Change management

Hand on heart: How much effort do you put into Excel planning?

Companies repeatedly use a multitude of Excel and MS Project files for the planning of projects and resources. This creates enormous costs: data has to be kept consistent, data has to be consolidated, data has to be searched,... All this is done by your staff. Have you ever thought about how much effort your company puts into these processes?

In another article we wrote about Excel hell in multi-project and resource management and highlighted the problems and risks that arise with it. In this article, we look at the many efforts that arise to maintain the planning data and thus minimize these risks.

A typical situation?

Let's assume the following initial situation: We imagine a line organization - e.g. an SME with production, assembly and order processing or even an in-house R&D department of a large corporation. This organization consists of 300 employees. Among them are many engineers, designers and some project managers, but also various team and department managers. Let's further assume that there are currently about 50 projects running in parallel in this organization. Many of these projects are customer orders that have to be completed promptly and with tight delivery deadlines within a few weeks. But there are also some larger development projects that tend to take longer and whose goals can also change over time, depending on interim results. So all in all, it's a pretty heterogeneous mix of different organizational units, functions and project types.

Let's further assume that all these projects are planned by the project managers in our organization using individual MS Project files. They contain phases, milestones, but also effort and cost estimates - sometimes very detailed information. A portfolio manager tries to get an overview of all these projects with an Excel-based project portfolio. And the line also uses many Excel files to keep track of the tasks and assignments of the employees. Who is working on which projects and tasks and when? Who is on vacation and when? Which capacities have we utilized or are still available in which time periods?

Excel-based planning is always only locally optimized

In our experience, the situation outlined is not atypical in the Swiss SME landscape. However, large companies do not work much differently in terms of multi-project and resource planning. Often, silo thinking prevails there: each country unit or division cooks its own soup, has its own budgets, processes and also tools. The result is that local solutions quickly emerge, often based on Excel and MS Project (see this article on Excel hell). Each department tries to organize itself optimally. And this works very well on a small scale. People know each other, see each other regularly, and can thus also manage very well with a local data table, which is maintained by one person and updated in weekly meetings in the team.

Management decision-making principles: Everything right?

Unfortunately, a local optimum is not a global optimum. If an organization, as we have described above, were to be viewed as a whole and project and resource planning were optimized across the entire enterprise, then a significantly higher performance would probably result. The reasoning behind this is simple: Just think about how much time your employees spend "passing up" the locally optimized planning data. It's not enough to simply email your Excel file to your boss once a month. Your boss receives such files from several team leaders, and they typically always look different, are structured differently, are not always up to date, etc.

So someone has to consolidate this data, check if something is missing, ask if the current figures are in there.... Of course, that's why there are jobs like controller, PMO and whatever they're called. Whole full-time jobs that spend their time consolidating data that is spread over many files. The monthly results are management reports in PowerPoint and PDF format. With key figures and traffic light systems. On this basis, management decisions are made, budgets are distributed, projects are approved or cancelled, sales are calculated, etc. But are these decision-making bases really correct? But are these decision-making principles correct? And are the key figures still up-to-date when they are in front of me?

What is your business case?

We are convinced that Management by Excel is not good for larger companies. Of course, switching to suitable multi-user information systems also means an investment. Not primarily in the form of large initial costs for the software itself. Rather, a rethinking in the minds of the employees is required: processes have to be adapted, a new tool has to be learned. People are creatures of habit, they say. This is particularly evident in change projects of this kind.

Success factors for successful changes in the planning culture are therefore not only management support ("We want it this way, that's why everyone is doing it"), but also the resistance to change of the employees. A good, i.e. intuitive, high-performance and role-appropriate tool can make a big contribution to making such change projects a success. We'll write more about this in an upcoming blog article. And thanks to today's cloud solutions, which are easy to subscribe to as software-as-a-service, high investment costs are no longer an argument against getting out of Excel hell.

If you are interested in calculating a business case for your own company and finding out how expensive your Excel-based planning processes are, we will be happy to help you with appropriate templates. Please contact us.

About the author

Managing Director INTRASOFT AG

Dr. Daniel Hösli is Managing Director and Lead Consultant at INTRASOFT AG, whose SaaS solution PQFORCE is the leading platform for agile, project-oriented business management. He has been involved in the development of project management systems on a daily basis for 15 years in a consulting and project management capacity - both organizationally and technically - and thus has the experience from countless contacts and tasks from a wide variety of companies and different management levels.

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