Simplicity – Keeping Intelligent Spreadsheets Simple

As I wrote in my previous post, I’ll be expanding on my thoughts on Simplicity in Spreadsheets.  Having both created spreadsheets as well as used those created by others, I have both caused, as well as suffered under others, much grief at using spreadsheets due to what is boils down to bad and over complicated design.  The result of this is wasted time in correcting errors, misunderstandings and frustrations.  The problem is that most finance-trained executives are just not good at design.
simplicity

simplicity (Photo credit: TheAlieness GiselaGiardino²³)

I started work in a global HQ office as an analyst whose job is to collect and present data from around Asia and Australasia region, thus, I needed to create lots of templates for different country analysts to fill in.  There I had many great teachers and they generally fall within 2 groups: people who taught me the technical side of Excel and people who made me realised the effect of my templates on them and the impact I had on their work.  It’s the latter group who taught me that spreadsheets can be great enablers, but only if you design it well.
Most people use spreadsheets to perform calculations, collate data and even create models, but they miss out the main function of a spreadsheet, and that is to present your ideas, albeit in the form of computations and tables, to enable decision making.
By presenting your idea in a simple manner, you make it easy for others to follow your thought process, which means that they will be more willing to accept your idea.  That way, you overcome mental barriers to achieve your colleagues’ buy-in.
Simplifying spreadsheets will also mean that you can dedicate less time in maintaining and troubleshooting the spreadsheets, freeing up your resources to do more high-value work.
Spreadsheets are also an important part of the company’s knowledge management tools as they often encapsulate the processes of the company and the key indicators that are monitored.  Thus it is essential that they be simple and well-designed.
Simplicity can be achieved by thinking through, before you start working on the spreadsheet, what is the conclusion you want to achieve, what are the inputs and computations you need to perform in order to achieve the desired conclusion?  Only then should you start to create your spreadsheet.
Remember: “More haste, less speed”, more time spent planning and designing will mean less time spent down the road troubleshooting and explaining.
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3 thoughts on “Simplicity – Keeping Intelligent Spreadsheets Simple

  1. [...] Simplicity – Keeping Intelligent Spreadsheets Simple [...]

  2. check this out February 19, 2013 at 11:35 pm Reply
    • anthonli February 20, 2013 at 7:41 am Reply

      Thanks for the favourable comment! Will strive to keep it up

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