Project Management: it can be a job or it can be a task.
For Project Management Professionals, it is important for them to have robust project management software to help them organize files, people, deadlines, and facilitate communication with everyone involved. For those needing project management on a more casual basis or on a one-time basis however, one of the best tools available is Google Sheets.
Google Sheets is basically a cloud-based (it’s used and stored online) version of Microsoft Excel with a few interesting tweaks:
- User access management
- Real-time, simultaneous editing
- Live chat
- Comments everywhere
All of the above features allow a simple spreadsheet program to turn into a flexible and easily-understood project management tool.
Let’s take a common task that requires project management as an example: planning a wedding. Bear in mind there are already programs for this, but we’re going to use it in this example.
First, Why Spreadsheets?
Spreadsheets are a great tool because they are very flexible. I consider them to be a digital whiteboard. You can do accounting and math in them, or you can design, create dashboards, or create lists. Most important is this: people already know how to use spreadsheets. Excel has become a very common skill for anyone who uses a computer at their job. This means there is little or no training involved when introducing a project managed by an online spreadsheet.
Here, we can see that with just a spreadsheet, we can do a lot. Note the tabs at the bottom which separate different segments of the project (deadlines, tasks, team info, budget).
Once a project management page is setup in Google Sheets, you can now begin the collaboration process by sharing the document with others by “sharing.” You type in their emails, select their privilege level (can they alter the document or only view it), and write a message to accompany the sharing invite.
Real-Time Simultaneous Editing
If you’re ever worked in auditing or accessed files on a shared network, you may be familiar with the “file is being used” or “checked out” status when trying to edit a file someone else is using. When files are stored away for access by many users, the first person will be able to open and edit. Any additional people will only be able to view the document and not edit, to prevent any versioning issues (or create an endless cycle of people overwriting each other).
With Google Sheets (and Google Docs), you can actually truly collaborate and work in real-time, without the worry of overwriting and versioning issues. This video clears it up nicely:
Chatting is not just for socializing on Facebook or AOL Messenger or Kik! Chatting can be a great way for people to communicate while working on a project simultaneously, without needing to talk on the phone or text message. Best of all, you can reply at your own pace.
Chatting is only for when people are online at the same time. For people with varying schedules, then that’s when comments are best.
Communication is very important in project management. Your email inbox can become very cluttered without the necessary tools to help you manage communications. With the comment feature in Google Sheets, you can take care of issues right inside Google Sheets.
In this example, we are looking at the budget tab of the wedding. I notice that the expenses for hiring a DJ seem to be quite high. So, I write a comment. This comment will leave a tick mark in the box and also show a number in the tab, indicating it needs to be looked at or resolve. Optionally, project users can elect to receive email notifications when comments are made.
What does this mean? Issues can be recorded, are brought to the immediate attention of users, and as they are finished, they can be “resolved” and removed.
Google Sheets truly is a great tool. There are some drawbacks that you need to be aware of.
- Uploads/Images: Sheets is actually quite terrible with uploads and images. With images, they are inserted not as a link which you can click to open the image, but as an actual image, which blocks your cells. As for uploads like PDFs, it becomes a game of uploading it to your own space and then linking to it.
- Not useful offline: Sheets is meant to be used while online. You can still use it offline, but without the features mentioned in this article, it’s nothing special.
- What you see is what you get: Google Sheets is extremely flexible, but once you start needing particular functionality like invoicing, file management, Gantt charts, notifications / reminders, staging, projects dashboard and overview, report generation, you’ll need project management software like Podio, Wrike, Basecamp, Zoho Projects and Trello (another one of my favorites).