Spreadsheet Hell: A True Story of an Unstable Business Process

Act I

This is the beginning of the tragic story of an employee we’ll call John*. John was a good employee who could do his job well, but unfortunately for him, his job was managing the data of the various franchises of a company. In order to do his job, John needed data from all the franchises that he managed, and so he got it— in the form of hundreds of spreadsheets in various formats and in varying levels of quality.

This particular company depended on John collocating a lot of company information into a single report, so to do that, he had to accept all the spreadsheets from all the franchises. That should be re-stated for emphasis: that’s all the spreadsheets. The job fell to him to collect all of these into a single report that he could send to his managers. Now we’re not saying that he worked in a windowless torture chamber as well, but John may have been in the deepest circle of spreadsheet hell we’ve seen so far.

Act II

But that’s not where the true tragedy lies. To John’s supervisors, what they saw was the work being done. The thing that gets lost in the detail is the instability of a business process that depends on the work of a single person to accomplish such a long and repetitive task. John may have been able to handle the work, but that kind of a bottleneck is going to create problems later. Some missed information, some data that wasn’t carried over properly, or even a problem with formatting could lead to inaccurate information getting passed on and that inaccurate information could lead to much larger problems when it came time to use the information.

This company was relying on an unstable business process to accomplish fundamental tasks, and in addition to the time wasted for John, the company itself wasn’t getting the solid information that it needed. This means John was suffering through it, the company was suffering through it, and because that was the way it had always been done, an unstable business process was becoming ingrained into the culture.

Act III

With a little automation, we were able to solve two of the company’s problems. First, we were able to free up some of John’s time, so he could contribute to more meaningful work for the organization, and second, we were able to help stabilize a process by making a solution that allowed information from all the various franchises to come together in a more cohesive way. We helped stabilize an unstable business process so that the company was working with better data, and it helped with the human cost of having one employee doing a repetitive and ultimately unneeded task.

For us here at Append Media, stability means making sure that we can bridge the gap between software and process in a way that helps make work more efficient, information more accurate, and keeps people from spending their time doing unnecessary tasks.

John’s story ended with us being able to solve his problem, but maybe you have some of your own pain points in your business processes, and you would like us to investigate. If so, contact us and we can start to see how we can add stability where there was none before.

*Name changed to protect the identity of the employee.