Archive for the ‘quality’ Category

Has Eusprig increased spreadsheet risk?

Tuesday, 10th December, 2013

The European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group is a collection of academic and business people with an interest in the risks in spreadsheet based systems.

They raise awareness of the risks associated with spreadsheets. The annual conference gives a platform to people and organisations to propose their solutions to the issue, as well to researchers working in the area.

I’ve been to the conference a few times, I’ve spoken there a few times, its a great bunch of people.

But I am starting to feel their influence may be having unanticipated negative consequences.

Raising awareness of the dangers of spreadsheets seems like a noble pursuit, but what I see now is fear of spreadsheets in organisations. Which might be ok, except that what really happens is all that budget for well built professional tactical spreadsheet based solutions is diverted to strategic systems. That pressing short term need? The user throws something together in their own time, under the IT radar. So less process, less control, more risk.

Thanks to Eusprig, SOX, Frank Dodd, etc spreadsheets have a bad name. A technology is being blamed for poor usage practices. Like blaming the car when a driver driving too fast crashes..

Eusprig has done a lot of warning, highlighting failures etc, but has always as a matter of principle avoided proposing good practice. They have (deliberately) left that field open for others to address, by presenting at their conference for example.

Avoiding spreadsheets because of the risk is ok if you replace them with something with less risk. But you know what? that thing doesn’t exist.

No technology can deliver many working tools as fast as spreadsheets. So just changing technologies creates a delivery delay during which the organisation is exposed. Not the IT department, but the business department, If they don’t mitigate that exposure (with whatever tools they have to hand) they could be breaching professional codes of conduct even (eg. fiduciary duties for beancounters). not good.

Yes spreadsheets aren’t as stable as forms/browser based CRUD apps, but they are easier to adapt to changing business needs so more likely to be up to date. Try adding a field to a productions database in a large company, and comment on how long that takes. Days or weeks. Add column in a live spreaddie? seconds. Accidentally delete a critical column? seconds also :-)

So I think a big chunk of spreadsheet work has disappeared for now into IT department work queues, and is being worked around (‘temporarily’) by the business, in part due to misplaced and misunderstood fearmongering about spreadsheet danger.

So for me, yes, I think spreadsheet risk is increasing, and I am even more certain that overall organisation risk is increasing as requirements go into IT work backlog queues and/or quick and very dirty end user created temporary workarounds.

Are you seeing this fear of spreadsheets? What do you think is happening to organisational risk?

cheers

simon

Responsibility

Monday, 9th December, 2013

“The post holder is responsible for explaining to the business how the software solution meets the business needs.”

Erm… Call me old fashioned but shouldn’t it be patently obvious to the customer how the software solves their pain?

This just stinks of requirement Rc.03 is completely met by feature F027…

Which is just another way of IT hitting the users over the head about changed or ambiguous requirements.

‘Here is the email (from 9 months ago) where you asked IT to include a date field, and here is the label that contains todays date. Done, requirement complete, tested correct, finished, this label here meets your need.’

‘What do you mean you want to edit the date? why? Your business process is wrong, You should have told us’… etc etc

Rapidly followed by

‘You asked for a date field, we provided one, if you want that to be editable that is an enhancement and is chargeable, and we can’t look at it for at least 3 months.’

That’s not the kind of role I am currently looking for. Thanks

Although maybe I shouldn’t be so picky, its pretty quiet out at the moment. Maybe I should stop emailing my CV and use the Elfmail instead. I’ll put a copy up the chimney tonight and see what happens. Seems to have worked for the kids.

cheers

simon

 

Some of that Excel development

Friday, 6th December, 2013

At one place I worked, the IT department were, you might say, not massively responsive to user needs.

User needs being rapid response (hours or days, rather than months or years) systems development.

The RAD team I was in was a battleground, Users wanting us to rush stuff into production as soon as it compiled, IT wanting us to stop development and start documenting from scratch on new improved word templates. (The improvement being a more consistent theme and styling rather than anything of business value.)

Then  a funny thing happened Рthe users stopped calling us.

They had been recruiting assistants with strong Excel VBA dev skills and were bypassing the whole IT rigmarole.

This is where I think a fair chunk of Excel dev work has gone – under the radar, out of IT control, and off the IT job boards.

And when I say strong skills I mean on a business scale rather than a developer scale. ie crap naming, global variables, no design, no testing, lots of macro recorder pap, etc etc.

Overall, I doubt this move will have a positive impact on long term delivery ability, or quality (compared to decent RAD input – you can’t compare to mainstream IT as they wouldn’t have delivered anything, so sure, they would have less production defects).

Anyone else seen this rise of the super user?

cheers

simon

 

 

Good Spreadsheet practice

Wednesday, 27th November, 2013

Something a bit more realistic and less dramatic than ‘don’t use them’, from the ICAEW.

Please have a read and make some (constructive) comments on that site.

