Fantastic article today from Forbes and author Tim Worstall.
The author points to aspects of the financial markets that would have been impossible without Excel. However, because it’s the global #1 business intelligence tool accessible by everyone, be warned: half-assed spreadsheet development has caused major havoc.
The concerns aren’t limited to the financial markets (as focused on by Worstall). This applies to shoe stores managing inventory, farmers managing feed and fertilizer expenses … anything and anyone who’s working with data. This is why I think it’s important to think “data management,” “data stewardship” and “data quality.” It’s crucial to see Excel as a tool. Albeit a powerful tool, there are some tasks that would be irresponsible to execute in Excel.
Excel mastery is just a bunch of inert tricks. Data Management, however, keeps the inventory straight, and shows where actual fertilizer expenses are in relation to planned expenses.
Thinking “data management” gets us off of the tool and focused on the objective and consequences. We then see that to meet the objective and avoid calamities, spreadsheets should have built-in transparency, as well as solid error-handling and validation. It’s not good enough for the math to be right. These are items I touch on in my workshops. Strategy, deliberate execution and trustworthy data are more important than sexy formulas. A user can copy-paste their way to Nirvana with no formulas if-and-only-if there’s a solid strategy. In Excel-ese:
=IF(AND(Solid Strategy,Trustworthy Data, Deliberate Execution), “Outstanding”,”Reliance on a Frayed Rope”)
Some actions that can tighten up our use of Excel as responsible stewards of data:
- Clear understanding of the consequences if something is miscalculated.
- Have more than one person responsible for review and approval.
- Anticipate what could go wrong, how and by whom.
- Explicit understanding that Data Stewardship is the responsibility because Excel skill is just a skill.
- Use data validation and sheet protection.
- Don’t use Excel if it’s the wrong tool.
- Forgive ourselves because things still break down in spite of our best efforts. But make the effort. That’s just a general life lesson.
Now, let’s get out there and keep our data clean!