5 Reasons to build a new spreadsheet
I often get sent spreadsheets which people have inherited or created, and they want something that can do more. They will sometimes ask if I can simply use the spreadsheet that they have and upgrade it. This is possible in some extreme cases, but most of the time, my answer is no. I’m not being difficult, there are a few reasons why making a new spreadsheet is far better than upgrading an unknown one. Here are some of the reasons:
It takes too long to understand the existing template
This is possibly the main reason. I can spend ages looking through a spreadsheet, trying to figure out what the creator did, what they meant to do, and what they should have done instead. If the spreadsheet was as good as it could be, I would likely not be looking at it to quote in the first place, so most that I get sent are well below par. The time that it takes me to understand what is going on, so that I can build onto it, could be better spent starting to make a new one. It takes time to understand what has been done, it takes more time to fix what is problematic, and then I have to use that dodgy foundation to build the rest of the spreadsheet. Using this time towards making a new spreadsheet, could often see us get beyond the point of the old one.
I’ll be building onto, or incorporating, potentially dodgy formulas
If I take the time to understand an existing spreadsheet, then I need to use those workings in the new spreadsheet. This then leaves me with a choice. I can either fix all the formulas, making them stronger and more robust, or I can leave them and build onto a weak foundation. Both of these options are problematic, and far from ideal. When I build a spreadsheet, many cells are linked with other cells, so I don’t have to repeat the same formulas over and over. When I build onto an existing spreadsheet, if one of the existing formulas fail, the whole spreadsheet could fail. These workings are also needed for reporting, and they require good, clean data which need strong formulas.
The workings of the spreadsheet may need to be different to accommodate upgrades
Often when I get asked to make spreadsheets, it’s because someone has ‘painted themselves into a corner’. They have made the spreadsheet the way they know how, and now they want to take it further and can’t. The reason they can’t go further is often because they have made the spreadsheet in such a way, that it is not conducive to the upgrades they want. This means that the spreadsheet could be laid out in a different way, which would enable further adaptations. In these cases, it is pointless to build onto the new one, as a rebuild is required. I often see this with weak reporting. People have collected loads of data all over the place and want to report on it. Collecting that data behind the scenes, and then laying the collected data out in the correct format to produce reports, can often take longer than simply making the spreadsheet again in the better format.
The look and feel between the spreadsheets would differ, which would look messy
I get sent spreadsheets all the time that have ‘evolved’ over the years, and you can often see the different parts done at different stages. Each with varying looks, feel, flow, colours, design, etc. It looks horrible and can cause issues. A carefully thought-out spreadsheet that is purpose-built, will be far better. Someone building onto someone else’s spreadsheet is never a good idea (unless if it is a minor update on a major, well-made spreadsheet). Each spreadsheet developer has their own way of doing things, and so having two creators can be a problem. Especially if they are at different skill levels. Doing so would not only cause issues, and make the spreadsheet look bad, but it could also prove to be problematic for the users, which different expectations as you use the spreadsheet.
Most spreadsheets are not built on a proper foundation
Here’s a secret for you. I have a template that I use as a starting point for custom spreadsheets. Don’t worry, they are all purpose-built, but there is a starting point. Data entry tabs that check for valid data, and flag up if data is missing or incorrect, is one element that is pre-built. Now, I edit these to suit the requirements, but there is a starting point which saves an hour or so per project. This means that when I start with your spreadsheet, I already have a solid base to work from. It saves me time which saves you money. It also means that I can be thinking about your project rather than doing fundamental basics. Spreadsheets I get sent don’t have these basics, so they are already on the wrong footing. Building this into an existing spreadsheet will take far longer, and still won’t be as robust as it would have had I used the template as a starting point.
There you have it, the reasons why I usually choose to remake a spreadsheet rather than building onto one that I didn’t make. The time I put into a spreadsheet is far more valuable if I am making it, rather than trying to understand one that I will inevitably change anyway. Also, getting the foundations of a spreadsheet is key, and 99% that I get sent are not correct. Starting on a firm foundation, and using my time to the fullest, will get you the best results.
If you need a spreadsheet, please get in touch.