Best Practices

Guide: Stop Using Spreadsheets for Workflow Management

If you want to prioritise efficiency and consistency across your workflows, you need to say goodbye to using spreadsheets for workflow management.

Whether you prefer Google Sheets or Excel, spreadsheets are an integral part of our working lives. Many accounting firms rely on spreadsheets for completing daily tasks, from storing information to performing data analysis.

But there’s one thing I advise you to stop using spreadsheets to manage: workflows.

While spreadsheets are brilliant for managing data and running analysis, they’re not designed for workflow management or CRM. If you’ve tried to create workflows in Excel, you’ve likely ended up frustrated after spending hours perfecting your project plans, only to realise your formula doesn’t work, your team forgets to review the document, or editing information takes too long. 

The long and short of it is that spreadsheets are awful for workflow management for accountants. Let’s dig into why and what you can do to move your workflows away from spreadsheets and help your team work smarter.

Why spreadsheets aren’t appropriate for workflow management

If spreadsheets are a tool you use day-to-day, it’s understandable why you’d lean on the software you’re comfortable with to attempt to manage your firm’s workflows. But spreadsheets are not designed to be used in this way and will actually make the process of creating and implementing workflows less effective.

  • No collaboration: Collaboration is essential for success. While cloud-based systems like Google Sheets may allow a greater degree of collaboration than Excel, it’s far from perfect. As workflows guide your firm’s ways of working, it’s essential that everyone sings from the same hymn sheet; when you use spreadsheets, you risk multiple versions of the document being circulated or saved locally and changes becoming a nightmare to track and monitor.

  • No integrations or automation: Integrations and automation exist to make our lives easier. Purpose-built workflow management tools have these capabilities baked in, but spreadsheets aren’t designed for this purpose. You will need to update your team members on changes manually and can’t rely on handy automation to add task reminders to your diary.

  • No accountability: It is notoriously difficult to see who has edited a spreadsheet. This makes it hard to hold anyone accountable for errors. Likewise, if your team are frustrated with the clunky workflow management system, it can be a challenge to get them to use it, which defeats its purpose.

  • No reminders: While you can input dates into Excel, you will need to set reminders for tasks manually in your calendar or task management tool. That’s definitely not the smartest way to work.

  • No task management: Spreadsheets are great for storing data or basic analysis, but they don’t offer features that track what tasks are outstanding, responsibilities or dependencies. Without proper oversight and structure, team members can overwrite the work or updates of others, meaning crucial information could be missed.

  • Complicated customisation: If you need to customise your spreadsheet experience be prepared to create some complex supplementary sheets containing the details you want to include. This is both complex and time-consuming, and it just takes one person pressing delete in the wrong box to ruin everything.

Luckily, there are countless alternatives available to you that solve these issues.

How to manage workflow without spreadsheets

Moving your business’s workflows away from your beloved timesheets may seem daunting, but it’s worth the effort. Taking the leap to a workflow management system will help streamline your workflows, make your team more productive and guarantee more consistent client work. 

Here are my top tips for seamlessly transitioning your workflow management away from spreadsheets.

Evaluate your firm’s needs

Firstly, it’s important to understand what your firm needs from its new workflow management system. What third-party tools will you need it to integrate with? What’s your budget? If you have a large firm, will you need additional support from a professional services team to help integrate the tool into your firm’s day-to-day running? 

Explore workflow or practice management software options

If you Google ‘workflow management software,’ you’ll bring up millions of results. It’s worth exploring a few that catch your eye and marking them against the criteria you identified in the previous step. If it doesn’t tick your boxes, move on to the next one!

For example, Pixie’s practice management software is perfect for small and medium-sized accounting firms that want a platform that allows them to create their own flexible workflows and manage their clients, task lists, and emails.

Define your budget

Software prices range depending on how complicated or popular they are. When reviewing your options, define the maximum you’d be willing to pay each month, considering some platforms require you to pay for individual ‘seats’, or by the number of team members who’ll need a profile.

Set up your software

Once you’ve chosen your software, getting it set up for your unique needs can seem like a mammoth task. My advice is to begin with your priorities and build outwards. If possible, pick the most significant workflow first, get it up and running in your new software system, and then build the rest once you are happy with how it works. During this stage, you can get your workflows integrated with the rest of your tech stack and set up key automations.

Train your staff and create SOPs

Once you have your first workflows up and running, it’s time to train your staff. It’s critical that everyone understands the importance of using the system, its functionality, and how to use it. 

Create a standard operating procedure in the form of a step-by-step guide for your staff to refer to and for any future employees joining your organisation who will need to quickly familiarise themselves with the system.

What spreadsheets are great for

If spreadsheets are still at the heart of your workflow processes, it might be time to reconsider moving to a practice workflow management system like Pixie.

Spreadsheets are a fantastic and flexible tool for accounting firms. For quick calculations and simple data analysis or quick comparisons, spreadsheets still have a firm place in workplaces of all shapes and sizes. But if you’re looking for efficiency and consistency, it’s time to try another solution.

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