I can think of a counter example to all of their suggestions but I guess in general they are mostly fair enough, if perhaps a little woolly.

Some of them read a little like workarounds for poor fundamental design (eg protection – I’m never a fan!).

cheers

simon

 

 

Apple v Google

Sunday, 3rd March, 2013

Santa was very generous at Smurf towers this year. Especially considering how some people hadn’t really delivered on their blog updates and conference organising commitments.

I got a Nexus 7 tablet and a ipod touch. In that order.

nexusipodsml

The Nexus 7 was the worst unboxing set up experience of my young geek life. That thing is infested with Google spyware and intrustive ads. horrible. and technically impossible to use due to retarded set up requirements. (you need to go on line to set it up, but it wouldn’t let me set up a functioning internet connection with the hotel wifi. totally shit. You can’t move files on and off it via USB (in Linux). Maybe you can now several months on with some faff, but really that stuff should work out of the box. and it just did not. at all.

Google forced me to set up a new user ID whose credentials I promptly forgot. They now want me to pay them to retrieve them. Seriously. I have to pay for a password reset? Foook off.

So when Google are bragging about how Google+ has passed 1% of facebooks popularity and swiftly heading for 1.1%, bear in mind 90% of those accounts are probably zombie accounts that no one can access. Raahbish.

I used it for a few hours then I put it away and now it just weighs my bag down. It must be close to 2 months since I turned the thing on. total waste of money, not to mention the scamful cover farce with the PCWorld sharks (Yes I was so desperate to own this revolutionary piece of tech I bought from PCW!). 10 quid discount on the cover, oh, but its by internet rebate. no sorry forgot to mention there is a 3 page form to fill in. Serves me right, but lesson learned.

Compare and contrast with my iplop touche…

Great set up, limited spam, same games my kids play (their high scores tend to be min 10x mine!) and Facetime. Pur-lease – this is truly the killer app here, and all tucked away in Apples walled garden.

Our whole family is facetiming all our family and friends. Also since a few high profile kid/credit card haemorrhages its now quite simples to set up an Apple account without registering a credit card.

In retrospect I think there is a lot of sense in buying hardware from a hardware company that know what they are. If you buy from an ad pimp they are always going to be scouring through your most personal activities looking for the opportunity  to sell you Excel consultancy services!

I notice Google won’t even search properly any more unless you are logged in so they can record your every move. They are now a truly creepy company. I know they bypassed Msft’s market cap in 2012 (as predicted) but they are getting a little too crap and too heavy handed for my liking, as well as creepy and intrusive.

I know lots of people are waiting for Apple to founder, and iPhone 5 seemed to be pretty close, but whilst they have a huge stock of mini fanbois on ipod touches desperate for iPhones I think they are fairly safe.

Unlike Blackerry. My BB Bold has been the most unreliable phone I have ever owned (and I had one of those truly shitty motorola droids), everytime I unlock the screen its hit or miss if the thing is alive. I have even been contemplating replacing it with an iPhone! imagine that!!

I could probably sell or palm off my nexus, iplop and BB and scrape together enough to buy an old secondhand not too battered iPhone. Or not.

So in summary:

Google: creepy crap, Blackberry: unreliable crap, Apple: actually quite expensively good at the mo.

Have you enjoyed or endured any tech updates recently?

cheers

simon

the only spreadsheet angle here would be the fact that if any of this tech has a spreadsheet app, I haven’t tried it, or felt the need to. Anyone thinking of implementing newly draconian office app licensing might want to think about that…

LinkedIn comedy

Wednesday, 4th January, 2012

I don’t really use LinkedIn, but I happened to be on there today and saw something that made me laugh.

Recently I was approached about doing some work for a potential client. After a brief discussion and issues with my availability (I didnt have any), the project went to someone else. No problem (for me), but lets just say the work was quite specific, oh I don’t know let just say taking some data from Excel and creating a drawing.

I skipped over one of the Excel groups on linkedIn and lo, a question from ‘recently’ : ‘How do you create a [specific type of] drawing from [a very particular type of] Excel data?’ Made me laugh…

No idea if it is exactly the same project, but its a pretty damn close coincidence. (I didn’t bother to look if it had been solved.)

At least they didn’t wait until I had scoped it out and incurred time and costs then blow me out on rate. Although I guess if the forum approach fails badly they could be back in touch. With even less budget having blown half of it on the failed hobbyist version.

This sort of thing always makes me wonder if I should move over to a server based tech so I am not always in competition with hobbyists? No disrespect at all, I got into VBA as a hobby because it was more interesting than my proper job. But I am not sure how many people would get into the nitty gritty of Oracle, or Sharepoint just for fun?

Any of you passed up some work only to see it hawked around the forums shortly after?

cheers

simon

Excel Dev conf presenters

Friday, 23rd December, 2011

In the run up to the magnificent, exciting, exclusive, once in a lifetime Excel Developer conference, I thought it would be interesting to get to know the presenters a little more.

