The unsung develpment tool: Spreadsheets
I just wanted to share my thought process about an oft-used tool in my arsenal, that I'm not sure a lot of developers think about:
I can hear the yawns already. But, hear me out.
Have you ever wanted to check every view on a site to make sure they did what you expect in some way?
Did you ever need to browser test 15 pages against half a dozen browsers?
I don't know about you, but I can only keep track of about 3 things in my head at any one time. I know this about myself, and know that I need places outside of my head to track information.
I think of spreadsheets as one of the best organizational tools when it comes to dealing with medium to large development efforts.
- They quick to make
- They are maleable
- Almost any stakeholder can understand them at a glance
- They help you avoid oversight where you "missed something you meant to check"
When to reach for a spreadsheet? My personal rule of thumb is:
- Does the issue have more than one dimension to it? (e.g. Pages & Browsers)
- Does one dimension have more than 5 items? (e.g. you have 15 pages you want to check)
- Does the lesser dimension have more than 1? (e.g. you are checking 6 browsers)
At this point, it's probably worth tracking the issue in a spreadsheet.
- Is the information needed in either dimension easily expressed in a sentence or less?
This is a tricky one - if what you're looking for are "yes / no", or short answers, then a spreadsheet is fine. If, however, you think that you need complicated meta data, or long descriptions with images, that's when you've probably outgrown a spreadsheet. If this is happening a lot, then you need to move on to a ticketing system of some kind.
I especailly want to call out Google Sheets here in the context of spreadsheets. Personally, I default to using Google Sheets when stating a spreadsheet of any kind. Only when I know that there is some feature or aspect of the information that requires Excel or Numbers do I reach for those. I can say that has happened about twice in the last ten years.
Why Google Sheets?
- They're instantly backed up, since they live online
- You can share them with others and they can see your updates in real time, and they can add information in real time
I still do not know why people email Excel files back and forth to manage basic information. It's lunacy.