Globally, over 750 million people utilize Excel spreadsheets, according to Wired. When developing product roadmaps, many product managers have realized that spreadsheets lack functionality and effectiveness. Though spreadsheets remain effective for crunching numbers, the flexibility of manipulating data for product roadmapping remains ineffective.
We tend to input data within a spreadsheet because the system provides easy access for colleagues to access this information. Though these systems remain flexible and ubiquitous, they may not suit the particular needs of a product manager. Many product managers still rely on them to create, share, and maintain their roadmaps. For some, they may remain effective, yet for others, spreadsheets may create unnecessary work, and room for oversight.
5 Reasons Spreadsheets May By Holding Back Your Product Team — and a Better Alternative
1. Spreadsheets have a limited scope.
Spreadsheets remain effective when calculating large numbers. They’re fantastic for formulas and calculating metrics, plus they quickly generate charts. Product managers who work with a lot of plaintext data need a better solution. They need a solution to allow them to enter, view, sort, and move information around.
Areas where spreadsheets inarguably fall short remain with formatting text, borders, and shading. The moment you start cutting and pasting cells to move things around, most users will quickly find themselves spending exponentially more time formatting than actually doing real work. There’s no dragging and dropping, no automatic formatting based on a cell’s position or relationship to others. Moreover, no real flexibility beyond merging cells. For product managers, this brings a whole new set of problems when things change on their product roadmap.
2. Spreadsheets lack critical functionality.
There’s not a whole lot to a spreadsheet. It’s a two-dimensional grid. That can seemingly go in infinite directions. However, that’s kind of all it can do. Sure, you can add additional sheets and create some linkages, but those become brittle and temperamental before you hit the “tab” key to move onto the next cell.
With a basic set of tools at your disposal,the degree of difficulty for everything you want to do with your roadmap still remains. Even if you master all the tricks and generate a roadmap that has all the necessary information, think about how much extra time you’re spending on every tweak.
Product managers who already implement strategies for efficiently handling customer feedback may add value to their iterative product process. However, spreadsheets may not add value to your customers, nor will it help your product team achieve their goals. You may find that the hassle impedes the iterative process of developing an effective roadmap or product.
Excel files are documents. Documents provide snapshots in time that reside on hard drives, in email attachments, in the cloud, and on shared drives within the corporate network. One file becomes many, scattered across the organization and beyond., Two Core issues may arise: version control and access. Roadmaps tend to get outdated pretty quickly, particularly when they’re still being shopped around for pre-approval by key stakeholders.
But every change creates an army of zombie roadmaps spreading disinformation to unwitting colleagues who open the attachment a few days late. And if they make an edit of their own, an entirely new version is born, ready to once again circulate a false view of the plan that muddies the waters for product managers who need to create consensus.
Do you make it harder for people to access the roadmap so you can control the situation while making access more difficult? Do you password protect the roadmap, limiting access to only a select few? Or do you share it freely and risk outdated or modified versions distorting the true narrative?
Product managers should not feel constrained by these choices and tradeoffs, especially when effective roadmapping software exists.
4. There is a loss of uniformity and standardization with spreadsheets.
Roadmaps often live on an island, but they don’t need to. The valuable information in your roadmap can integrate with other tools. Your roadmap benefits by integrating some of those tools as well.
Wouldn’t it be nice to see which user stories in Jira correlate to each theme? What if you could automatically update everyone on the team when you updated a swimlane? These are all things we expect from enterprise software, but there’s no way to do that in a spreadsheet.
Spreadsheet-based roadmaps — when created from scratch — lack uniformity. Though this may not seem like a large-scale issue, the lack of uniformity product managers encounter can cause a major problem when finalizing their team’s roadmaps. Product managers may encounter problems with uniformity when they begin to close out their spreadsheet-based roadmaps.
When finalizing roadmap rollouts, development teams want to see how products in the same family line up. Marketers need a comprehensive view of what’s coming down the line so they can plan their events and outreach, accordingly. Moreover, executives want a wider scope so they can align their products, resources, forecast sales figures, and set their budgets.
If your colleagues decide to build their roadmap in spreadsheets independently, there’s no easy way to merge them together. Even if everyone used the exact same template as a starting point, they will inevitably add a row here, a column there, merge a cell over there, etc. The lack of uniformity may result in more work by someone on the product team who will have to create them all from scratch in a new document.
5. Spreadsheets are static and not collaborative.
Roadmaps can be extremely powerful tools for building alignment and serving as the single source of truth. But not everyone needs the same level of detail and, in fact, too much detail may confuse or distract some stakeholders more than it helps them.
That’s why the best roadmaps can be quickly tailored for any given audience using filters and tagging. A spreadsheet roadmap lacks filters. For example, Excel relies on the column and row the data remains located in. Maintaining that formatting and consistency remains a product manager’s priority. They find themselves once again cutting and pasting to create a customized version that will be quickly outdated, yet remain in circulation for months or years.
Beyond a dearth of customization options, collaboratively building or editing a spreadsheet roadmap opens up a whole other can of worms. While no one wants to give free access to every stakeholder, there are plenty of valid and helpful reasons you may not want to be the only one with edit rights on your roadmap, especially if there are different product managers assigned to different aspects of the product.
But as soon as more than one person starts making changes, the opportunities for overlapping work, conflicts, and inconsistent versions increase exponentially. For this reason, you need a roadmapping system that fosters communication amongst teammates. More often than not a lack of communication impedes collaboration, leaving you responsible for every minor change and major update that arises, which takes away from your precious time that can be spent on more important tasks.
Spreadsheet Alternatives: Optimize Your Roadmapping with a Dedicated Platform
Now that you know why spreadsheets remain a frustrating and inadequate solution for roadmapping, it’s time to step up to the big leagues and find a spreadsheet alternative that was purpose-built for building, updating, and sharing them. With a roadmapping platform like ProductPlan, you can anticipate what you’ll need and how you’ll work with it.
A rich set of features awaits, but it’s accompanied by a simple drag-and-drop interface so you can quickly spin up roadmaps and keep them current and updated with minimal time and effort. Swimlanes, themes, milestones, and more are all easy-to-use elements, and every item can be tagged and color-coded for a clear viewing experience and instant filtering.
A note on custom versions
Custom versions can be created and shared in seconds, and there’s no longer any worry that someone will be looking at an “old version” since there aren’t any! Customer versions assist product managers with the ability to give viewers access to whoever needs it. The customer version will provide them with a “live” version of the roadmap and inform them of every update, change, comment, and note available.
This platform integrates with a range of other tools in the product stack, from Slack and Microsoft Teams to Trello and GitHub, making those tools more useful while giving your roadmaps depth for those who choose to drill down.
Best of all, with a purpose-built roadmapping platform, roadmaps can focus on themes, goals, and objectives, not just a bunch of specific features and release dates. These tools empower product roadmaps to be the embodiment and communication platform for the strategy, not just a high-level project plan or wish list.
So stop wasting your time inserting cells, deleting rows, and futzing with border thicknesses. Use the right tool for the job and focus on bringing your strategy and roadmap to life.
Explore how ProductPlan can provide you and your colleagues with a single-source of truth to bring your product from idea to market in this webinar below.