11. June 2019

How can I get things done NOW (without talking to IT)?

While doing background research on spreadsheets before and since starting GRID, I’ve talked to hundreds of people about spreadsheets and their spreadsheet usage. I wanted to understand what spreadsheets really are to people, and why they are so ubiquitous. And why they are used for everything — including a lot of things they were obviously not designed for.

Through these conversations, the answer gradually came to me:

Spreadsheets are the knowledge worker’s answer to the question: How can I get things done NOW?

Or more specifically:

How can I get things done NOW without talking to IT or having to discover and learn how to use some new tool?

Examples:

  • HR wants to gather some new data from each department in the organization. They *could* talk to IT, and have them stand up something in — say — Microsoft Dynamics, but they know IT doesn’t even have time for a meeting until the week after next, and no flexibility to take on new projects for another 3 months. It’s not ideal, but creating a template in Excel and emailing it to each department, asking them to reply with the filled in form by Friday will get the job done fast, and without relying on anyone else.

  • A small co-working studio wants to list their inventory of tools and allow people to check out tools when they are in use. They *could* go seek out a customizable inventory solution for small teams, but it will take time and cost money. Sharing a Google Sheet that lists the tools and asking people to fill in their name and the date next to a tool when they check it out gets the job done.

  • You’re working on the project plan for opening that new store. You *could* look into the purpose built project management tool that the consultant gal was using the other day. After all it looked pretty good, but you don’t have the time to learn how to use a new tool. After all, the kick-off meeting is tomorrow. Maybe next time (but probably not).

You will notice that none of these use-cases necessarily have any formulas or make use of any other features that would normally be seen as spreadsheets’ core strength. It’s mostly people with little time choosing the path of least resistance, using a versatile tool they already know — and in many cases rightfully so.

It’s a testament of the power and utility of spreadsheets that “regular people” can solve a variety of IT needs with them. However, you don’t have to spend a lot of time around spreadsheets — or in business in general — to realize some of their obvious shortcomings.

More about those in an upcoming post…

This article has also been published on Medium.

Written by Hjalmar Gislason

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