Project Management Software Vs. Excel Checklists

How simple, familiar tools like Excel—when used correctly and shared with everyone—can be used to very effectively support continuous improvement.

George Husted, director of software and controls, RedViking
George Husted, director of software and controls, RedViking

Engineering and manufacturing companies manage projects that are often complex. When dealing with the physical complexity of such projects, project management software can become more of an added burden than a benefit. Even very large companies have resorted to using printed copies of Excel spreadsheets to track a project rather than deal with equally complex project management software. 

For years, our organization (RedViking) used a popular project management software package. It was expensive, cumbersome, and complex. An administrative person was devoted half time to managing the application. It required extensive training, and the users found it frustrating and time consuming. As a result, several managers stopped using it and different versions of project management spreadsheets began to spring up around the company.

At the same time, the company was growing fast and we needed a more transparent, shareable quality process. We needed to easily communicate project information between newer and more experienced engineers, between project managers and designers, and between program managers and clients. The tool needed to be simple but comprehensive, as well as cloud-based with minimal administrative management. We had seen that even some of our largest clients used printed Excel checklists, and we simply wanted to implement virtual versions.

Virtual checklists, using Excel and Visual Basic, combine the simplicity and familiarity of spreadsheets with the online accessibility of project management software. By creating enhanced functionality with Visual Basic and hosting the checklists on a shared server, we have added a consistent level of quality to our projects in a simple format that requires almost no training. Using these familair formats, knowledge is more effectively captured and transferred. An integrated flow chart serves as the process guide for using the checklist. 

Process steps and review levels are easily tracked by automatically adding each user’s initials to their interactions. Percent complete is immediately visible by using simple Excel charts to create a Scoreboard, thereby improving  transparency for all users. Plus, since the reports are easily viewable on any device, project information is much more accessible to everyone on the project.

We have seen significant improvements over our former project management application. Some of the benefits we’ve realized include:

  • Greater efficiencies in the design process through ready access to similar projects;
  • Improved time use, with more time spent on the project and less on administration;
  • Greater engineering confidence based on better information through a familiar tool; and
  • Better visibility of budget and timeline.

By taking simple, familiar tools like Excel and beefing it up with Visual Basic and hosting it on a shared server, we have the project management approach that supports our continuous improvement focus on a project and organizational level.

George Husted is the director of software and controls engineering for RedViking, a member of the Control System Integrators Association

 

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