Excel templates for construction: Why you need to stop using excel templates
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Excel templates for construction...
Excel templates for construction are extremely common. Construction companies use excel and excel templates for estimating, timesheets, diaries, log books, inspections, reports and many more use cases and activities.
So if excel templates are used for all of these things - surely excel is the right tool for the job, right?
Unfortunately for construction companies (and their administrators, project managers, supervisors and engineers), a lack of options and a comfortability with excel has meant that they have relied upon excel - and slowly moved and migrated more and more of their work towards it.
But times and tools are changing. Excel and the spreadsheet got a good head start on many other smarter templates, starting all the way back in 1982 - but a lot has changed in almost 40 years (and not enough has changed for excel templates). The days of excel templates for construction are numbered, and this article will help to explain why.
I'm not anti-excel. In fact, I use excel for a number of my daily tasks and activities. But even I now do less and less tasks and jobs in excel as other purpose built tools remove the admin and work which is inherent in building and maintaining a spreadsheet.
While a few people may be saddened by the fact that excel templates for construction may not always be the backbone of work, most people will be rather happy when they realise that they don't have to spend their time and energy in a spreadsheet - and can instead focus on doing value-added work.
What's wrong with excel templates for construction?
The main thing which is wrong with excel templates for construction is that excel was not designed for construction. No matter how flexible excel and spreadsheets are, you simply can't get past the flaws and issues which stem from something not being designed for the task you are trying to do.
Because of this, excel templates have a number of negative side-effects for construction companies:
- People spend copious amounts of time formatting spreadsheets and manually entering data into spreadsheets
- The limitations of excel for word processing means companies often use word or PDF for completing forms and documents, and then transfer all of that data into excel
- It's extremely difficult to maintain version control, audit trails and project governance when using excel
- Excel doesn't work well or at all on mobile and tablet devices, making it difficult or impossible for site-based workers to capture information in a digital format
- Excel cells still don't allow for photos and videos, which are very often linked and critical to construction forms and templates
- Using excel for databases means that you constantly need to manually update the database - and that people can be working off of different databases
Unfortunately, the nature of excel templates in construction means that these things will never change. Improvements in integrations and construction interoperability can reduce some of the work associated with spreadsheets, but most of it remains.
So what are a couple of the major use cases associated with excel templates for construction? And how does excel enable these?
Excel templates for construction estimating
There are thousands of excel construction estimating templates out there online and in construction offices around the world.
Because estimating is so numbers focused, excel is an obvious choice for the tool to use. And estimating is one of excels more natural fits.
For smaller companies, excel has most of the features and functionality required to crunch the numbers, and it's pretty easy for anyone in the office or any project manager to pick it up.
Excels versatility also comes in handy here, as you can manipulate the estimating numbers quickly and easily using excel, and look at other spreadsheets to get a better idea of how you performed previously.
One of the major issues associated with using excel templates for construction estimating is that it introduces a lot of margin for error and doesn't enable a strong framework for estimating.
Functions and calculations can be inputted wrong and mistakes in basic formulas can result in huge discrepancies.
There's also no universally accepted framework or particular best practice, so if you get started with the wrong template from the outset, you could find that your estimates were destined to fail from the outset.
Relying on excel makes it hard to create a standardised framework which you know you can rely on.
Excel templates for construction project management
Excel templates for construction estimating results in some pretty sizeable issues and problems, but the greater problem lies with companies using excel templates for construction project management and delivery.
On the project management side, many companies use excel templates to track project progress across many functions including commercial, production and safety.
On the project delivery and site-based documentation side, companies use excel templates for capturing all sorts of information - some progress and activity reports to inform the tracking sheets mentioned above, and any other site based form or document.
The major problem with using excel templates for construction project management activities is that excel templates:
- Require a tonne of manual work and data entry in the field
- Don't connect the site and the office in real-time
- Can't be easily converted into a report format which can be shared with clients and other parties
- Aren't linked to the rest of project work
- Aren't standardised, and allow people to input the wrong types of information - and the wrong information
- Get stored and managed in folders and public drives, where they can easily get lost or forgotten
So we are full of negatives about excel templates for construction here clearly, but there is nothing worse than someone who complains about something and doesn't offer a better solution.
So is there a better solution than excel templates in the construction industry?
What templates work better than excel templates in construction?
in 2019, there are actually a number of templates which work better than excel templates for construction companies.
Some companies have already started to employ these smarter tools, while many (many) companies still rely on excel, word and PDF to manage their projects and project information.
The two main developments which have resulted in some drastic improvements over excel templates are:
- Cloud-based software and apps
- Document and workflow automation
Together, under the format of an entirely digital document, companies can ditch a good portion of their excel templates in favour of smart templates which do most of the heavy lifting for them - starting with version control and information standardisation.
Unlike excel templates and documents, proper digital documents can be organised and sorted inside of a digital IMS (information management system).
Unlike excel templates, which are stored inside of folder structures, digital templates are stored in the same structure as your company - an organisation, projects and teams.
