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:

Spreadsheets

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.

However:

  • 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.

Google Sheets

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.

comments powered by Disqus