Thinking outside the box, as a skill, can help solving issues in a non-conventional way… Unless the basis for your lateral thought process involves a spreadsheet.
So far in my career, I’ve witnessed this application being used as an ALM, as a calendar, as Key-Value translator, and even as a string localization tool. And in all of those cases there was better software available to do that very same job.
It’s understandable in some cases: the technical gap makes us look for refuge in what tools we already know and master. But the fear of the unknown is no valid reason to design clumsy processes and protocols. Let’s point out why.
Foremost, Excel is not a collaborative tool. There are no good mechanisms in place for several people to edit a file at the same time. Finding a slot to enter your records might as well turn into the plot of some epic movie with its own faux latin soundtrack. And then, failing to refresh the cached data when the file is available again can turn into the loss of the information entered by the previous user. Having no centralized control makes it arduous to keep a “hard master” of the records, and that, in turn, forces the users to redundant controls or empowering a single user to perform all edits.
Which brings us to the next point: entering data is cumbersome. Something as simple as formatting a date with hour on am/pm might depend on the localization of your machine. On multinational companies this regional values can be forced to a standard in the company, changing annoyingly the values you just entered. So you have to delete, and start again. And of course, if you made a mistake with formatting on the first row, the whole column will now be preset to the data values you entered incorrectly. Then there’s the fact that every department uses their own customized templates, and all of them are different, use different formula to extract information, or either their final results are in a configuration unusable for you. Whoops! Time to write yet another excel parser, then!
Finally, let me emphasize an issue of importance: data cannot be connected. There is no built-in gimmick to generate master records and relationships, because Excel is no database software. Something as innocent as inserting a single row, or dragging a data range, can break your carefully executed plan. Tracking any misalignment will be a waste of valuable hours of work, and nothing guarantees that this slip won’t be happening again sometime.
Since I don’t want to keep dragging the point, let me do a quick recap on a few more issues out of the top of my head:
- Does not include real-time information update.
- There is no user traceability on who performed changes on data or formula, nor verifies if the values are correct and valid.
- Spreadsheets are not secure: information within cannot be verified, and it’s easy to insert malicious macros.
- Files cannot be attached.
- The software was not designed to be used this way.
I think it’s pretty obvious. Can you risk keep using this tool and slowing down your success?