Disadvantages of Using Spreadsheets to Gather Requirements

by | May 5, 2023

Allow me to paint you a picture. You have been assigned a project. You have collected your requirements on spreadsheets, assigned tasks, worked out a budget, started working on your project well on time, but still, your project doesn’t go the way you envisioned.

The project timelines are all over the place, no one from the team is updating the project sheet, it is becoming a mess as your project progresses, and your inbox is overflowing with emails from your stakeholders.

Being the project manager, you realize the disadvantages of using spreadsheets to gather requirements and you know it’s time to move on to a dedicated requirements management tool.

Why Do Teams Still Use Spreadsheets?

It is common in organizations to use spreadsheets to gather requirements before a project starts. The Project Management Institute’s ‘Pulse of the Profession’ states ‘47% of unsuccessful projects fail to meet goals due to poor requirements management.’ It gets complicated to manage requirements as your project progresses and the project requirements evolve with it.

In this guide, we have detailed why you should make the switch to a dedicated project management software for requirements handling without any delay.

How Did You End up Using Spreadsheets for Gathering Requirements?

Spreadsheets are universal; there’s no doubt about that. They have multiple use cases across teams in any organization. They can serve as a CRM for sales teams, a calendar for marketing teams, or for billing and invoice by accounting teams.  Spreadsheets are also free to use, easy to understand, and flexible enough for project teams.

However, spreadsheets don’t scale well as your project starts progressing. There is minimal to no transparency in a spreadsheet with data inconsistency due to multiple versions of the same document making it next to impossible to trace back to the original requirements.

Even when this information is at hand, organizations still refuse to move on from spreadsheets to track requirements. Why is that?

1. People dislike any changes. The same goes for project teams. However flawed, teams prefer to stick with what they’ve been using than switch to more efficient software.

2. Usually, switching to a new software means paying the cost, however basic, of that software. It takes time and energy to research, test, and sign up for new software, which most organizations want to avoid.

3. Project teams have little to no control over which software is used for project management.

Spreadsheets are familiar, so no one is willing to move on to a dedicated tool. Switching to an appropriate project management software for requirements gathering may be met with resistance at first, but making the switch will pay off in the long run.

What Are the Disadvantages of Using Spreadsheets to Gather Requirements?

Using spreadsheets for managing large-scale projects leads to certain aspects of your project falling through the cracks.

1. Resources:

Using spreadsheets to gather requirements, a separate task management tool to assign tasks to your team members, or exchanging documents through email will divide your project data. You would have to assign a project team member to collate this data manually in a separate traceability document that they would have to maintain throughout the project lifecycle. This effort-intensive method would drain your resources unnecessarily when they could have concentrated elsewhere.

If this document is mishandled by the team members, the rest of your project will suffer, resulting in a loss of time and leading to budget overshoot.

When speed and efficiency are facilitated by the availability of technology, using an inappropriate tool for your project can be fatal.

2. Inefficiency:

As your projects begin to scale and get increasingly complex with time, programs like spreadsheets become inefficient as time passes. Although it will allow you to collaborate with your team members, working on these documents in real-time will become a pain.

There is also a matter of communication. As spreadsheets don’t have a built-in communication tool, you and your team will have to rely on a third-party tool.

Comparing information between different file formats across will become a regular pain for your project, increasing the inefficiency.

3. Traceability:

One of the main disadvantages of using spreadsheets is the lack of traceability. Once the data is uploaded and access is given to team members, it becomes difficult to track who made changes, when, and what the changes were. You would lose any version control over your data and its validity.

The evolving requirements throughout the project cycle are documented in the same spreadsheet can lead to confusion because it becomes difficult to trace which were the original requirements and which were the latest. Even if you do create a new document for new requirements, keeping track of these documents becomes a completely new pain.

4. Customization:

Spreadsheets lack the functionality of customization. Apart from the software industry, there are several others that gather requirements before beginning a project. A dedicated project management software can be customized for that particular industries’ necessity.

Different tools and software to gather requirements increase the chances of a project’s success. Even if there are new requirements or changes in the original ones, updating those in software keeps the traceability intact and reduces the chances of project failure.

5. Collaboration:

The way project management works has changed, and so have the project teams. Although no two team members can work similarly, their contribution to the project is equally important. That’s when having a team collaboration feature in a project management tool matters the most. No matter where the teams are, they should be able to push the project forward and get the work done as per the schedule.

In the case of spreadsheets, team collaboration comes with a host of its challenges. Multiple members working on the same spreadsheet of requirements is no way to keep up with the competitive edge in today’s work environment. The information is incomplete, and it takes twice as much time for teams to communicate with one another, another reason why spreadsheets are not the most suitable for requirements handling.

6. Lack of Security:

Requirements management software have their security systems in place. You can decide who should access your requirements document while maintaining privacy and confidentiality.

In the case of spreadsheets, although you can restrict someone from editing your documents, you cannot necessarily restrict them from viewing your data. Files that contain sensitive information may not be completely safe from hackers and other threats to your project.

7. Inflexibility:

Modern project management and requirements management tools and are flexible to use for varied project management methodologies. You can switch up to Agile or Waterfall or use Kanban boards, whatever best suits your project.

Spreadsheets, on the other hand, are inflexible. There is no way to derive tasks from your requirements or test case management, forcing you to use a third-party app for these two functions.

What Can You Use Instead of Spreadsheets?

Consider your difficult days with spreadsheets a thing of the past. You and your team deserve better than scanning through rows upon rows of requirements trying to make heads or tails of the document.   

So, what’s the answer?

Well, the solution here is simple enough.

There are enough requirements management software available in the market right now. Choose the one that doesn’t scatter your data across multiple tools for essential functions like task management or documents collaboration, just like Xebrio.

Xebrio has all the necessary features you need for all project phases- from requirements to deployments. You can start your 14-day free trial period right here.

Try Xebrio for 14 Days

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