer deals to customers that can’t be found in the stores. Special online deals allow people to shop from the comfort of their own home instead of standing in long lines outside the retail stores. They may offer free shipping for orders over a certain dollar amount.

Use coupons to shop at online stores. Check Sunday newspaper circulars. Some stores offer customers the option of using their coupons online. Since you have shipping and handling in addition to sales tax, online merchants will offer more money off with their coupons for online purchases.

Electronics are a popular item to purchase online. Check the comments made by other shoppers before purchasing. Their comments give you an idea of the quality and satisfaction you will receive from the product. Stores like Circuit City offer deals on their electronics which includes in-store pickup.

What they will ask you to do is to enter your address into the computer. They will give you the address of the closest store location and the availability of the product you seek. If the product is available, you have the option of paying online and picking it up in the store. You avoid shipping and handling and long lines in the store.

Sites like Overstock.com are always offering deals on all sorts of items. Some are new and some are refurbished. Be sure that the site you use is an authorized reseller of the selected product to avoid getting ripped off. Again, check comments from other shoppers that have used that site for shopping purchases.

Taking surveys can garner deals at shopping sites all across the Internet. Places like MyPoints.com offer shopping deals to their members through daily bonus e-mails just for trying products for a trial period. Members also earn points towards gift cards and services for trying these offers. There is no cost to become a member. Just sign up and create a profile.

Deals are available to online shoppers, but you must know when and where to look. Online shopping offers the convenience of browsing and buying without leaving your home computer.

Online Shopping All About Online Price Comparison And Product Reviews

As the web grows every day, so do online enterprises and online price comparison websites. These sites have become necessary and handy for shoppers everywhere. Why? It’s simple. People like to spend their money. Companies offer more and more products to choose from. Whether it’s about clothing or gadgets, tools or equipment, musical instruments or PC hardware, there will always be someone to buy them. And for many people, the best place to start searching is the web. Online shopping has become so popular due to the fact that it not only offers the shopper the opportunity to shop from the comfort of their own home, but also because it offers a greater variety of products and the chance to choose the best ones.

But what is online price comparison all about? Again, it’s simple: a bunch of hard-working and determined people gather data and put together a website containing information about various products from many companies, all centralized in the same database, with plenty of information concerning value and other details. Usually, the given prices are the recommended retail prices, but every site states taxes and other additional payments.

So, online price comparison gives everyone the opportunity to find what they need quick and easy. There is no need to wander around the city searching for what suits them best. Also, for each and every person out there, with particular tastes and preferences concerning what clothes or perfumes they like to wear, what kind of food they like to eat and so on, the internet gives an easier alternative. Just a few clicks and you’re set. You can find anything online. No more exhausting and inconclusive searches. No more rude clerks or impatient shopkeepers. No more heavy traffic. Worst case scenario is that you have to take a ten minute walk to the postal office to pick up your package!

Concerning product reviews, their existence is just as useful and as necessary as online price comparison. Nowadays, the ones who profit greatly from the online shopping experience are teenagers. Thank God, they like to buy! IPods, video games, cool clothes, you name it! Most of the elderly are more reserved, but young people, as much as their budget allows, will generally spend meaningful amounts of money for a good time. Naturally, the desire for knowledge of a certain product planned for future purchase always comes to the mind of the buyers. This leads to the necessity of another valuable option on shopping websites that always comes along with online price comparison: product reviews.

Product reviews are all about the specifications of a certain product. Users comment and blog their likes and dislikes during the usage of the product. The reviews are frequently and mostly posted by the webmasters and consist in comments, tips & tricks, pictures of the device and others details, but there are also external links to sites in that specific area of expertise and of course to the official site of the producer.

Another instance of product reviews is the consumer forums. This is where many people log in and share opinions about what they’ve bought, where they’ve bought it and how it’s all been coming along since they’ve acquired that item. Even if forums like these are a good environment for information, it is better to listen to the advice of the product reviews. An item that has been bought and reviewed by the shopper will not have any outside influences in the official opinion.

Online Price Comparison And Product Reviews Handy And Useful Tools

The fastest flowing information current these days is the internet. You can do everything on the internet: research, work, date or shop. Most people prefer online shopping because it’s easier and even cheaper. For instance, think about all the time, car fuel and nerves you can save by simply clicking a few times. Having everything set at your disposal, in a user-friendly and interactive environment, with no dressing rooms or lines to wait at and no angry bored people around to give you a hard time, the purchasing experience is heavenly. Although everything might seem perfect, there is room for online improvement. Luckily for us, they’ve thought of that as well. Here’s how the internet can improve your shopping experience and give you satisfaction, as well as the chance to find better deals…

First of all, meet two of the most useful tools for the online shopper: online price comparison and product reviews. It all began in the late 90′s with the worldwide internet explosion. Small independent companies came up with the idea to centralize all their products along with the required information in an extensive database. This makes shopping easier for both the customer and for the company. It also created a greater deal of clientele and more worldwide publicity. Then enterprises such as the search engines Yahoo!, MSN and Google and other companies were established who could also benefit from online stores.

The sites had and still have a common characteristic: they offer visitors the chance to compare prices for the same products, but belonging to different companies: online price comparison. Having this option available for use, shoppers had the chance to see which products have the best price and the best characteristics. The various product reviews found within the numerous pages of specialized websites consist of information about the year the product was released, the recommended retailer price (with specifications about taxes) and stores in which it’s available.

The search process thus becomes quick and easy. You just need to log on http://www.plaza101.com for example. Since the pages are interactive and easily comprehendible, the online price comparison becomes a child’s game”. Besides online price comparison and product reviews, which always come together, many websites have come up with an even more user-friendly method. A complex web page script allows visitors to select the brand and all the other usual basics. This also includes the purpose or the environment in which the product will be used, your age and many other complex preferences that will eventually lead to the display of a list of exact products to suit your needs 100%, based on your answers to the website’s questions.

The most attractive online price comparison and product reviews sites are those built in an easy-to-read manner sites like Plaza101. You should look for these sites first. They are easier to comprehend, with information scattered throughout the whole content of the review (statistically, it has been proven that most people read only a third of the article as they scroll through it), easy noticeable headlights (colored, underlined and so on) and appointments to season sales or discounts that will give you a better deal.

Shopping has never been easier. Just a few clicks and there you go! You have practically a world of products and services at your feet. With the help of specialized websites and effective searching tools, you can be sure you’ll get the best deals out there!