10 common estimating mistakes made with spreadsheets

January 11, 2022

The ubiquitous spreadsheet has become something of an icon in the business world, with one’s ability to build a sophisticated spreadsheet likened to a work of art.

And this is certainly true in the world of estimating, with many organisations using sophisticated workbooks to conduct their estimating on major multi-million and billion-dollar projects.

And while spreadsheets do serve an important purpose, there are certainly some risks when they are used for major projects where internal and external collaboration is key. These risks can lead to mistakes in the estimate, resulting in millions of dollars in budget blow outs.

Here we look at some common mistakes that can be made when using spreadsheets and how the use of a sophisticated estimating platform can overcome these:

1. It’s not in real time

No matter how fancy a series of workbooks are, they are usually not back tracked and updated once they have gone through revisions or have been around for several months. There are weak to non-existent checks and balances in the workbook that will automatically update all relevant cells throughout the history of the estimate.

2. No audit functionality

Most workbooks don’t track who was made changes.  Cells and formulas could be deleted, changed, or not updated and no one would know. You could be making mistakes for years before they are picked up.

3. Collaboration

Working off the same file on the same server can make it difficult for users to work in the same area of the Workbook at the same time without interrupting or affecting another person’s work.

4. Limited workflow

Workbooks typically have limited workflow capabilities for sign off on changes in the estimate.

5. Double handling data

Transferring data between workbooks or into estimating software usually involves a double handling of data, and errors are sometimes made in the import process. The data team doing the importing/converting may not understand the estimate data and it can end up in the wrong place, where it will then need to be re-done, wasting time.

6. Lack of security

There are no licenses or permission settings that can determine if the right person is working in the right area of an estimate. Usually anyone working in the Workbook has access to the entire estimate which may not be safe from a security perspective.

7. Checking with contractors

If there is no security within an estimate, then it is very difficult to check quantities and rates without creating a new workbook to send to contractors. This new workbook usually has no links to the original and more errors can occur.

8. Reporting

A spreadsheet has limited reporting features. Each “report” is usually a new workbook or spreadsheet run off the original and may not be a real time snapshot if changes have been made to the structure of the estimate.

9. Updating and modifying spreadsheets & workbooks

Sometimes the estimator is not the person who created the original workbook used across an organisation. Without proper development & quality assurance teams, any further changes become very tricky as someone completely new may come in and start changing things without understanding the entirety of the Workbook, potentially leading to errors.

Furthermore, there is usually no documentation that comes with a custom workbook.

10. Maintaining project register

Spreadsheets don’t have a way to properly maintain a project register in one central location so that project status can be monitored.

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