Mondays are productivity days at SimpleProductivity blog.
OK, this is a bit of a soapbox topic for me, but I’ve got to say it. You see, I’ve working in Information Technology forever, 13 years as a consultant. And the number one thing I saw as a consultant was software abuse.
Software abuse is when you take a program and make it do things it was never intended to do. This often results in slow computers, incomplete data, and bad analysis. It also means poor productivity.
Yes, poor productivity. When someone takes software and abuses it, it’s never done by accident. It’s done by someone putting thought and effort into getting the computer to do something. And that means lots of wasted time and effort.
(True) Examples of Software Abuse
Please note that names and positions have been changed to protect the
The Maxed Out Spreadsheet
I had a client a few years ago whose lead accountant fancied himself a programmer. The problem was, he wasn’t. Nor was it part of his job. He liked to build spreadsheets. Big, massive, spreadsheets. With lots of formulas, lookups and formatting.
One day he wandered in to complain his spreadsheet wasn’t calculating, and he was sure there was a problem in the macro. All the regular employees were out, so he was pestering me. So I looked. The spreadsheet, written in Excel, had 256 columns and 15,000 rows. This was when Excel could only handle 256 columns and 16,384 rows. It turns out the spreadsheet was calculating. It just took 8 minutes to do the whole spreadsheet.
“Arnie,” I said, not quite believing what I was seeing, “there’s too much in this spreadsheet.”
Arnie folded his arms. “But it has all those columns and rows. I should be able to use them.”
I proceeded to explain to Arnie the concept of maximum limits, and brought it down to his favorite hobby: cars. “Arnie, how high does your speedometer go?” He responded that it went up to 100. “Would you run your car at 100 for a long trip?” He was indignant. Of course not! The load on the engine would harm the engine. “Same with a spreadsheet. Don’t overload the engine.”
The sad thing was, Arnie was using the spreadsheet like a database. He was looking up part numbers and projecting usage based on production schedules. And the very information he had been calculating was available to him on the server inventory database, real-time, with the report running in under 30 seconds.
The Chart from Where???
The document going to the president of the company was almost finished, but the plant manager wanted to include the data on the latest product run, which was spectacular. He asked me to pull the data, and I sent it to the person putting together the report. I happened to see her in the lunch room and asked if she had gotten the data. “Yes. I spent all morning on that graph, ” she made a face. “And now I have to retype it all. I don’t know how I’ll get it done in time!”
I was puzzled. “Why retype it?” I followed her back to her desk. She had created the chart in Word, not Excel. (This was before the two were fully integrated). Word gave her a tiny little pseudo-spreadsheet to type the data into.
I showed her how to create the table in Excel and paste the resulting graph into Word. She was ecstatic. “This is going to make my life so much easier! It will free up at least three days a month!”
The Moral Of the Story
If you are spending a lot of time trying to get software to do what you want, ask yourself if the software was designed to do it. Spreadsheets are not databases. Home databases are not commercial grade. Word processors are not spreadsheets or presentation makers.
If your software was designed for what you are doing, and you are struggling, consider another solution. Not all software is created equal. Liken it to needing to pound a nail in. You can do it with a plastic hammer, but a metal hammer works much better, and with less effort.
Photo by Matti Mattila