Five tips to avoid misuse of spreadsheets

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5 tips to avoid misuse of spreadsheets
5 tips to avoid misuse of spreadsheets
5 tips to avoid misuse of spreadsheets

Well, last week, I emphasized why it is important to start learning spreadsheets right away. Note that there is no one software that can be used for every data challenge at hand. However, I keep seeing Spreadsheets to be somewhat contrary to this – a lot of working professionals keep using spreadsheets for everything and anything to do with data only to realize or end up creating something complex and beyond impossible to manage.

Spreadsheets find their applications cutting across industries, professionals, and practice fields because they are easy to use and give you rich first-hand experience dealing with the data. However, it’s especially important that you should always think about the big picture and think ahead to understand whether a spreadsheet software is the right one to be used before addressing any data challenge.

Below are five areas where you should avoid using spreadsheet software:

  • Spreadsheets as complex data collection forms for large set of audience: Never use spreadsheets for collecting complex data from large number of individuals. Spreadsheets don’t give you comprehensive input controls with complex rules to control the entry of data by the users which you might find in specialized data collection software. This leads to inaccurate collection of data. You collect data because you want to aggregate such collected data and analyze it. But, if the data you collect itself is garbage, the results of any analysis on top of such data are also expected to be garbage.
  • Spreadsheets as store houses of data: Never use spreadsheets for storing substantial amounts of historical data. Spreadsheets are more of ad hoc data analysis software, and they are clearly not and never a database. If at all you use spreadsheets as a database to store substantial amounts of data, it will take no time to realize managing and processing large amount of data spread across multiple sheets and workbooks turning out to be a nightmare. In fact, in most situations, you will end up where you don’t have any option other than using spreadsheets for the task because you haven’t envisaged the consequences and your project will be doomed to be a failure.
  • Spreadsheets as interactive dashboards in multi-cloud environment: Avoid using spreadsheets for creating rich and interactive dashboards for large set of audience in a multi-cloud environment. Spreadsheet software developed by different vendors in the market like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Zoho, etc., have not evolved to an extent that they work seamlessly and flawlessly in cloud and more specifically in hybrid cloud environments. A lot of spreadsheet functionality what is available in on-premises spreadsheets is not available yet in cloud. Also, a lot of spreadsheet functionality what is available in one cloud environment (like Microsoft Azure) becomes unavailable in another cloud environment (like Google Cloud) and vice versa.
  • Spreadsheets as project management tools for large and complex projects: Yes, there are a lot of beautiful templates of Gantt charts created by a lot of spreadsheet experts. But please note that all these templates can be used only for simple projects. If you try using the same templates or if you try designing your own templates for managing large and complex projects, or multiple projects or complex projects with many interdependencies, it will not take longer for you to realize that spreadsheets are not helping you instead creating more challenges.
  • Spreadsheets as models for mission critical decisions: Never use spreadsheet models for mission critical decisions. History has a lot of lessons where companies ended up in huge financial mess’s (like paying huge fines to regulatory authorities) due to spreadsheet errors. Spreadsheets are very good for building models for decision making but the moment the decision making becomes mission critical, such enabling spreadsheet models must be moved/migrated to more specialized software and rigorously tested before making any mission critical decisions.

Hope the above tips help you understand how or where to avoid misuse of spreadsheets.

Do you see any other instances where spreadsheets are not the right fit? Do share your thoughts in comments.

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