My Convenience, Your Tedium.

Sometimes we try to do too many things in a single spreadsheet or template. When faced with creating a template for data-entry and a table for presentation, many of us tend to take the shortcut, entering data directly into a table formatted for presentation. Sometimes it works, sometimes, it just doesn’t. When it doesn’t, you’ll need to prioritise one over the other, or even split them up, handling data entry and presentation separately.

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Once a year, I need to fill in a massive spreadsheet for the company’s annual budget. Like many large, international cooperations, we adopt the best practices and have a detailed budget broken down by months and business segments. I have a fictional re-creation of the template below:
Jan Segment A Jan Segment B Jan Total Feb Segment A Feb Segment A Feb Total
The template, protected to prevent unwanted tempering, is clearly designed for presentation: beautifully formatted and laid out for printing on A3 paper in microscopic font. It is also horrendously tedious to update, requiring me to link every one of the hundreds of cells to my workings INDIVIDUALLY, especially when I am only in charge of 1 single business segment!
This is an example of a lazy template design, where data is entered directly into a table designed for output, and the ease of data entry is sacrificed for ease of presentation.
I’m sure that if I think hard enough, I can think of many other examples where my laziness had been the cause of grief for my colleagues.
Not every instance of data entry needs to be separated from data presentation. The general rule is that the more complex the idea you are presenting, or the larger the data that you are managing, the more efficient it is to separate data entry from presentation.
For example, if you are just going to present quarterly sales numbers for your company in a table, entering the figures directly into the presentation is just fine, and in fact, efficient. However, if you are going to present quarterly sales by geographic region, market segment and product type, as well as projections for the future using some complicated model, you’d be better off separating the data entry, projection model and presentation into different sections and handle them separately.
Have you faced poor interface and template design recently at your work? Or have you caused others grief with it recently?
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