software technology

Statistics show 88% of Spreadsheets have errors. Do yours?

The best thing about Excel is that it’s so flexible. The worst thing about Excel is that it’s so flexible. With enough effort and programming, people can bend and twist Excel into doing almost anything. The challenge with that, as many people know, is that lurking inside every spreadsheet are errors that elude the creator. Some errors can be minor, but many errors are much greater in magnitude and can lead to executives making critical decisions based on bad math. Numerous studies on spreadsheet errors have been undertaken over the past 5 years which indicate that an alarming rate of errors exist in business-critical spreadsheets. Consider this blurb from the 2009 University of Hawaii paper on “What we know about spreadsheet errors”: In general, errors seem to occur in a few percent of all cells, meaning that for large spreadsheets, the issue is how many errors there are, not whether an error exists. These error rates, although troubling, are in line with those in programming and other human cognitive domains. In programming, we have learned to follow strict development disciplines to eliminate most errors. Surveys of spreadsheet developers indicate that spreadsheet creation, in contrast, is informal, and few organizations have comprehensive policies for spreadsheet development. Although prescriptive articles have focused on such disciplines as modularization and having assumptions sections, these may be far less important than other innovations, especially cell-by-cell code inspection after the development phase.   To put it another way, on average, a spreadsheet will contain 1 error for every 20 cells that contain data. Cell errors are bad enough. What about the errors that are introduced from copying data from one spreadsheet to the next? It’s pretty common to have multiple spreadsheets

The Innovative Customer

Having worked in technology for many years, I’ve come across numerous diverse opinions and positions on how best to make roadmap decisions on a software product. Well, in fact, I’ve come across a lot of opinions about a lot of things. Most people, I find, are quite full of opinions.      You might find this odd, but I actually get a lot of enjoyment out of listening to people’s opinions – regardless of the topic: politics, religion, food, music, the latest tablet, parenting, books, movies, sports and whatever else comes to mind. People can be quite interesting if you give them a chance to rant-on about any topic they feel passionate about. I don’t always agree with them, of course, but for the most part, it is interesting to listen.   Being in the business of delivering innovative technology solutions, the prioritization of new software features to build into a product is a very important aspect of our business. So listening to people has become a vital part of making those prioritizing decisions. Many in the technology world will however, strongly advise us to not listen to customers when it comes to setting the urgency of one feature over another. The thinking behind such a stance is that customers who are using the software on a day-to-day basis are only going to make suggestions/demands for features & fixes that will make their own little world a bit better. They’re not too concerned with long-term strategic planning.  So, as the thinking goes, if we expend all our development resources on tiny items that will help a handful of people - but will have negligible effect on the broader customer base (both current and future) -