The Spreadsheet Trap

Spreadsheets are probably the most useful and most dangerous tool in any organization. They are a versatile tool that can be used for everything from creating forms to collecting data to doing reporting. And there is the problem. At the end of the day, spreadsheets are ultimately an unstructured collection of information.


I’ve been there, you’ve been there, we’ve all been there. You are presented with a problem in your business and that problem requires some sort of data to be collected. Let’s take for example a time study about how long it takes to make a specific product. The default reaction is “let’s just put it in a spreadsheet”. Someone creates a sheet and saves it to a shared drive or maybe creates one in google sheets or some other shared tool. Problem solved! Right? Well maybe not…


The sheet gets put to great use. Hours are being logged by multiple people in the sheet. We are gathering great data and things are fantastic. But then one day someone adds a column for some new data and accidentally shifts the data. But it wasn’t noticeably shifted, so now all our information is wrong, and we didn’t catch it.


Or let’s look at an example where maybe the information is being reviewed by a manager who’s responsible for the product line and the numbers don’t make him and his team look all that great. He decides to just “massage” some of the numbers to make it look a little better.


Both are potentially extreme situations, hopefully at least. But neither are too far from the truth of housing critical but unstructured data in a spreadsheet. Sure, there are ways to protect sheets and create passwords and security and make them editable or not editable. But realistically this very rarely happens in the real world.

Before implementing any type of business procedure that relies on data being timely and accurate, ask yourself if this is something that should be created in a structured form like with a web application.


Many times, a little additional planning up front can give you a flexible tool that is still shareable and accessible without the pitfalls of trying to manage information in a spreadsheet. Allowing people to enter the same time information in an intuitive form, with controls and security in place ensure that the important information you are capturing is valid and good.


Before starting any project, ask yourself a few questions:

  • Is this a critical process?

  • Is it bad if we lose this data or it gets corrupted?

  • Do multiple people need to access this data?

  • Should managing this data be easy?

  • Is this structured data?

If the answer to any of those questions is yes, then you should consider creating an actual platform for your application rather than using spreadsheets for something outside of what they are designed to do.





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