Bad Weather

One of my mates who was a keen alpine climber used to say ‘There is no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation’.

I think that is very true, better kit, checking the forecast, local knowledge, exit strategy all these things can ensure you can cope with virtually all weather scenarios.

Could we say the same thing for spreadsheets?

There is no such thing as a bad spreadsheet, just bad processes. (or should that be bad management?)

I think bad spreadsheets often appear to fill the gaps between what enterprise systems deliver and what users feel they need to do their job.

I totally belive some spreadsheets have a valid place in an enterprises information systems. I’m not for one second suggesting that all spreadsheets are bad, or that all should be removed or replaced. Although I know lots of people do seem locked onto that idea.

I do think some of the worst I have seen could have and should have been replaced by a more appropriate technology and management process. I also think a lot of the thinking focuses on a single symptom (bad spreadsheets) rather than the root cause (IT systems expectation gap?).

What do you think?




6 Responses to “Bad Weather”

  1. Dennis Wallentin Says:

    In Sweden we say “bad clothes” instead of preparations.

    As for spreadsheeting I would go further than that; bad thinking. Of course, if we want to single out any specific group; bad thinking of xxx where xxx is the group.

    Unfortunately, many times when Excel consultants are involved almost all the thinking and processing are done which put the projects in a less good situation and put us on the “edge”.

    Kind regards,

  2. Harlan Grove Says:

    To paraphrase the US’s National Rifle Association: Spreadsheets don’t kill businesses, business people kill businesses.’

    Spreadsheets are great tools for getting rapid answers. However, what makes them good for quick results makes them more than just problematic for producing results month after month, quarter after quarter, year after year. Spreadsheets can be used as nonterminal parts of information flows, but it takes a much different mindset and level of training or experience than most spreadsheet users get.

    I work with people who’ve been maintaining spreadsheet models for almost 20 years, and they STILL DON’T GET IT about at least letting other people (ME! for example) know when they move things around in the models they maintain and I use as data sources for some of the analyses I perform.

    Because spreadsheets really don’t permit multiple simultaneous developers, there’s an understandable but unfortunate lack of awareness about how one’s own coding, formatting or layout can affect others. This is the one valid reason I see for possibly banning spreadsheets as part of enterprise information management and reporting systems except as terminal presentation layer.

  3. dougaj4 Says:

    “Could we say the same thing for spreadsheets?”

    In the context of the quote, absolutely. There will be bad spreadsheets as long as there are spreadsheets, but that’s no excuse for building a bridge that will fall over in the first strong wind (or a business that will fall over in the first market downturn for that matter).

  4. Bob Phillips Says:

    Harlan, have you started working for MS?

  5. Harlan Grove Says:

    Moi a MSFT employee?!

    IF (and this is a HUGE if) MSFT ever provides reasonable library tools for Excel, that is, repositories of template spreadsheet elements like complex formulas or chart formatting including linking chart titles to particular cells along with a wizard-like UI to tie variable portions of those templates to places in the user’s workbook, then maybe parallel development of such spreadsheet components could become possible. But I think I see as little chance of that happening as you do.

    The other real developer tool Excel lacks is a delta generator, that is, and automated process which would identify and list differences between two workbooks. That’s more complicated for 2D spreadsheets than 1D text streams, but not impossible, and it’d be hugely useful. Yes, there may be 3rd party tools which do this (I’ve built one myself, but it involves Excel macros writing text files then Unix-like commandline tools doing the bulk of the processing, so not really for a general audience), but this is something MSFT would need to provide to make it commonly available so commonly expected and commonly used.

  6. Bob Phillips Says:

    I just thought that the phrase

    … spreadsheets as part of enterprise information management and reporting systems except as terminal presentation layer.

    could have been written by someone in MS Marketing.

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