There is a truism more true than most truisms.

The future will happen.

But somehow, when people setup spreadsheets this very true truism is temporarily suspended! What do I mean?

The one big reason why spreadsheets are messy, or needlessly complex, or is highly labour-intensive, and contain errors is … they were not created with the expectation that things in an organisation (in a business) will change in the future.

In other words, we don’t think of future-proofing and scalability when we create spreadsheets, and so our spreadsheets are not capable of coping with the future.

We compensate in one of two main ways. (1) by manually working round the changes that are required. This may include copy/pasting, or overwriting formulas, or making a copy of the spreadsheet to create a sheet for a new entity that was not originally envisaged. Or (2) by making the spreadsheet highly complex, by shoe-horning the modifications into a spreadsheet that was not designed for it. This may include un-linking and re-linking external links, It may involve inserting new columns, deleting some, and running the risk of formulas breaking. And other horrors that are too varied to predict in advance!

All we can predict with some certainty is that the horrors will occur!

There’s enough research on this over the decades, so I won’t repeat them here. (See Professor Ray Panko, European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group (EuSpRIG).

My interest in this is:

  • What are we doing about it?
  • How can we make spreadsheets future-proof? Scalable?
  • Who, in organisations, is responsible for ensuring that mission-critical spreadsheets are future-proof and scalable?
  • Are organisations recruiting on this basis? Do organisations even understand the need for this?
  • What measures exist to differentiate an ‘Excel skilled’ candidate who understands the need for, and has technical expertise for, future-proofing spreadsheets and making them scalable?
  • Should organisations have internal standards on this? Training?

The Celebrity Chef Spreadsheet Challenge

This is a simple thought experiment designed to start a meaningful conversation on this topic.

It is for people at all levels in an organisation. Whether you design and create spreadsheets, or simply use them, or manage people who create or use spreadsheets. You can go here.

Preliminary results show that 99% of spreadsheet creators do not think about future-proofing and scalability.

Currently more formal research is being conducted to delve deeper into this topic. [TBA]

The author would like to hear of any books or training courses that specifically cover future-proofing and scalability in (all kinds of) spreadsheets in organisations.

Hiran de Silva

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