A lot of the times, good ideas start small and grow. Usually this is good. Starting small can get the idea off the ground more quickly and often more cost effectively. But the danger is that sometimes you need to understand the growth before you start small as your initial solution can cause more problems down the road.

Excel is a great tool. I use it myself to keep track of my home budget. With it, I’m able to keep my family’s budget under control (sometimes!). My workbook is very simple. I have a file for each year and each month is keep in its own sheet. The problem is my needs are growing.

First, my wife would like to be able to see the spreadsheet on her own, instead of having to ask me how much money we have left for the month. A solution would be to email the spreadsheet—which would allow her to see the budget—but I would have to constantly email her updates. I could consider other sharing options. MS Office, for example, has products with sharing options that allow us to share the Excel, Word, or PowerPoint document with each other online. But to do this I have to set up a cloud service that we both could use.

My next complication is that now my wife wants to enter her own items into the spreadsheet, instead of giving me her receipts (additional growth to my original idea). Although MS Office products have the ability to support multi-user edits, we have to remember something: these products were designed in the beginning to be a single user desktop application. Therefore, sharing documents and synchronizing changes is challenging. As more users access the file and make changes, the greater the likelihood of issues with synchronizing updates. What’s more, losing data and file corruption is a common occurrence with large number of users.

I have another consideration, too—my kids want to get involved. I like this idea; it will help my kids learn the skill of maintaining a budget, and it would be nice to keep their items in the same workbook. But I don’t want them to see everything. So now, I need to think of security. How can I secure sections of a spreadsheet? While there are options within Excel, but they are very limited and they don’t fit my needs.

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And finally, after using the spreadsheet for over a year, it would be nice to be able to see how our spending compares year after year. But I have a problem, I have separate files for each year. I could merge all my files together but that would make the workbook very large and will keep getting larger year after year.

Suddenly, my initial small idea for process has grown to a point where I need to rethink my approach. Otherwise, I will continually be making concessions and settling for a “good enough” approach.

Looking back at the beginning, there were a few items I did not think about with my “small” project like:

  1. Multi user/data integrity
  2. Security
  3. File size (growth year after year)
  4. Reporting
  5. Mobile (The kids want this)

If I had anticipated these scaling considerations at the beginning, I probably won’t have started with Excel at all. Now don’t get me wrong, Excel did help me to get started. But I have simply out grown it.

In business, we often outgrow our initial solution design because we have the pressure to get a new system developed and up and running quickly. With this sense of urgency, we often overlook or limit the time for business analysis. The majority of the time, this actually causes cost overruns and/or long-term product failures because we don’t look at the full picture and design a solution that is flexible and extensible.

For example, a company may invest in a small custom tracking system to help manage its personnel in the field. The development manager is being pressured to get the system developed and up and running quickly. Therefore, the developers create the solution in a short period of time and roll it out into production. The CEO loves the solution and now wants it to integrate with the accounting system, so billing information can be automatically updated.

The development manager asks the team how long it would take to provide the integration.

The development team says: “We have to rewrite the solution because they did not create it with the idea of integrating real time data exchange with other systems.” Now the company has to spend more money to rewrite the solution before integrating with the accounting system.

At Trilix, we don’t lead with technology. Rather, we examine your current business challenges. With this approach, we always understand your current challenges and we are able to see the current and future needs of your business. This allows us to develop the correct system for you that can grow as your business grows.

Companies that can anticipate future needs, embrace introspection and consider the implications of staying the course, remain at the forefront of innovation. They are the organizations that ensure that the business is continually reinvesting itself and not falling victim to death by spreadsheets.

Now luckily for me, I’m not a company with money being left on the table every day I stay in my Excel spreadsheet. But businesses are not as fortunate. And, in the business world, sometimes the smallest of ideas require a little more time spent on planning and anticipating growth.


Scott Cornell photo