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Step away from the spreadsheet

21 May 2020

With great power comes great responsibility. Spreadsheets are a powerful tool, but one small business owners and project managers need to use more responsibly.

In small businesses and SMEs, spreadsheets have been the default software for just about everything for too long. When I start working with new clients I'm often presented with a superabundance of spreadsheets. Some of them aren’t bad. But the rest can generally be put into one of two categories:

1️⃣ Some text that looked like it needed to be in a table.

2️⃣ So complicated that only a handful of people in the organisation can “drive” it. And no one can tell you where it came from, or how the calculations work.

Category 1 is less hazardous, so I won’t go on too much about those ones. Except for saying that there are some really great apps out there that you might want to try for sharing calendars and managing your projects!

Category 2 is where you need to stop and STEP AWAY FROM THE SPREADSHEET.

Why?

1️⃣ Errors are everywhere. In fact, 88% of spreadsheets contain an error. A typo or a broken formula can cause big problems. Particularly when they go unnoticed.

2️⃣ Troubleshooting is troublesome. It can be hard to pinpoint the who, what, why, where and when the error was introduced.

3️⃣ They aren’t inclusive. If you use Excel every day, you can easily think it’s easy. They can actually be a bit baffling to a lot of people.

4️⃣ Sharing isn’t simple. Even with collaborative spreadsheets in cloud-based services, you can still run into issues of multiple versions or be working on outdated data. 

5️⃣ They are time-consuming. At first, they seem to be a quick solution. But as your business grows the amount of data you input usually increases too. Quickly your spreadsheet becomes slow.


Don't believe me?

MI5 bugged over a thousand phones incorrectly in 2010. A formatting error on a spreadsheet caused the agency to apply for data on all telephone numbers ending in “000” instead of the actual last three digits.

In 2003, Fannie Mae, the US Federal National Mortgage Association, discovered a $1.136 billion error in total shareholder equity due to “honest mistakes made in a spreadsheet”.

The same year, a cut and paste error in a spreadsheet cost Canadian power company TransAlta $24 million. The mistake caused them to buy more US contracts at much higher prices than it should have.


If you are ready to split up with spreadsheets in your business operations, or just want to use them more conscientiously in your next project, then we should talk.