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Spreadsheets can be fine in the right context, but all too often they’re being used for everything apart from their intended use. Excel files are also one of the worst ways to try and coordinate projects and task-flows, resulting in endless iterations adjusting for project updates with no-one really ever sure they have up-to-date information on anything.

Not only are they being overused and spreading inefficiencies, they are also renowned for being awash with mistakes. Research has shown that nearly 90% of spreadsheets have errors, with their proliferation around an organization leading to the compounding of those errors with the potential for causing major long-term issues. Investigations into disgraced energy provider, Enron, for example, uncovered one spreadsheet with a whopping 83,000 errors.

So, we all know why we have to move on from spreadsheets, but the next issue is actually weaning your team off their ubiquitous use and migrating processes from spreadsheets to project management software that was actually purpose-built for that reason.

As a project manager, it is among your major responsibilities to ensure the full integration of more efficient processes that will lead to greater productivity. So, what are the best ways to stop your team from falling back into old habits with regards to spreadsheet use?

Lead by example

Of course, you can’t expect any of your reports to start adopting different work practices if you’re not doing so yourself. As a project leader, the team looks to you to set the standard, so as difficult as it might be for you to also move away from Excel, it’s important to completely commit yourself to new processes.

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Hold integration and information meetings

It would be quite unfair to send your team a directive or memo, telling them to change the habits of a lifetime without also providing information and education on how they can make those changes successfully.

Host full-on integration and information meetings to help get your team up-to-speed with the usage and features of your new software. If some members are still having difficulties let them know that you are available to deal with any queries.

Define what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable use

Though spreadsheet use now far exceeds its remit, it does still have a function within an office environment, especially with regards to accounting and tracking numerical data. A blanket ban on the use of Excel can be too much of a shock for any team. Make it clear which uses are allowed and which definitely aren’t. Try breaking up these different uses and putting them into easy categories, such as:

  • These are what Excel is for
  • These are ok, for now
  • These are not allowed, ever

Set fun team targets

One of the best ways of changing habits is through using rewards. These can be anything from pizzas for lunch to Friday cocktails in the office, to money donated to a chosen charity. You can base qualification for these rewards as an absolute target to be met, i.e., number of new spreadsheets the team created during a week or month, or on a sliding scale, that the less they use spreadsheets the more advantageous it will be for the team.