Spreadsheet Mistakes 1 - Structure

Updated: Oct 7, 2020

Often, people ask me to help fix a spreadsheet they have created. The spreadsheet was perfect when my client created it but now changes are needed and the client just can't seem to get things to work correctly.

More often than not, the problem is the way the client structured the spreadsheet when he created it. When a spreadsheet is not constructed properly to start, then it is more difficult to scale the spreadsheet or to easily modify the spreadsheet to match changes in the business.

Common structure mistakes in spreadsheets include:

  • The spreadsheet does not conform to standards. Two excellent resources for spreadsheet standards are the European Spreadsheet Risks Interest Group and The FAST Standard.

  • Reports, data entry and calculations are all on the same worksheet.

  • Data sets contain blank columns and rows.

  • Instead of repeating data in every row of a column, cells are left blank.

  • Having a totals column that sums values in columns to the left or right of the totals column. There is no need for totals in a data set because totals can be calculated in reports.

Here are illustrations of structural mistakes in a spreadsheet and what the correct format should be.

Next: Spreadsheet Mistakes 2 - Human Error

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