Spreadsheets for Cost Management are a Lot of Work for Little Return

“Excel just wasn’t designed to do some of the heavy lifting that companies need to do in finance.” So says Paul Hammerman, a business applications analyst at Forrester Research Inc. Despite that generally accepted fact, spreadsheets continue to be widely used as the default tool of choice for managing the finances of construction projects large and small. Most individuals that find themselves in this situation however, would enthusiastically agree that the use of spreadsheets for this level of complexity requires a ridiculous amount of meaningless effort for very little return. Far too much effort is put into getting the data into the spreadsheet – and all the formulas straightened out – that little time is actually spent analyzing that data.

Spreadsheets for Cost Management are a Lot of Work for Little Return

What Adobe Inc's Finance Chief Has to Say About Excel

Adobe Inc.’s finance chief Mark Garrett states, “I don’t want financial planning people spending their time importing and exporting and manipulating data, I want them to focus on what is the data telling us.” Mr. Garrett says they are working on cutting Excel out of this process. While Adobe doesn’t engage in construction projects, the parallels are clearly there.


P.F. Chang’s finance chief Jim Bell said he switched the company away from Excel to an integrated, dedicated software platform because it fosters collaboration and cuts down on administrative tasks. Project cost management software is designed for multiple disciplines and teams to collaborate in the same platform which significantly increases communication and data analytics.

Spreadsheet Softwares Lack Logic and Collaboration

The lack of collaboration in spreadsheet software poses an enormous barrier to productivity. At 4castplus, we like to look at projects in terms of how all the information connects together. Excel has a lot of difficulty with making connections, since it’s essentially a two-dimensional representation of data. When clients move to 4castplus from a spreadsheet solution, one of the biggest explosions in productivity they achieve is a result of all these brand-new connections they attain – connections that are easily analyzed in a multi-dimensional view of their information. Connecting things together is a key part of what we do. Things like budget and codes and progress and costs and subcontractors; and all this with resources and schedule and portfolio and hours and change orders; and all that with forecasts and invoices and documents and location and customer and on and on and on. Spreadsheets require the project manager to rely on such an enormous amount of manual effort trying to piece these connections together, that they end up flying largely in the dark.


Another thing lacking in spreadsheet software is this: Logic. Logic is the intelligence that is designed into software to make it do most of the heavy lifting for the user. In 4castplus, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge and workflows built-into the system that are specifically oriented around managing the complexities of construction projects. While you can add formulas and macros to Excel spreadsheets, Excel is very generic by design and intentionally not tailored to a specific industry. People do of course spend years (even decades) trying to customize spreadsheets for more bespoke purposes. These ‘solutions’ of course are still mired in formula errors, data rework, and endless hours not spent on meaningful analysis of the data.


Article source is Wall Street Journal: https://www.wsj.com/articles/stop-using-excel-finance-chiefs-tell-staffs-1511346601

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