What's with Excel?

On a pretty regular basis, I delve into various Project Management tools, organizations, discussions, etc to find what are considered the best and brightest ideas out there. One of the times I came across the little tidbit that “Excel is the most used Project Management Tool in the world.” For clarification, most used does not necessarily equal the best, but I digress…

After a half-second of pondering, it made sense. With a simple spreadsheet, you can create a list of tasks, assign them all durations and put start/end dates on all of them. It doesn't allow dependency tracking, collaboration, and a host of other things, but for keeping a “ToDo List” with deadlines, it's hard to get much simpler.

When I first moved to Washington, DC, I was a stickler about my tracking my budget. I had a multi-page spreadsheet where I could track just about anything and see resulting graphs. I tracked all my expenses, and could tell down to the 0.1% how much I spent on rent, how much I could save by putting and extra five dollars on the principle of a loan as opposed to buying a beer, and I could look at multi-year trends between my income, expenses, debt, and savings. This was an ever-growing tool… built in Excel.

Then, about two months ago at BootStrapDC, I met a gentlemen who works for a major supplier of equipment to the government (think hundreds of millions of dollars…) and I found out the same thing. This company's entire infrastructure – CRM, Inventory Managment, Process Management, Help Desk, and Order Fulfillment Systems – are based in Excel spreadsheets. Considering the size and scope of their activities, I was floored.

Finally, I was in contact with another dotProject conspirator this week and found a similar story. The company at which he's employed – some might call part of the the infrastructure – uses linked Excel spreadsheets for all of their time tracking and reporting.

I'll be the first to admit that Excel is a powerful tool and allows non-programmers to do a huge amount of programmatic actions, but this is just ridiculous.