Excel is a wonderful tool. It’s flexible, powerful, and relatively easy to learn. You can make it do anything.

Excel is also evil. It’s flexible, powerful, and relatively easy to learn. You can make it do anything.

I’m not joking – I love Excel, but the power to make it do anything has cost me more hours than any other piece of technology. You can make a spreadsheet do anything because you can key in any number you want. Once you?ve done that, there?s really no way to reconstruct what happened. Were you adjusting? Where you fixing a mistake? Did you make a mistake? I’m always happy to help my clients, but troubleshooting problems with spreadsheets is usually not pretty.

Case in point. Just this morning I was asked why a new report–generated from our new dashboard system and tied out to our financial statements–doesn’t agree with a 3-YEAR-OLD SPREADSHEET. As an added bonus I’m getting the question from the client’s European office, so I’m thinking about this at 6am.

Granted, I was probably the person who created that spreadsheet 3 years ago, or at least provided the basic data to someone who then created the spreadsheet. But does anyone remember what the actual request was? Why the modifications were made? What exactly that spreadsheet was trying to show?

I realize that you can’t do everything with a system-generated report. Everyone needs to do ad-hoc analysis and that is what Excel is for. But please, be nice to your systems folks. Try to remember that they don’t know what you did in your spreadsheet. And they never will.


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