5 Reasons You May Need Better Spreadsheets

Software companies often bad-mouth spreadsheets, in order to scare people into buying their software, by telling you all the ‘horror’ stories from using spreadsheets. While I disagree with their tactics, conclusion and generalisation, there is some truth in this. Any software is only as good as it is made and unfortunately many people will have a go at Excel, even those with little to no experience. Now while I encourage everyone to use Excel and develop their skills, it can be unwise for a business to rely on spreadsheets that are not up to scratch. So, how do you know if you need better spreadsheets? Here are a few things to look out for and why I think they need correcting.

1. Your spreadsheet does not do all that it can.

This may seem obvious, but let me tell you that there are MANY companies out there who make do with what they have. They’ve had a spreadsheet for a while, it’s grown over the years as various people add to it, but it still doesn’t do exactly what they need. Most times when people send me a spreadsheet as a starting point for what they need, it only does half of what they need, and some of what the spreadsheet does is not required. People often have been using these spreadsheets for years, being unproductive the whole time. If you find yourself thinking that your spreadsheet could do more in certain cases, and does too much in other cases, it is a good sign that you need a better spreadsheet.

2. You can read and edit formulas.

This may not mean you need a new spreadsheet, but it certainly means that the one you have should be locked. Unlocked formulas on a complete spreadsheet that is in use, is a potential for very serious issues. I once worked for a company that did this, and a member of staff was able to steal millions (of Rands, it was in South Africa) by editing formulas. The management just believed the figures they saw, until they eventually realised that something wasn’t right. Even if your staff are honest, it is just a matter of time before someone over-writes a formula with a value, even if by mistake. That in itself can cause massive issues. In fact, the spreadsheets that only I use, are also locked. I lock my own spreadsheets to prevent me from accidentally typing over formulas. The problem with just locking a spreadsheet that may be corrupted is that you may be locking in errors. In my experience, a spreadsheet in this condition is often better off being remade.

3. You keep trying to edit locked cells.

Let’s assume the spreadsheet is locked and secure; how often do you try to enter data where you shouldn’t? This is a clear sign that the layout of the spreadsheet could be better and therefore more efficient. I separate all the unlocked and locked cells on the spreadsheets I make. Look at any ready-made spreadsheets and you’ll see this. Red (or yellow) for data entry, and green (or blue) for locked cells. This makes it clear as to what cells need data to be entered and what cells are formulated. I can honestly say that over 90% of the spreadsheets I am sent, are not clear as to what should be entered where. It is just a mixture of unlocked and locked cells in a mess. It may be the logical way to make a spreadsheet, but it is certainly not a logical way to use a spreadsheet. I don’t make what’s easier for me to make, I make what is more efficient for you to use, so the bespoke spreadsheets will have a similar layout.

4. Your spreadsheet is not efficient enough.

This loosely ties in with point 1, but there is more to it. I’ve seen some massively ‘manual’ spreadsheets that could be way more automated. So, for example, how often do you have to enter the same information in the same spreadsheet? I often get sent spreadsheets that require duplicate entries purely because the maker of the spreadsheet didn’t have the skills to use the information provided in the most efficient manner. Also, does the spreadsheet report on the data you’ve entered? I see spreadsheets that collect a wealth of data, and produce a few totals. They have all the data needed for an in-depth analysis that would be incredibly useful, but they don’t use it. Have a look at your spreadsheets and ask yourself what they could be doing for you. Do you think you spend too long entering the same data over and over, without getting value for your time in the form of reporting? I look at all projects with a similar view. Minimum input, maximum automation, maximum output. Yes, there are limitations, but most spreadsheets don’t come anywhere near these limitations. If your spreadsheets could do more for you, leaving you to do less while still enjoying more reporting, then you need to get in touch with me.

5. Your spreadsheet isn’t flexible enough.

A spreadsheet that is pre-made and now being used will have a certain amount of structure, so it will never be completely flexible, however there should be some flexibility. For example, do you have various ‘settings’ that you can adjust? I’m not talking about Excel settings, but cells within the spreadsheet to change the calculations. I recently had someone send me a spreadsheet to remake, and one of their formulas had the hourly rate built into the formulas. This meant that they couldn’t update the hourly rate without editing formulas. In other cases it’s not so blatant, but they may have a list of 10 products, with no ability to edit the list. This means that they end up missing some new products, and having old ones still on the spreadsheet, because the drop-down list can’t be edited. So many spreadsheets I see are not ‘future proof’. No room for growth, no ability to make changes, no thoughts about spreadsheets filling up with old data. All of these can quite easily be overlooked when making a spreadsheet, but these are all things that I think about and ask about before making a spreadsheet. If you’ve had a spreadsheet for a while, but it’s now being bogged down with old data, and is slowly becoming outdated, it may well be time to get a better one. One which is more future-proof and flexible.

So, there you have it. If you’re experiencing any of these issues, I’d love to chat. You may even find that a new, better, easier to use, more efficient, future-proof and robust spreadsheet may cost less than you think. Then you can get on with what you do, rather than worrying about a spreadsheet that is holding you back. I’d love to chat with you, so please click the button below and get in touch.