5 Reasons Spreadsheets Stink for Construction Project Management

3 minute read

Spreadsheets are the bad habit the construction industry just can't quit.

We all know they're problematic and prone to manual-entry errors. Still, they persist. Like that old stained coffee mug you reach for every morning, Excel is the security blanket many introduce to handle their project management process.

If you're still resisting letting go of your spreadsheets, it's time to consider these startling facts:

1. You’re Copying & Pasting Errors

Did you know that Excel has only eight categories of formula errors that alert users when they cannot be resolved?

All other errors are only found when (or if) you or your colleague happens to identify them. As a result, 88% of all spreadsheets contain “significant” errors—most of which are caused by users—according to several studies published in the early 2010s.

For most contractors, finding errors in spreadsheets is challenging with loads of opportunities for quiet mistakes to occur. For example, are you cutting and pasting data between spreadsheets? Are you manually keying in numbers and prices? Let’s face it, those are easy errors to make. Or consider when you use a formula that you don’t realize is outdated or entered incorrectly at the start.

As spreadsheets get passed around, from contractor to project manager, and back again, the opportunity for errors multiples. This means you could easily be working from the completely wrong data. This where disaster strikes.

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2. You’re Risking $177 Billion Annually!

When it comes to bidding in construction, the process is constant. This means quickly producing accurate bids is essential to securing more projects and moving the business forward.

With a spreadsheet, contractors have to manually pull all relevant information from various places and make sure to copy it over correctly. This involves searching through several worksheets or files to pull out what is usually repetitive information.

The risk is that the process will take too long, and errors may be introduced into the bid, costing you valuable time and money. Reports suggest the U.S. construction industry loses over $177 billion annually due to correcting mistakes, searching for project data, or performing rework.

Ultimately, the risks introduced by spreadsheets outstrip any potential reward.

3. You’re Trapped in a Multiple Version Nightmare

Most spreadsheets are stored as static files on a computer rather than in a cloud-based solution. This makes file-sharing between multiple subcontractors a mammoth task.

Instead of updating docs in real-time, subs must wait for the edit functionality to become available, input their data, and resave the spreadsheet. To get around this, many download their own versions and update that as they go, leaving it up to someone else to consolidate later. What could go wrong?

Here, multiple versions of the same document could be in circulation at any one time. This creates a version control nightmare. Is all the data in one doc? Which version is correct? Who has access to the most up-to-date version? What version has been sent with the bid?

When working with multiple parties, surely there is a better option than a single spreadsheet?


4. Without an Audit Trail—Your Errors Escalate

Even when all the information is consolidated into one spreadsheet, the hundreds of cells, formulas, and different people adding information can turn your spreadsheet into a mess within minutes.

One mistake in this avalanche of information can have a ripple effect throughout the spreadsheet, throwing the entire project off balance. For example, during the estimating process, workers may use outdated data and formulas. Here, calculations are misjudged, figures become inaccurate, links become broken, and the word “error” is popping up everywhere.

Worse still, spreadsheets often lack the robust audit trail needed to spot where the mistake was introduced and who by. This is not to enter another round of the blame game but instead recognize who is working from the wrong data and correct the issue.

Without an audit trail, these errors will keep popping up and prevent your project from moving forward.


5. You’ll Need to Hire an Expert!

To effectively manage a project, project managers need to have a bird’s eye view of what is happening and where.

Bid evaluation reports, project status reports, and risk reports help project managers keep everything on track. Unfortunately, without advanced IT—something the construction industry is not too keen on—these reports simply are not possible when it comes to spreadsheets.

While software can easily pull data using advanced analytics to issue reports, valuable information embedded within sheets cannot be so easily retrieved. Without an Excel expert on hand to configure and run these specialized reports, valuable knowledge is lost. Here, project managers remain in the dark about the true nature of their projects.

Let Software Do the Hard Work for You

Maintaining a spreadsheet is hard work. Originally a tool for accountants, Excel was never intended for how we use the software today. And while it is not a bad tool, it has its place.

Spreadsheets benefit smaller teams, where information is passed between 2-3 people. Given the size and scale of construction projects, most companies will quickly outgrow the tool. Recognizing when you have outgrown it and need a better solution is essential. However, many have failed to spot this transition. According to JBKnowledge, dependence on spreadsheets decreased by only 1% from 2018 to 2019.

When it comes to Excel, there is also a huge learning curve involved when adopting what seems like a simple tool on the surface. With spreadsheets, it’s easy to make mistakes and without advanced IT support, you’re often left fending for yourself when things do go wrong.

So, what if there was an easier option?

When made well, software can be intuitive. A good project management software can do the hard work for you. No more multiple versions, formula errors, or kicking someone out of a spreadsheet so you can edit it. Being able to manage your project with the click of a button will be a game-changer.

Still relying on Excel to manage your projects? Find out how Asite can help you move away from error-prone spreadsheets to streamlined software. Learn more now.

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