As we help engineers and manufacturing companies moving to organize information, I can see how old Excel habits are often preventing organizations and engineers from making progress and shift towards an organized data-driven environment. The same old habits prevent companies from start thinking “data” instead of thinking “Excel documents”.
In my article today, I want to outline 3 typical old Excel habits I see when organizations decide to left Excel data management behind and move forward.
1- Put all my data in a single Excel
It is so easy to think about how to pull all the data in a single Excel. It gives a feeling of control, ownership, and ease of data access. The problem with this approach is that Excel quickly became unmanageable in terms of changes and access control. I can see attempts to hide columns, control the updates, and combining data in Excel with revisions of the Excel files.
2- Organize spreadsheet in a specific order, shape, and form
Once you attempt to put all the data you need in single Excel (even with multiple sheets), I often can see how companies are attempting to manage the structure and make some data organization using Excel formatting methods – order of columns, order of rows, spacing, indentation, etc. All these methods help to the user to get data organizations such as group similar items together (ex. parts of the same type or contractor), product structure, and many others. However, Excel is lacking relationships management and the outcome is a big mess of unstructured data that is hard to manage.
3- Duplicate the data between multiple Excels
Re-use is one of the most powerful and fundamental behavior. The ability to re-use components, assemblies, and projects is simple and powerful. Excel gives you very limited capabilities to re-use, so I can see how companies create multiple copies of Excel files. As a result, there is no single source of data (eg. cost of the item, description, etc) and, instead, companies are managing multiple Excels with duplicated records. The problem is really hard in project-oriented organizations and engineering-to-order processes that give companies a false sense of isolation. Multiple Excels or spreadsheets don’t give them the ability to analyze information and optimize the process and decisions.
What is my conclusion?
It is time to stop Excel OCD that lives in many organizations. Excel thinking is very natural and was used by companies for many years. It is easy to think about how “to have Excel in the pocket” and solve the data management problem by sending Excels around. However, Excel (and spreadsheets) lack 3 fundamental differentiation – granularity, relations, and change history combined together. These differentiators create a big advantage for any organization organizing their data, managing an infinite history of the information, holistic relationships between items (eg. BOM structure), and managing the lifecycle of data. The change is hard. So It is hard to forget old habits and stop thinking “Excel” any time you face a data management problem. Just my thoughts…