First up on the conf blog is Stephen Allen. Stephen will be taking us through some tools and techniques for reviewing real world spreadsheets. And dealing with the review findings.

If you haven’t booked yet you risk missing out on THE hottest event in the 2012 Excel calendar. The organisers are generously offering a full 50 quid early bird discount for those folks organised enough to book before Friday 6th Jan 2012. This isn’t just to punish those people who don’t know who they are or where they will be from one day to the next, it’s also so Mike knows how many custard creams to bring.

I can confirm that there will be a prize for whoever brings the nicest biscuits (hint: custard creams won’t win – even if they are the only entry).

Get over to Codematic now to book, then you can relax and just worry about the biscuits.

cheers

simon

SortAndDelete

Monday, 12th December, 2011

On reviewing a colleagues’ code recently I suggested he might want to change the name of his SortAndDelete sub to something that more accurately described what it did.

My proposal was FuckEverythingRightUp!

His response? That was meant to be a one time use system, the user had reloaded it with data of a very different structure.

My reply? if it was one time use then he should have run it and given the user the results only. Sods Law dictates that everything you give to your users(/customers) will be brutally abused and destroyed with no mercy.

He then pointed out he was trying to fix something I wrote a while ago that was initially quick and dirty fix, but was at that moment just dirty, and broken.

I asked what the comments said (comments are vital to quality code). He confirmed there was a

‘// sm 2010 quick and dirty bodge

comment, which I believe is better than a get out of gaol (jail) free card.

He also pointed out another of my comments from a while ago on a different system, he was now handholding:

‘// sm 2009 please god don’t let this bag of shite still be live in 2011.

Like I said comments are vital to back covering.

What’s the funniest, most inappropriate comment you have seen/written?

(I’m not sure if I should mention the dictionary object one of my colleagues used, using correct reddick tlp:

Dim dicHead as Scripting.Dictionary)

cheers

Simon

People or Process?

Saturday, 1st October, 2011

I’ve worked in quite a few different departments in quite a few different organisations, some were good, some not so.

But I have finally worked out what the fundamental difference between the good and the bad is.

The bad places to work focus on process, and believe if the process is ‘correct’ any ‘resource’ can perform it in an acceptable way to an acceptable standard. As long as Resource1 fills out the requirements template, Resource2, 3 or 4, or 1 can complete the design docs, and any resource can code it. Once its coded another resource can test and release it, job done. All resource can now be reassigned, sacked or outsourced – youpee.

The good places to work value people and recognise that individual skills and experience are the vital ingredients to a projects success or failure. Need to understand what the user Jo needs? ask Harry, he used to work in the biz he will be able to understand and translate it. Need a good design, get Harry to collaborate with Debs, she has architected loads of systems that all worked well. Need it coding? get Jack he knows whatever language Harry and Debs agreed will be best, He can help Harry write the code. Oh and while we are at it, why not get Jo the user involved frequently to make sure it is heading the way she expects?

All people, all social, all rewarding work, for everyone involved. But more importantly the collaboration means you don’t have to follow the ridiculous outdated, completely discredited, waterfall implicit in the faceless soulless bad co approach. So even the user Jo wins with people based development as she gets early access to shape and start using the system, and she learns a bit about trade offs.

Of course one of these represents all that was bad about 1970’s waterfall, and one represents all that is good about Agile approaches. Seeing IT people still doing waterfall is nearly as sad as seeing users retyping from one screen or printout to another. What’s doubly depressing is these two go hand in hand, in the same sad companies.

The other thing is, if you are, like me, trying to charge a premium over less experienced developers, process based places are scary. As they believe process is key, your experience and track record aren’t important or valuable to them. So, you will struggle to get anything over the general rate, and if you get a good rate you can expect an early chop. (After a painful period of being pulled back by ‘the lowest common denominator’).

Why are cos still trying to do waterfall? It looks easer to project manage. Once you have those requirements, someone can make up a guess of how long it will take and it can be programmed into the department workflow. Of course the unknown unknowns will have a bigger impact than the known requirements, so savvy PMs will at least double the guess. But a doubled guess is still a guess. You can still guess using a more agile approach, but maybe it would be better to totally revolutionise the project management and just work a prioritised list to time/cost constraints. But the inexperienced theorists in charge didnt cover that at college.

What do you think is the key difference between good places and bad places to work?

cheers

Simon

why why?

Tuesday, 6th September, 2011

For Each yy In Worksheets(ws).Range(Cells(8, 1), Cells(8, 160))
If yy.Value = “Stop” Then
yy.Select
jj = yy.Column
End If
Next yy

Why would you use yy ? (nervous twitch??) (or jj)

Also note how I have generously indented it for your delight, unlike the original.

cheers

Simon


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