Why Spreadsheets Are Bad For Planning
Don't use a spreadsheet program like MS Excel to track and plan your team's to-do items. Yes, it gets the job done. Yes, it's easy to sort and print, and yes, it's probably already installed on your computer, but I urge you to resist the temptation. Here's a few reasons the spreadsheet is a sub-awesome planner.
If you've figured out how to effectively use the "share workbook" feature, I'm all ears. Most of the time I've seen this devolve to "Patrick is in charge of the spreadsheet, so nobody go into the share drive and edit it!". Not to mention the pervasive "Oh, I have a different version printed out."
There's value in breaking large tasks into smaller ones. Sadly, in a tabular format, representing this in Excel is tricky. How do you show the supertask's progress based on subtasks?
Spreadsheets Are Volatile
Excel wasn't built to be a standalone application. There's nothing to keep people from spawning tons of copies, deleting it forever, or fouling it up. Most teams will scrap whatever format they use on one project and reinvent it on the next. There's no chance to compare the metrics of how long things took from project to project.
As possible alternatives I humbly suggest:
- An online planning/tracking tool, like Trac (Python), Mantis (PHP), Basecamp (hosted), or XPlanner (J2EE)
- A wiki
- A shared Google Doc
- A whiteboard in a conference room
In the end, your tool doesn't have to be fancy. What's important is that you put some rigor around your tracking. People will take the tasks and tracking more seriously when there's a solid tool behind it, and they know their information will be an input to the next project's planning.