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Is It Sensible to Manage Processes in Excel or Google Sheets?

Sure, in a perfect world. But in ours, this isn’t a good process practice.

Spreadsheets are common in layman’s process management. Mainly because it is the first tool available at hand and their matrix structure is well suited for the recording of processes—e.g. rows as steps of a workflow (a process) and each column as its repetition (an instance):

Spreadsheets are used everywhere and everyone can use them. Both Google G Suite and MS Office 365 support sharing online, the matrix view is clear and each cell (a process step) allows for users to add comments.

All these features make cloud spreadsheets a ready to use tool for business process management, if it is implemented by a highly qualified process manager or consultant and it is shared among a minimal number of people, ideally one. Otherwise the drawbacks prevail:

Using spreadsheets won’t support good process practices. It’s just a stupid table and it won’t tell you, what the process should look like or what to avoid. As a consultant I often stumble upon spreadsheet processes in companies and barely in 1 out of 20 cases are they implemented correctly. The exceptions are processes that have been set up by a pro, but even those quickly degenerate without a professional handling the maintenance. It’s because everyone can access and edit such spreadsheets. In the better cases they just mess it up with “cute colours”, in the worse ones they mess up the entire process.

Even worse, spreadsheets are not safe. Every user sees the whole process history, e.g. all previous orders including sensitive information on clients, profit margins, etc. Do you really want every junior staffer who joins your team to see all of this? Not speaking of being able to copy all the data from the spreadsheet and possibly disclosing it to your competition. Do you think this doesn’t happen?

And finally, spreadsheets are clumsy and slow. The downside of a matrix structure is that if it’s a frequent daily process, the spreadsheet grows into something with huge proportions in no time. That can get very messy, if there are more people collaborating on the process and each of them is accountable for their own instances. And working with such spreadsheet on a smartphone is a type of UX hell and data often get deleted by mistake.

In an ideal universe inhabited only by qualified process managers and very advanced process users, it’s fine to use Google and Excel spreadsheets in process management. But in our universe this would rarely be the case.

If you are serious about your process culture and you plan to share workflows in teams, don’t use spreadsheets instead of a professional tool. It’s not a problem to map a process into a spreadsheet—especially the simple and linear ones. The problem is that the process spreadsheet is going to be used by people. In the blink of an eye they might start using your process board to play their own game.

Such as tic-tac-toe.

Robert Vlach, July 16, 2018

Business consultant, writer and EUpreneur. Proud founder of Procesoid and Na volne noze — one of the largest national freelance communities in Europe

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