The Cost of Using Excel for Plan Management Series: Bad Data

It’s costing your organization money to stick with the status quo.

Even today, only 1 out of every 3 well-formulated strategic plans succeed. So what gives? If, as a business community, we’re funneling money and time into consultants, facilitators and internal strategy retreats – how are we still not executing the plans in which we’re investing so much? One word: spreadsheets.

We do all the work to get our ideas laid out into a perfect plan, but when it comes time to execute, we lose all momentum because we’re trying to operate from a spreadsheet. We don’t have visibility or alignment. There’s a correlation between organizations not achieving their goals and the number of companies using Excel to develop, implement, track and monitor their strategic, change management, cost reduction and process improvement plans.

81% of organizations in the world still use Excel to track and monitor all types of plans – and well over half of those users hate the software. Spreadsheets just don’t do all the complex automated report compilation, dashboard organization or information filtering that we need to get the real widescreen, high-def picture of what’s going on in our organizations. We know we need to be able to see what initiatives are on and off track at any given moment and the contextual data supporting each update, but we’re still allowing those damn spreadsheets to not give us what we need.

Why, then, are all these ambitious, intelligent business leaders continuing to use Smartsheet, SharePoint and Excel when it’s not even something they’d recommend to their fiercest competitor? We fear it costs too much, it takes too much time to implement and integrate and it could fail – reflecting poorly on us for bringing it in. However, there are hidden costs and expenses our companies suffer by sticking to the spreadsheet status quo that might be wasting more time, costing more money and putting us more at risk than switching to a proper solution.

In this blog series, I’ll demonstrate what unending – and dangerous – challenges your organization is facing by sticking with something that’s “worked” for you for the past 3 decades (yes, the 90s were almost 30 years ago), and what you can gain by switching to a specialized software built to help people track, monitor and execute their plans.

To start with, you should consider getting away from Smartsheet, SharePoint and Excel because your data sucks.

Why You Suffer from Bad Data with Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets, whether live or static, don’t integrate easily with Customer Relationship Management (CRM) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systems. 33% of Excel users struggle with poor data governance, while organizations who use specialized planning platforms only suffer 8% of the time.

What spreadsheets don’t offer are things like data storage separation and import to a common central database, comprehensive data input capabilities or the ability to add commentary and context to lines of data.

With little to no integrated support for reporting, analysis and dashboards, (much less financial consolidation, compliance and risk management or strategy management) Excel users are suffering on every front while those using specialized planning solutions are able to have up-to-date, easily attainable data at any given time.

With lack of real-time data, there’s no chance for proactive decision-making. When the difficulty to consolidate information from different locations eats up valuable time, all the time that’s left is used to be reactive and view items in retrospect. (Do you see the “if you give a mouse a cookie” spiral now?)

With the stress and complication of compiling data, most organizations are driven to only visit their strategic plan quarterly. The amount of time it takes to gather updates manually from dozens – or hundreds?? – of people, then entering them into a better format for analysis or presentation, is a deterrent to creating a true governance process. Revisiting your plan only one to four times a year will guarantee your organization will never have access to real-time data or the ability to be proactive in making changes to strategy and execution efforts.

The Risk of Being Prone to Error

9 out of 10 spreadsheets have some calculation mistake. With a completely empty, fully customizable spreadsheet comes great responsibility, and great potential for error.

That said, not being cloud-based and living in multiple versions on multiple computers leaves your plan vulnerable to losing all your data. General (and personal) experience points to the fact that the majority of computer users do not regularly back up their files. While more and more organizations are using cloud-based storages systems like Dropbox or SharePoint, many strategic planning Excel files still struggle with version control as there’s no single designated source of truth. Not to mention, keeping up with versions and curbing that “am I looking at the most recent document?” feeling can be a constant stressor.

However, on the other side of the issue, problems with permissions can come into play when everyone can access the document. With live spreadsheet solutions like Smartsheet or Google Sheets, everyone can change everything – including your technically-challenged Marketing Content Manager who might accidentally ruin all of your formulas (sorry) – or worse – delete an entire quarter’s worth of tracking (double sorry). Data can be overwritten without leaving an audit trail, and when you don’t have regular snapshots of the live document, you lose that data. When data integrity is compromised, so is your decision-making ability.

Bad Data is Just One Reason to Make the Switch

Don’t believe me yet? Check out our new whitepaper that goes into more detail about how we’re all dying a slow death by trying to run and track plans out of excel spreadsheets. Stay tuned for more blog posts on this topic.

If you’re ready to see something that solves your bad data problems, schedule a demo to start asking questions about how one solution – AchieveIt – might help you stop hemorrhaging time and money, and start doing what you were hired to do: execute your plan.

About AchieveIt

AchieveIt is the platform that large organizations use to get their biggest, most important initiatives out of the boardroom and into reality. Too many great ideas never quite make it across the finish line, because there’s no real way to keep everyone on course and keep everything on track. What does it take to actually guide these initiatives all the way through to completion? You’ve got to:

  1. Get everything in view – so you can see what’s happening with every initiative, at every level, from the enterprise to the individual, in real time.
  2. Get everyone engaged – with an easy-to-use platform that connects your organization from the executive leadership to the project teams, keeping everyone accountable and on the same page.
  3. Get every possible advantage – not only because you have the premier platform in this space, but because you can draw on the experience and best practices of our execution experts.

That’s why everyone from global corporations, to regional healthcare systems, to federal agencies have turned to AchieveIt for their Integrated Plan Management. Let’s actually do this.



Meet the Author  Paige Pulaski Jones

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