Is Excel Evil?

Computerized spreadsheet applications are celebrating a 30-year anniversary.  Are Excel and other spreadsheets good or evil?

John C. Dvorak wrote a great article,  The 30th Anniversary of the (No Good) Spreadsheet App stating spreadsheets and the rise of accountants to positions of power have caused society to deteriorate.

I do not fully agree with Dvorak.  I see Excel as a tool.  Tools can be used correctly and appropriately, but have the potential for abuse.  Here are some things that can make Excel evil:

  • Myoptic data: Everyone seems to have Excel but may not have all of the data to input into their spreadsheet.  People might number crunch but do not have a systems viewpoint.  Comparison of other factors is often left out.  I had a situation where execs were in a panic over a spreadsheet showing lost revenue but nobody compared it to the data showing greater savings gains than the loss incurred.
  • Charts can lie: Ever hear “liars use numbers”?  Changing the height and width of the x and y axis on a graph can display the same data with a different visual impact.  A long x axis with short y axis can make increases look gradual.  A tall y axis with short x axis will make the increase look sharp.  Charts can be used as a tool of influence and not purely objective data.
  • Not everyone is good at Excel: There are people who mess up all their columns when they try to sort.  Formulas can be highly funky sometimes.  We can’t trust all spreadsheets because we do not know the author’s skill-set.
  • Gemba is avoided: Dvorak mentions how a CEO doesn’t want to disagree with what a spreadsheet told him.  If leadership went to Gemba to see, more root cause problems will be fixed.  Spreadsheets often just show a symptom. 

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Filed under Business, Communication, Data & Charts, Gemba, Improvements, Learn Leadership

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