We are often told the system for tracking the details of a project is done by using a spreadsheet. Not just one spreadsheet, but several—one for change orders, one for RFIs, another for commitments. The list can go on. Since this is the method used by the many construction professionals we encounter, the chances are it works, right? Don’t get us wrong, spreadsheets are powerful tools. They house lots of information and are built for mathematical use—and built well. However, when we think about having multiple spreadsheets for a project, or for managing several projects across a capital program, we can’t help but think there is a better way—especially when forecasting project costs.
For one, spreadsheets lack systems to ensure processes are followed consistently across projects. How one team member enters data, at what frequency or point in the project, may differ from another. Also, the data collected isn’t uniform across the multiple spreadsheets and when the time comes to forecast, or do any other reporting functions, there is a lot of time spent aggregating all the different data into one complete product. This becomes inefficient and a significant loss of time—your early warning system isn’t able to work at its best.
To have an accurate forecast, uniform, accurate and timely data are integral. Using multiple spreadsheets invites the re-keying or redundancy of information and leaves too much room for manual error. It’s far too easy to erase or write over a formula. Having to enter the same information multiple times, keeping up with changes as they occur, in multiple places, is what’s wrong with using spreadsheets. You may be looking at last month’s data to forecast next month’s budget.
Leveraging technology and keeping a centralized and integrated system will keep timely information at your fingertips instead of in the hands of multiple people—or multiple spreadsheets. Plus, it ensures an efficient audit trail, so you know who did what and when. This gives you a quick reference to any issues causing changes to your budget. When you’re forecasting the project cost, and managing your exposure by gaining visibility into issues before they become real, this type of early warning system can mean saying goodbye to spreadsheets. Would anyone really shed a tear if they met their demise?