We know that technology is essential in order to stay competitive, and the increased efficiency it allows can dramatically lower costs and save time. It’s also true that, if we’re not careful, the tools we use can end up costing just as much time as they save.
For many of us, that point has been reached with spreadsheet applications like Excel. Spreadsheets have been the staple of productivity for almost 20 years. They're used for everything from financial analysis to shopping lists to project management - and everything in between. However, Excel wasn’t designed to perform in the tremendously collaborative environment in which many professionals work today. As a result, keeping everyone involved in a project apprised of the latest updates and revisions can be extremely cumbersome and haphazard.
The limitations of Excel
A healthy planning and bid management process involves multiple players, and the process benefits from the input of the entire team.
It's a collaborative process that requires frequent updates as well as the ability to manipulate data. Using Excel could be holding you back from moving forward with projects more quickly. Here are some of the ways that happens:
• Top performing real estate organizations are using their building and project data to drive faster, better decision making. To uncover meaningful intelligence, many data points need to be collected and centralized. Spreadsheets strip data of its power by isolating it into digital silos.
• More contributors mean more time spent gathering their input, and we may tend to include fewer people in the interest of time. This often results in inferior planning.
• Bid leveling can be cumbersome; owners may copy sheets and end up with the wrong formulas and inaccurate data. This creates delays while the spreadsheet is corrected.
• Time is lost reconciling multiple versions or looking for historical data as well as in waiting for everyone to take a turn making revisions.
• Complex Excel spreadsheets are akin to custom software development. There is a measurable cost to create them and maintain them, and a risk to ongoing usability if the people who created Excel workflows leave the business. Moreover, the concepts used to create the workflows are limited to the experience and knowledge of the few people who build them.
Managing multiple versions of your spreadsheet
Keeping track of multiple versions of a document is always challenging, but critical to the forward momentum of a project. At the very least it’s wise to adopt a standardized naming convention in order to make different versions easier to identify. Keep in mind these basic rules for naming worksheets in Excel:
• The name must be unique within a single workbook.
• A worksheet name cannot exceed 31 characters.
• You can use all alphanumeric characters but not the following special characters: \ , / , * , ? , : , [ , ].
• You can use spaces, underscores (_) and periods (.) in the name as word separators.
There are other tips to consider when naming files, which can save a lot of time and headaches.
Enabling real-time collaboration
It may seem that the advanced features of Excel make it our best tool for bid management. However, for most projects we can find the features we use most often in other tools that are better suited to interactive and real-time input and analysis. Probably the biggest timesaver is the ability of multiple users to edit simultaneously in real time.
There are tools out there that are all about collaboration and can make bid management much more…manageable. We like Google Sheets because it’s free (no cost to see if it fits your organization), and it also allows collaboration on presentations and is easy to search. It’s streamlined, user-friendly, and functional.
Another great alternative is the software and platforms especially designed for efficient bid management. Some, like BuilderTREND, support the construction side, and is accessible anywhere, with no software to install. Other great features to look for in an online system are access to analytics, and smooth operation on all devices.
The devil you know...
Secure, efficient management of the bid process will increase productivity and improve your brand while it makes your life easier. Just because Excel is familiar, it may not be the best solution, and you don’t have to just live with the aggravations. Once you identify inefficiencies in your system, there are ways to eliminate them.