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of the problem. Additionally, the standard programming required for spreadsheets
is easier to learn than other forms of sophisticated programming languages found
in many modeling systems. Even so, Excel has anticipated the occasional need for
more formal programming by providing a powerful programming language, VBA
(Visual Basic for Applications).
The ubiquitous nature of Excel spreadsheets has led to serious academic research
and investigation into their use and misuse. Under the general title of spreadsheet
engineering , academics have begun to apply many of the important principles of
software engineering to spreadsheets, attempting to achieve better modeling results:
more useful models, fewer mistakes in programming, and a greater impact on deci-
sion making. The growth in the importance of this topic is evidence of the potentially
high costs associated with poorly designed spreadsheets.
In the next section, I address some best practices that will lead to superior every-
day spreadsheet and workbook designs, or good spreadsheet engineering . Unlike
some of the high level concepts of spreadsheet engineering, I provide very simple
and specific guidance for spreadsheet development. My recommendations are aimed
at the day-to-day users, and just as the ancient art of Feng Shui provides a sense of
order and wellbeing in a building, public space, or home, these best practices can do
the same for frequent users of spreadsheets.
1.5 Spreadsheet Feng Shui 1 / Spreadsheet Engineering
The initial development of a spreadsheet project should focus on two areas—(1)
planning and organizing the problem to be modeled, and (2) some general practices
of good spreadsheet engineering. In this section we focus on the latter. In succeeding
chapters we will deal with the former by presenting numerous forms of analysis that
can be used to model business decisions. The following are five best practices to
consider when designing a spreadsheet model:
Think workbooks not worksheets—Spare the worksheet; spoil the workbook .
When spreadsheets were first introduced, a workbook consisted of a single work-
sheet. Over time spreadsheets have evolved into multi-worksheet workbooks, with
interconnectivity between worksheets and even other workbooks and files. In work-
books that represent serious analytical effort, you should be conscious of not
attempting to place too much information, data, or analysis on a single work-
sheet. Thus, I always include on separate worksheets: (1) an introductory or cover
page with documentation that identifies the purpose, authors, contact information,
and intended use of the spreadsheet model and, (2) a table of contents providing
users with a glimpse of how the workbook will proceed. In deciding on whether or
not to include additional worksheets, it is important to ask yourself the following
question—Does the addition of a worksheet make the workbook easier to view and
1 The ancient Chinese study of arrangement and location in one’s physical environment, currently
very popular in fields of architecture and interior design.
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