Tag: spreadsheet

Google Spreadsheets, so we can really screw up some numbers

As if buggy spreadsheets weren’t problem enough with one user, Google is now offering online spreadsheets. Now ten or more users can mortally wound next quarter’s analyst estimates. This error thing isn’t some isolated problem either, it’s pandemic for goodness sakes (or at least that’s what Slashdot calls it).

As much as Microsoft consistently opens itself to poundings, I’ll say this: “You can pry my Excel from my cold, dead hands!”
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Buggy spreadsheets not for the faint of heart

A long time ago, I was sitting in front of this very complex spreadsheet. This monster was designed to prove a certain company was worth more alive than dead – the subject was under bankruptcy court protection, and creditors wanted it liquidated. A hundred employees lives laid in the balance.

After building, and then pouring over iterations for weeks, I started finding errors. Numbers that shouldn’t be just showed up. I’d piss and moan to my superiors that the deal wouldn’t work. I said “the numbers don’t lie.” My mentor of the day suggested this:

“Well it worked last week. What changed? I think you need a break. Walk away from the thing – take a break. I suspect this is all artist’s user error.”

What did he mean by that? The more you play with a spreadsheet, the better the chance that you’ll break it. Go with your gut, learn to step away from the raw numbers and think about the bigger picture – the subject of your analysis. You might find you are subjecting yourself to the same – simple artist’s user error.

Big corporate hasn’t learned this lesson yet. Maybe they are just short on staff after all the “productivity gains.”