One of the biggest problems that the clients we serve face is not being able to get the information they need to know out of their data. This is a serious problem because you can’t manage, what you can’t measure. They know that there is something wrong with a part of the business, but do not know the causes of the symptoms. Often a large part of this is due to the running of complex business processes with spreadsheets.
The task of putting a name onto something is an extremely important matter. As humans we name everything – people, animals, buildings, companies, software. Naming is not simply putting a tag on a ‘thing’ but it is a powerful way of prescribing character and purpose. When we were trying to name our little corner of the universe, we thought long and hard about the character and purpose we wanted to bestow onto the world. What did we have to offer? What did QuickBase have to offer? Within this context it was easy to see why we used the term ‘collaborative’ in our company name – it’s not just because we like really long names!
“If you don’t have a clear sense of the totality of your obligations, you will always overcommit. And commitments occur on multiple levels, from ‘why I’m on the planet’ to ‘need butter.’ But the elevation most amorphous for most is the plane just above your physical activities—your projects. I have a radical definition of a project: Anything you’re committed to finish within a year that requires more than one action to complete it. Given that broad designation, most people have between 30 and 100. Where’s your list? How complete and current is it?”
-David Allen, of Getting Things Done (GTD)
I like spreadsheets. I really do. I don’t have a love affair with them as some people do, but they can be used for so many different things to help you get the job done. And if I knew half as much as my sister-in-law (who trains others at CP in her excel expertise), I could do even more. Of course, the best problems they solve are ones where you need numbers crunched.
As I learn about different businesses and the way they work, so many of them are managing an astounding amount of their business-critical work using spreadsheets. On one hand, this makes perfect sense on a number of different levels: spreadsheets are very familiar as everyone has virtually used one; they are inexpensive and there is usually no incremental cost to use them; and they can be quickly setup by a project manager – and changed just as fast.
But (and it’s a big but),
A management consultant friend of mind always says, “every business is a people business.”
Now I find myself in an industry where most people, based either on their perception or their experience, would not believe this to be true: software. It is easy to point to industries like retail or health, and tell stories about how a personal interaction either gave us a great or terrible experience. But what about software? I have had, and heard, my fair share of frustrating stories.
Some could point to the sales department or customer service of a software company, and argue that those fulfill the people aspect of the company. But there has to be more than this, right? Aren’t applications designed, in the end, for people?