Excel Dev Book

I keep wondering about writing a book about Excel development.

It would be less technical than PED, perhaps a bit more like Code Complete for Excel. A bit more design based than code based. The target audience would be business folks wanting to improve their Excel clicking and IT folks needing to target Excel. It would be set in the context of the reality of working with Excel in big companies.

I did discuss it with a publisher a while ago, but at this stage I would probably do it as a self publish e-book, with maybe a print option.

It would be based on my couple of weeks Excel experience (cataloguing my CD collection), and would touch many complementary technologies like ADO, ExcelDNA, XLL+.

I’m thinking more of a 300 page wordy tome rather than a 1000 page screenshot fest.

The sort of chapters might be something like

  • strengths and weaknesses of Excel
  • The RAD process with Excel as the client
  • Excel dev models (workbook with VBA, Add-in etc)
  • Excel grid best practices
  • Excel facts and fallacies

The only thing stopping me is the apparent death of Excel as a serious business tool. I’d hate to invest all that effort and then find my mum is the only person willing to buy it. (Well, her and as an excellent stocking filler for my kids at Christmas (not this one of course!)).

There is no doubt in my mind that sensible use of Excel is good in every way for most organisations. Sadly its the bad use that is most common and gets all the bad press. One aim of the book would be to propose some of the smart ways of using Excel (including using some of the newer features).

So my question is:

If there were such a book do you think there would be a market for it? Do you know people who would buy it?

(I know, that’s two questions)



10 Responses to “Excel Dev Book”

  1. methodsinexcel Says:

    How many would you have to sell to make it work? I can’t see the investment of time paying back – so the “business case” would have to have some element of “profile building”/ benevolence to it.

    Maybe I’m wrong.

  2. Simon Says:

    Depends on the price, if it was 20 quid and might sell 1,000 then it would be worth a few months effort. Going with a mainstream publisher where you get pennies per copy I don’t think would be viable. Dunno about PED but I know Code Complete (1) sold well over 250k.

  3. Matt Doar Says:

    My experience writing technical books is that you do it for the satisfaction and marketing of self, not with the expectation of making a profit. It sounds like a good topic for a book (and I spend my life convincing people to use bug trackers instead of spreadsheets).

    Is Excel really going away in the enterprise? I’d be surprised – what else is being used instead?


    p.s. Interesting series of posts

  4. Simon Says:

    Thanks for the input Matt.
    A lot of jobs are just going into IT dept work queues/and or being done by the user directly without IT input (generally in Excel). This causes lots of duplication and lots of choosing poor data sources. And gasp shock a lack of OO, MVC and MVVM. The clear up should be our bread and butter for a few years, once the powers that be realise what’s going on. again. Or business depts will recruit devs on the quiet, which has all the probs above but hopefully with a bit of a more maintainable design.

    Ahh I just realised I said Excel death as a serious business tool in the post, I meant from an IT department view. Death as an IT tool might have been more accurate, but I mean business use, IT control/development/maintenance.

  5. kalx Says:

    My secret sauce is to use Excel as a front row seat to keep pushing the nebulous business specs into platform independent C++. Communication is the difficult problem to solve.
    Granted, I mainly write functions/lightweight classes that give answers traders find useful, but IT does not write the checks.
    Nobody wants to pay much for a spreadsheet solution, but when the people that do write the checks hear the IT guys want to spend 3 to 6 months rewriting something that is already “working” and all they need to do is link to a library, it’s an easier sell.

    methodinexcel and the guy that uses his real name are correct. Writing a book is a lot of work that may or may not pan out.

  6. Fiscalshare Says:

    You wrote “The only thing stopping me is the apparent death of Excel as a serious business tool.” This has been mentioned to me recently by several people who don’t rely on Excel as a vital tool in their daily work. I start freaking out at just the mention of it. If someone took Excel away from me, I would not be able to do my job. If Excel goes away what is going to replace it? Has anyone seriously researched how business users actually use Excel and has anyone provided any reasonable alternatives? Excel is like the automobile. Most of us drive OK and we don’t injure ourselves or anyone else. Then there are spectacular idiots who wreak havoc. This does not mean that cars are going away any time soon. We just need to train the clueless or get them off the road.

  7. Matt Doar Says:

    “the guy that uses his real name”

    I’m feeling special snowflake now.

  8. Laurent Bosc Says:

    I’m convinced that the Excel based dev is viable and very efficient, if managed by well trained people. But indeed Excel has a very bad reputation (for IT team, not for business users…) because of bad-trained users who used Excel without really knowing it. It is so easy to create a formula or a vba code… But to maintain, deploy etc…, it is another thing…

    The example of the automobile is interesting, but we pass a driving licence, while in Excel most of users have no real training… It was like if most of drivers would not have her driving licence !

    I’m an IT users for an international company (so with a big IT team) who works now directly in a business department and i have strong knowledge on Excel and VBA, So I try to help users by developing tools in excel (or MS-access too, single tools I’m authorized…) and when I develop in Excel I use the same rules as in a standard development (dev rules, documentation, code separation, …). But Excel concepts (I love the table data of Excel ;) ) enables to do things so beautiful and powerful, that’s impressive.

    One of the main problem, is that the excel file is easy to diffuse, and user don’t know the difference between a basic excel file with just data, and an excel tool which could contains code or sqlrequest with a direct access to a Database for example (sensible data), IT security services are very nervous whit this kind of file, because there is no way to manage theses “tools”. But if you create in the excel tool a ribbon with the ability for the user to send the excel file as a simple excel file (by removing all code and sensible info), the confusion is limited. The user will send a basic excel file to other users and you limit the risk to diffuse your tool by error a lot. You can also obfuscate the VBA code in addtion of (weak) VBA password, and separate the sql code with the DB connexion file, etc…

    So by adding some concepts (not possible by common users…)
    and being close to the users Excel developement is a good approach.

    So YES I would probably buy your book ;)

    NB: I’m not a natural english speaker, so sorry for my english, sometimes difficult to exactly explains what I want to says…

  9. Simon Says:

    mieux que mon français Laurent…:-)

  10. marcussyben Says:

    Hiya Simon,

    Just some musings to consider.

    “I’d hate to invest all that effort and then find my mum is the only person willing to buy it.”

    Had you considered investing in some market research?

    You’ve already mentioned looking more at an eBook. Could you perhaps create a dedicated website stating that you’re writing a book and its intended target market (audience) and ask what’s their number one burning question or problem (to solve) in this area (you’d use PPC ads to drive traffic there). These responses would then form the basis of the contents rather than guessing what topics are in greatest demand.

    For their assistance you could offer a free copy of the book (for which they’d give you their email address to deliver it). Once written you would then have an eager audience presumably happy to provide a glowing testimonials which you could use to promote the book.

    “If there were such a book do you think there would be a market for it? Do you know people who would buy it?”

    If you carefully and narrowly defined the target audience and the contents matched their specific needs then yes.
    Having said that, I feel there are already inconsistencies in your suggested target audience and possible topics. For example, there’s a large leap from “business folks wanting to improve their Excel clicking” to having both the toolsets and skills required to implement ExcelDNA or XLL+ solutions.

    All the best – Marcus from London

    P.S. Merry Christmas – I trust you’re having a good one

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