Real world Excel

Something Marcus said in a comment reminded me of my favorite Excel usage story by Rory Blyth:

http://www.neopoleon.com/home/blogs/neo/archive/2003/09/29/5458.aspx

hopefully someone hasn’t seen this before, Joel Spolsky (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/) also published it in one of his software books a couple of years ago. Be sure to read the comments too. Its so sad how true it rings.

Did I mention I saw someone doing their calculations on a calculator and typing the results into the spreadsheet last week?

(I hope it wasn’t a discounted cashflow for 100 years by month)

cheers

Simon

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4 Responses to “Real world Excel”

  1. Marcus Says:

    I have seen this cartoon before, but it still makes me smile/cringe each time I read it. It’s so close to home you have to laugh (to save yourself from crying).

    For me, the cartoon also highlights two other areas of concern which I often see in developing MSO solutions.

    The first is ‘Fit for Purpose’ where business users are doing the electronic equivalent of trying to bang in a nail with a spanner. Sure you could do it – but there’s a better tool for the job. Often users are stuck in a paradigm; the secretary thinks Word is a database – well it must be since she sorts her tables in Word. As they saying goes: if you only know how to use a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.

    The second area revolves around involving an appropriate expert. Apparently nobody in the cartoon thought to invite a nerd to the meeting to discuss what was feasible. I’m sure we’ve all seen this before. In one project we were migrating an Excel/Access (GUI/Repository) solution to Intranet/SQL Server. The project manager (a business person) wanted to know why we couldn’t do the whole thing in SQL Server (GUI and all) after having a lengthy discussion with the CEO. They were trying to save money. After explaining the flaw in their thinking, I offered to be present at future meetings to act as a technical sounding board. He declined. Ho hum.

  2. Simon Murphy Says:

    I have often wondered if this is a confidence thing:
    Some people are so self confident they don’t think they need anyone elses input.
    some people are so under confident they are scared to involve anyone else, in case their own (percieved) short comings are exposed.
    some people have confidence in line with their ability and can admit the areas where they could benefit from help (these seem to be less common than the other types, or maybe ones with budget are rare?)
    (40:40:20 ?)
    I have made the same sounding board offer, and had effectively the same response – “hmm yes, let me get back to you…”
    cheers
    simon

  3. Rob Bruce Says:

    I’ve been the bloke who always gets asked to meetings to give a ‘techie’ perspective. One corp I worked for was very aware of this issue after a couple of disastrous marketing-led projects.

    The trouble is they expect you to be an expert on everything and to give them instant answers:

    [Them] “Can we do this in Lotus Notes, then?”
    [Me] “I’m not sure. It’s not my area of expertise. I can find out quite quickly.”
    [Them] “But we really need to make a decision on this.”
    [Me] “But we can’t afford to make an uninformed decision that turns out to be wrong.”
    [Them] “OK, let’s just assume we can use Notes – you’ll just have to find a way.”
    [Me under my breath] “Oh sh*t, here we go again.”

  4. Simon Says:

    Hi Rob
    You’re right, I’m not sure if most people are aware just how broad the IT landscape is.
    If you have the depth needed to be a successful developer in a particular technology, you will not have the time to develop the breadth needed to give instant answers across the rest of the industry. Like you say though, its usually easy enough to find out – if they give you chance.
    cheers
    Simon

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