Using outdated tech to run your projects?

Remember when Excel spreadsheets were like, all the rage? When crafting flawless pivot tables was considered an art form? Neither do we. The fact is if you’re using spreadsheets, you’re using a technology older than the Motorola Brick.

Deployment project managers are currently living in excel hell, and it’s not getting any better. Densification and the rise of small cells compounds the pain. The volume of projects is going through the roof and increased competition has tightened margins. Add in the fact that PM’s often don’t have the luxury of a project plan with set dates. When network planners change dates, they make it that much harder for PM’s to deliver projects on time and under budget. What all of this means is PM’s must get way more jobs done at a cost-per-site that is a fraction of what it used to be. The current PM condition kind of feels like this.

Trying to manage a telecoms project management program with spreadsheets is like fighting a bear with a plastic light saber. You might hold it off for a bit, but at some point you’re going to get crushed under the weight of a huge beast.

And if you’re sitting there saying, “Hey! Don’t look at me – we have an internal tool that manages projects. We have evolved from spreadsheets and are safe from your scorn!”, I have news for you. Your project management software was likely created in 1998, when Rush Hour was a thing and a different Clinton was facing media scrutiny. It hasn’t had a proper update in years driving your team to fill the gaps with – you guessed it – an excel tracker.  

Site-based projects have fast outpaced Excel and email. We’re going to get into the reasons why, and how modern software (like SiteTraker!) will free you and your team from spreadsheet servitude.

Poor Data Quality Leads to Death by a Million Cuts

Let’s set the scene. Pat the PM is a project manager at a mid-size telecoms company. For each project, Pat creates a few spreadsheets – a template sent to employees for data entry, a master file and a tracking file. Pat has a small team, so he makes sure data entry happens correctly and on time. Things are good! But now Pat’s getting busier. His teams and projects are growing. Excel cells and rows are multiplying like bunnies. Pat is excited, but also slightly worried.

Pretty soon Pat the PM runs into serious data quality issues. He notices data is often missing or not reported in real-time. Data wrangling becomes the bane of Pat’s existence. Pat and his colleagues cut and paste from a source sheet into a summary sheet trying to save time (spoiler alert: it doesn’t). Pat the PM curses the gods as these time-saving measures lead to data errors and unwanted template changes. Pat realizes forecasts built on this data are MEANINGLESS. Enjoy the next forecast or site-by-site meeting, Pat! I’m sure everything will go swimmingly.

Big programs lead to hundreds, even thousands of people updating spreadsheets. Pat only begins to fully experience the joys of spreadsheet life when one crashes out on him because forty people try to open it at once. Pat gets slightly ill thinking that thousands of cells Pat and his colleagues spent hours on may have just disappeared. The feeling is actually closer to a mild heart attack (did I mention Pat’s medical bills are sky-high?). Pat would love to know who has or has not sent data, but Excel essentially has no ability to adequately track changes. Pat ends up maintaining his own tracker that he uses to report up to his superiors. So, every day he copies all the data from the other trackers into his own tracker.

If the file becomes too big to email, Pat puts it on a shared drive. However, Pat soon realizes the data isn’t accessible remotely, which leads to long lags. Now Pat is way behind on his milestones.  Pat the PM has no accountability – no clue who entered what data, or how to find the source of missing or wrong data. Now everyone calls him Sad Pat, or Mad Pat (he hates being called either).

Modern alternatives like SiteTraker allow PM’s to collect, manage and analyze data in real-time.  Unlike spreadsheets and other applications that only allow limited data viewing options, Pat can filter his data by type or field, or pull it all up for a more global view. If he changes a date, ST auto-forecasts the rest of your milestones and users can get real-time notifications of any changes made. This eliminates the need for Pat to constantly email team members for updates. Sitetracker records every change made to data, including user name, date and time. With this feature, Pat can finally maintain control of his data.

In ST, performance is not affected by concurrent users – which means no more cardiac episodes for Pat worrying about crashes or lost data. And now Pat can skip the weekly spreadsheet review session, since he’s managing a program, not a project. Sitetracker restores accountability to Pat and his team, and as a bonus, he can finally get off his blood pressure medication. Hooray!

Data Validation in Excel Becomes a Unnavigable Maze

Unfortunately for Pat the PM, the data issues don’t stop there. In his telco projects, each type of program (small cell, DAS, macro) has a dedicated spreadsheet. When his team was small, it was easy for Pat to ensure proper data validation. But now Pat’s got oodles of people in each spreadsheet. And not everyone is following the data entry conventions Pat so carefully laid out. Pat the PM is seeing all sorts of very unsexy data. He’s seeing the words ‘next week’ in a date field. And site manager Jim Thompson, who Pat emphasized SO MANY TIMES should be entered as Jim, is referred to as Jim, Jimmy, Jimi Hendrix, Jimbo, Jimmer and Just Jim in different spreadsheets. Pat the PM now spends his days combing through thousands of cells to locate and fix data errors, instead of managing his projects.

All of these holdups cause bottlenecks and critical hours wasted moving between project phases. And while Pat loves buzzwords like vendor supply chain management, he hates inefficiency. Now Pat’s boss is asking why he’s so behind on his projects, and he doesn’t have a great answer. Have you or someone you loved spent hours waiting for the most up-to-date spreadsheet before beginning a new project phase? Because that’s what’s happening to poor Pat. Pat spends over eight hours every Monday just transferring data into a readable format that can be passed to his executive team.

Robust data validation and rules are critical to avoiding inconsistent data. In SiteTraker, the picklist feature gives you a pre-assorted list of entries to choose from. It can be a data point or number, but is usually like a sub-categorization. For instance, the project manager picklist would include a list of names and a vendor picklist would have company name options. This limits the potential for data errors, which is music to Pat’s ears. See? We GET YOU, Pat.

Spreadsheet Security: Yeah, No

Spreadsheets also post serious security issues. Restrictions and traceability are critical components for telecoms companies with sensitive information. When an Excel file gets emailed, THAT’S ALL SHE WROTE. That spreadsheet is now out of your control and can be seen by anyone. Password-protected sheets and locked cells are easy to bypass. Without a distributed security layer, anyone who has access to the Excel file has access to the data. It’s essentially open season on your most precious company info.

Modern software treats your data with respect. Sitetracker uses best-in-class infrastructure to provide encrypted protection for all company data. It’s industry-leading technology and programming continuously monitor server health and includes daily redundancy backups for all vital data. Sitetracker allows PM’s to assign ownership levels to projects and activities to ensure layers of security. Modern PM software makes it hard for individuals to make mistakes. Spreadsheets make it easy.

Trade Your Cells in For Something Better

The writing has been on the wall for some time now. PM’s like our friend Pat need better tools to do their jobs. Spreadsheets are not it. They were not built to manage the volume and complexity of the projects PM’s now handle. Project managers have stretched spreadsheets to their absolute limits.

Modern software relieves many of these pain points. A tool like ST has centralized data, real-time reporting and distributed layers of security. We get it, Excel is flexible with a simple interface. But guess what? Modern software’s got the goods. ST Trakers look and feel a lot like Excel, and Traker filters are just as fast if not faster than Excel filters. Worried about losing your precious pivot functionality? ST Dashboard has your back. Plus, ST does your data migration FOR YOU – data cleanup AND data transfer. So we call on all PM’s fed up with spreadsheet life – let us help you crush projects in a way you never have. You can thank us later, Pat.