By Shannon Sage Published on 08-11-10
Why Excel Falls Short as a Strategic Planning Tool

This past weekend I decided it was time to finally fix my leaky faucet. So, the first thing I did was head out to the shed and grab my sledge hammer…

Not smart, you say? But you can’t possibly be telling me that a sledge hammer isn’t useful- nearly everyone I know has one. They’re simple and easy to use: lift over your head and bring it down on whatever you need to “fix.” You really can’t get much simpler- and in today’s fast-paced world who has time to learn how to use another tool?

Unfortunately, this is how many businesses today approach strategic planning and execution.

Search for “strategic planning spreadsheet excel” in Google and you’ll get 88,000 results at the time of this writing- and the first result will be an essay extolling the virtues of Excel as a strategic planning tool.

What Excel can’t do for your strategic planning process

  • Excel won’t teach you the strategic planning process
  • Excel won’t show you how your strategy filters down throughout your company
  • Excel doesn’t create outlines
  • Excel can not manage your progress
  • Excel will not remind you where you’re at
  • Excel will not allow you to set user permissions
  • Excel isn’t available via the web for you to access night and day from anywhere (at least not the version your company uses)

In his post titled “the Spreadsheet Love Affair,” Dennis Howlett at ZDNet sums up some of the dangers of using Excel for uses it was not intended for:

I’ve always held the view that the spreadsheet was never designed for the sophisticated uses to which companies continue to put it. At best it is a development environment that is rarely documented because users are not trained as developers. The net result is that when things go wrong, errors are notoriously difficult to find.

If you are crafting a strategic plan, research the correct tools you should use. Excel works great in the many uses for which it was intended, but it’s no better for strategic planning than a sledgehammer is for your leaky sink.

Incidentally, a search for “sledgehammer leaky faucet” only grabs about 1,500 results; most of them jokes.