It is totally ok to use spreadsheets for PLM tasks!
Many PLM vendors and consultants will now go and get themselves a burning torch and pitchfork. “It’s a witch! Let’s get her and burn her at the stake!”
Microsoft Excel is a very well working table calculation software. But using it for data organization? No way! It´s the decline of the West!
Yep, the PLM world loves to blaspheme about Excel. In many cases with good reason, but I’m not a big fan of blanket statements. That´s why I want to try to take a more differentiated view at the topic.
Let’s start simple. What is Excel? What is a PLM system? It’s both software. You buy it to help you solve daily tasks. PLM vendors shouldn´t be selfish – they are just tool providers. But of course, every tool is designed for a specific purpose. Excel is often used by companies as a Swiss Army knife cause it performs well in multiple scenarios. It’s commonly used for handling product data, building BOMs and calculations. And for many companies it will actually work!
Excel is the PLM of choice for
- a small circle of users
- that have to manage only few products
- which have a low complexity
- and seldom change
If your use case meets all of these requirements, you will be completely fine with spreadsheets. Why buy expensive tools when your Swiss army knife already does the job?
It´s all about timing
Things get complicated as soon as 2 of the 4 above points are no longer valid. And that’s the only critical point to worry about.
Sure you can extend your spreadsheet with a lot of additional functionality. But a tool with too many moving parts can end up being completely useless. By trying to do everything, said tool might be great at nothing.
Therefore, the question is not: “Can you use Excel as PLM?” but “When can you no longer use Excel as PLM”?
If you find yourself spending too much time adjusting Excel, it’s time to think about using better tools. Recognizing this at an early stage is the real challenge. Working with spreadsheets only becomes painful if you oversleep the right time for a change. Until then, they are a very good start for your PLM journey.
Once you understand this, you can even go one step further. Your spreadsheets may be sufficient now, but you may already know that this will not be the case in 1, 2 or 3 years. Why don´t you prepare yourself?
Design your spreadsheets so they already reflect your organizational structure. Take into account what you intend to do in the long term. In addition, structure your lists so you can later transfer them easily to other systems.
A professional PLM solution is better than spreadsheets – and electronic spreadsheets are better than paper – and paper is better than storing information in your brain – and that’s better than having nothing!
So if you cannot use the best solution right now – use the second best! Everything is better than having nothing. Just always remember yourself that your tool landscape is not supposed to be static. Keep this in mind and you will be just fine!
Nice article I agree that a spreadsheet is still a great way to manage some limited sized data. It was great for a long time and it still is. Although I think we can make managing small data sets a lot better. Have you looked at OpenBOM for example? I think it is a great “scope limited” solution that tries to fight the excel-based PLM-underground.
thanks for your feedback! You also proved that my comments notification system is not very reliable yet :-).
My article was based on this question: “What kind of PLM system would a startup company use?”
Apart from the fact that they often do not know the term “PLM” anyway, they will most likely end up with Excel.
And that´s excellent! Too many startups fail because of wrong focus. Successful startup often succeeded only because they didn´t ignore boring topics like legal issues, finance and organization.
An Excel lists indicates that this new company already spend a few thoughts about data management! A good start!
But PLM world is targeting only the big players in the industry. Nobody considers, that each of the world largest companies probably started with a simple list.
Small businesses do not need (or cannot afford) a full-featured PLM solution. Especially if managing the software itself already requires a lot of knowledge and resources.
I will add a test of Open BOM on my todo list. A cloud hosted solution that focus on the essentials is maybe the perfect answer to my startup question!