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Wednesday 13 June 2012

Time saved using spreadsheets always beats time saved writing them!

I see many time-saving tips for Excel users that speed up the time it takes to prepare a spreadsheet, such as keyboard shortcuts, text-to-columns, etc.

Where these are all very useful, I sometimes feel that an important truth is often overlooked.

A spreadsheet gets built once, but is used hundreds of times!

It is always worth having this at the back of your mind (or stuck on the wall above your desk!) when you are building a spreadsheet.

Anything that can be done when setting up the spreadsheet to speed up the experience for the user (even if that's you) will pay for itself many times over.

This understanding can often be the difference between an amateur spreadsheet and a professionally produced one. They both do the job, but the good spreadsheet will let you do it in half the time, saving far more than the cost of doing it properly in the first place.

There are many ways in which a good spreadsheet does save the user time, such as drop-down lists, logical data layout and conditional formatting, but the key is to know it's important. If the user is having to copy and paste, change formatting or type something more than once, these are good indicators that the spreadsheet could have been better designed.

If this is the case, it is costing you every month, week or day (depending how often the spreadsheet is used) and it needn't be the case. Take another look at it and see where it can be improved - or get it rewritten by a professional. Either way, you will be amazed at the time savings that are possible.

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  1. I agree with what you are saying but many, many users tend to revert to only the things they are comfortable with. Things like this kind of spaghetti code: =F2+F7+F13+F23+F29+F35 instead of the simple use of subtotals and a sum() function. Not only hard to follow but more work and way easier to make mistakes with. My biggest problem is that people don't want to experiment to use an easier way to build something. The problem is they are satisfied with where they are and what they know so they don't try new functions or new methods in spreadsheet design. How do you get them to use new tools? I believe the average Excel user uses Sum() and maybe average() but not too much more.

  2. Mike

    You're right. This is one of the hardest things I find, doing what I do.

    It's easy once you can get hold of someone's spreadsheet to rewrite it. You can then demonstrate how much time they could be saving with the right approach.

    The problem is getting them to realise that it could be so much better!

  3. We have just commissioned two spreadsheet models from a professional and i can confirm that getting them right is well worth it in terms of time saved.

    For example one sheet was based on something we already had but which required a mark against each job to say it is done and a lot of manipulation each month to show us what jobs were outstanding - so it was often ignored. Now we still mark off jobs done and hey presto have a list of outstanding work at the press of a button without any manipulation at all.

  4. Huw Accountant

    It is this manipulation every month/week/day that people seem to accept and it really doesn't have to be like that if the spreadsheet is built properly in the first place.