You can also organise and find templates based on tags and functions - like safety and quality.
Outside of saving you some time and frustration searching for documents, digital templates also standardise the way that information is captured by construction workers and teams.
Companies do their best to create master excel templates for their construction projects, but managing and maintaining all of this manually is hard work. Not to mention that versions quickly get changed and manipulated from project to project.
With smarter templates, the master template is automatically stored at the organisational levels, and then slight variations can be deployed to projects and teams.
Everyone on a project or team can access and complete the document - and they can also do this on any device.
Excel templates often require printing, or reconciling back at the office, but modern cloud-based templates can be completely finished on a mobile device. In addition, it's easy for workers to take photos and videos, attach proof, and even markup drawings - all inside of a single template.
So all of this is much more streamlined and easy to manage than excel templates for construction so far - but the real magic and advantage lies in what is done with the data after it is captured.
Let's take a simple site diary as an example - and compare it to an excel template.
Smart template - Ingesting the information
Once a normal site diary is captured on site using a digital template, it is instantly synced to the cloud. This means that a project manager or person managing the information can instantly see what has happened that day.
Because everyone is working off the same latest version of the site diary template, the person receiving the diary entry doesn't need to spend any time reconciling or sifting through data or information.
Excel template - Ingesting the information
The worker or supervisor completes their paper-based or digital excel template on site. They then need to send that excel template (if it's in the right format) to their supervisor or project manager at the end of the day. Some people forget to send it, and other people using paper lose it or forget to reconcile the data. The project manager or administrator gets the information late - and accepts unstandardised versions of the site diaries from different projects and teams.
Smart template - Organising and converting information
After the data has been captured inside of a digital system, the information can be automatically converted into a number of different formats. The default format is that your form entries are displayed in a timeline format - which displays your information chronologically.
But you can also display your information in a register format - yes, just like an excel template. In this format, you can filter for specific entries and get a quick overview of your data. The difference between this and an excel template? This excel-like format was generated in a single click.
Instead of having to fill in word doc or PDF and then manually enter data into excel - the system does the converting for you.
On top of the timeline and register formats, you can instantly convert any of your form entries into a report in a single click.
Instead of having to complete a manual or paper-based document, or spend time formatting a word doc on the computer, the smart template can be auto-generated as a PDF document with your company logo and colours.
Think of all of the time you and your teams have spent building reports, when they could have been completed and generated just once - and look professional the entire way through.
Excel template - Tracking, and getting data and analytics from your information
Once someone has reconciled all of that excel data and created the right structure and formatting, it can be displayed in charts and pivot tables.
Excel features a lot of chart and data tools, which do a great job of enabling data visualisation.
The major problem with excel here is that your data is delayed, and probably inaccurate. Because there is no connection between your spreadsheet and the site - they stay disconnected.
It also needs manually updating, so each time information needs to be captured, collected, added to the data table and then displayed. Then it needs to be printed or sent to someone for viewing.
Smart template - Tracking, and getting data and analytics from your information
Smart templates, like most modern systems, are really powerful at aggregating data, and then turning that data into analytics.
Instead of having to manually assemble your data, these systems combine and aggregate it for you.
Then you can simply generate reports and dashboards in a single click.
You can pull data from individual forms, teams, projects and functions in one place - instead of having to organise and aggregate data from a bunch of different sources.
So what does transitioning away from excel templates look like?
Transitioning away from excel templates for construction projects can be a little bit tricky - and a little bit frictional.
Having used excel templates for many years, your company and people will feel some level of disruption when transitioning to a new system.
But it's a better system. Companies who are transitioning their systems now are already improving their processes and procedures. The companies who continue to rely on excel templates and manual processes will eventually struggle to complete. Too many people handling manual information and an inability to properly estimate and deliver projects will cost them.
You can try these better softwares and systems for free, or get a demo of them. You can see how well they will work for your company before making any large investments. The way and ease with which software can be adopted has changed a lot since the advent of the spreadsheet and excel templates.
You'll find a bunch of excel templates for construction on the internet. In fact, some companies will even charge you for basic excel templates for the construction industry.
A few of these excel templates can serve you a good purpose, and help you fill an interim or urgent gap. But none of these excel templates are going to solve the frequent and plaguing problems with have with capturing, organising and tracking what's happening on your construction projects and sites.
None of those excel templates for construction are going to move the construction industry forward and help companies deliver projects with less risk.
Consultants and products like mail merge have come along to try to make excel templates and PDF templates and word templates work together. But they simply weren't designed to communicate - and they certainly weren't designed for the construction site.
In order to move past traditional excel templates, we need to begin adopting smarter templates and smarter systems.
We need to stop settling for excel templates in construction and start demanding smarter templates.
You can try a couple of our more popular templates below - to see how much better they are than excel templates for yourself.
About Lance Hodgson
Lance is VP of Marketing at Sitemate. His aim is to bring awareness to a brighter future for the Built World where industrial workers and companies work smarter.