15 Advantages & Disadvantages of Using Spreadsheets for product prioritization

It’s hard to dispute that spreadsheets are useful inexpensive tools for managing various product management activities. As a product leader, you are able to track release plans, sprint plans, roadmaps, create graphs for analysis, and update your data with spreadsheets. You may have even invested in one of the SaaS spreadsheet tools that come with tons of basic templates, and a very select lucky few of you have even leveraged their automated workflows. Despite this appeal, using standard spreadsheets as a permanent part of your product management process is a risky decision.

Ultimately, spreadsheets are not specifically designed to manage the product discovery and prioritization process, and this becomes evident to many product leaders owners over time, too late for some. Below we will examine the pros and cons of spreadsheets.

Firmly in the pros column


For most businesses, spreadsheet software is readily available and often included in an existing cloud service offering or free such as Libre Office. Whether your company uses Microsoft Excel or runs on Google Workspace’s Google Sheets, most people with an internet connection can access a spreadsheet. When managing burn in a startup every single dollar counts and this is a hard bargain to argue with.


Spreadsheets are quick and easy to add into a workflow. Just open one up, create a new workbook and off you go! Whereas a dedicated system, such as a piece of product management software, may take time for users to adopt, spreadsheets pose no such challenges. Once you create a spreadsheet and share it among team members, it’s easy to integrate into the team’s workflow — regardless of your team’s size.


Who among us have not used a spreadsheet? The same can not be said for specialized software - some people may have experience with a given platform or group of tools but not everyone will. Whether you’ve used a spreadsheet to manage your personal finances, or have spent countless hours building pivot tables for previous roles, chances are you’ve had some hands-on experience using spreadsheets. Outside of building complicated formulas, recording information in spreadsheets is fairly intuitive and does not require intensive training to get the hang of. This makes spreadsheets an accessible option for teams that are scaling fast and don’t have time to train new employees to use complicated software.


Spreadsheets are highly customizable, especially if you know how to use the numerous formulas, functions and both Microsoft and Google can be extended using programming languages such as Java and Visual Basic for Applications (VBA). You can create any type of document with a spreadsheet, even a calendar.

Because they’re so customizable, they can also be intimidating to use. You’re not even sure where to begin unless there’s a spreadsheet template available for what you want to do. So if you do want to use spreadsheets for business, it’s important that at least one of your team members knows how to customize a spreadsheet to streamline a business process.

Data manipulation

We shouldn’t confuse data manipulation with data analysis, however, spreadsheets make it very easy to manipulate data. You can add, subtract, divide, and multiply datasets; create pivot tables; remove duplicates; retrieve data from other tabs; and search all rows and columns for a certain phrase or parameter. You can create conditional logic statements, and as previously mentioned, even use programming languages to further manipulate data.

There’s a downside to this, however. You can easily break a spreadsheet if you accidentally remove a piece of data that was part of a formula or calculation. It’s also easy to accidentally transfer a cell’s information to another cell, and by the time you catch it, it may be too late to undo it. So you’d have to cross your fingers and hope you remember the data.

The drawbacks to using spreadsheets


When you manage a small software project or open source effort, that has non-paying customers and no expectations of building a software business, it’s fairly easy to track customer problems, feature requests, enhancements, dependencies and other data and metrics using one or more spreadsheets. Even then it’s not easy: you have to make sure you correctly record every customer problem, every planned activity, and any request users have. A diligent person may be able to run a small software project like this on Excel, but as soon as things get complex: different stakeholders, different personas, different use cases, different products being sold; its unrealistic to expect a standard spreadsheet program to allow you do this, as that is not what they’re designed for.

Human error

Using spreadsheets opens the door to human mistakes. Even the most skilled office professionals are not 100% accurate, and ask yourself: is even one mistake in every 100 data entries acceptable? Even if only 1% of your data entries are wrong, this could translate into many hundreds or thousands of dollars lost, depending on the error.

Future planning

Thew world of software is hyper competitive and to be successful you need to keep your eyes on the future. Wether you are calculating total addressable markets, strategically planing or forecasting, spreadsheets are rather limited to tables or charts that have to be manually created from scratch. Spreadsheets are also not capable of performing advanced analytics that can surface deep insights into your data. This is especially problematic because one of your many competitors certainly is.


Modern productivity applications are far better at supporting collaboration than their predecessors. Google and Microsoft both have spreadsheet software that can be shared with multiple people, they are largely poor when it comes to multiple users constantly sharing information. This deficiency is exacerbated the more users and different types of inputs are required, with synergy likely to be hurt, and a higher chance of errors.

User experience

There is no way around it. Spreadsheets are simply not user-friendly. They are customizable and familiar, but when you need to handle a lot of data, you’ll find yourself scrolling through hundreds, if not thousands, of rows and columns. It’s difficult to make spreadsheets easy to ingest and easy to read.


Unlike systems designed with rule based access controls, spreadsheets can be shared with anyone, anywhere at any time. This makes it easy for a disgruntled or dishonest employee to share customer data with external contacts (read: your competitors).

Single source of truth

There will be multiple versions of the truth. Everyone might start out working from the same data, but it probably won’t stay that way for long. Inevitably spreadsheets becomes filled with more data than is manageable and new one is spawned in its place. Another common scenario is that there is a separate spreadsheet for each quarter of the year, each release, each sprint, each product, you name it. And that brings us to the next issue with spreadsheets…


It’s hard enough compiling all the various versions of a spreadsheet into one master copy, but then you have to assemble meaningful reports based on the data. As anyone who has tried to report from Excel knows, it’s not for the faint of heart. And the more complex your data, the harder reporting becomes.

Visualizing data

As mentioned, users can create charts and graphs in spreadsheets. But “create” is the key word. Assembling any kind of data visualization in a spreadsheet is time-consuming and frustrating. You could opt to skip the visuals altogether — after all, they’re not necessary. But presenting a spreadsheet thousands of rows long is guaranteed to make your team members’ eyes cross.


Some tools such as Jira can export data to CSV, which has its uses but is not bi-directional and so at best you can get some data out, but manipulating data and getting it back into other systems from spreadsheets is anything but trivial. If you want to connect your spreadsheets to the other systems you use, you’d have to hope that an integration exists on Zapier or a similar tool. If it doesn’t, you’re out of luck, and you’d have to manually transfer the data over to the other systems.

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Product Discovery & Roadmaping Reimagined

Sign Up Now