Fog Creek Software
Discussion Board

Joel and Excel

He writes pretty good stuff, but working on
Excel has left him loving the thing.  Not
very surprising.

So when you hear him playing down
Microsoft Project, don't take it too
seriously.  This is just old-time
rivalries poking through his head.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Well, that and the fact that Project sucks. :-)
Well, more accurately - what it does, it does pretty well; but in my experience the application has a very, very narrow expectation of how you'll run a project.

Most recent observed shortcoming: you can't have "talent pools" that are assigned to minimize development time. For example, you can't say a specific task requires a DBA, have four designated DBA's, and have project allocate the DBA's to your best benefit - you have to assign each specific resource.

I guess what I'm thinking is that Project really doesn't give you a lot of assistance - it's more like a drawing tool for project plans, if that makes sense.


Tuesday, April 29, 2003

your argument is just a TINY bit weakened by the fact that I worked on Project, too.

Joel Spolsky
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Surely, Project isn't pefect, but it does have
lots of conveniences, that would have
you writing formulaes in Excel (e.g. automatic
completion date from estimate...)
If you are an Excel macro expert, great.
But for most people that's a chore.  Most
people really do use Excel for keeping lists!

And Joel, don't you have a much softer
spot for Excel than Project?  Sure
feels like it, from your writings (most
of which do make uncommon common sense!
Except when you talk about no throwing
away old code.  At least for me, some
of my best code happened when I stopped
loving my old code and just re-wrote it,
this time from full knowledge of details.)

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Project 2002 supports "talent pools" through the use of enterprise outline codes and skills based resource substitution.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

... which means what, exactly?

Adrian Gilby
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

jw must work in either marketing or is on a management trainee programme.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Could it be Joel prefers Excel to Project because it is a much better piece of software?

Stephen Jones
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Or perhaps Excel is better suited to solving the sorts of problems that Joel has to deal with?

Let's say that Joel *is* biased towards Excel.  Does that mean that his advice is invalid?

Brent P. Newhall
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

No reflection on the abilities of the people responsible for Excel, but I can't stand the thing.

I find it to be a horrible hybrid of all sorts of things, it doesn't really know if it's a spreadsheet or an IDE or a platform.  Excel is too underpowered and all round unsuitable for anything of consequence, but all too powerful for smaller light weight problems.

This tends to lead managers into running entire divisions on self made horribly contorted Excel spreadsheets.  The power of Excel often fools management into thinking software development is easy, so they become extremely critical of the demands of programmers.

It would be great if it was just a spreadsheet without all the VBA stuff attached.

no excel please
Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Could it be that it is possible for Software development to be 'that easy' but we programmers just haven't got it yet?

Ged Byrne
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Dear noexcelplease,
                                I echo the feelings in your moniker entirely, but I do feel that the problems with Excel come from its virtues rather than its vices.

                                You can use it for all sort of things you shouldn't and people who know it well do so instead of learing a new program, and other users often suffer.

                                  Two uses of Excel that drive me crazy. As a Word Processor! Yup, I know people who write paper forms in Excel. They use zero-width cells to get a double line, so you can imagine the fun you have trying to cut and paste data.

                                  For storing data that is going to be manipulated. I thought why bother with all the hassle of Access when Excel is so much easier. Printing out reports I sort the data a few ways for each report and then find that it has corrupted. The hidden columns haven't moved with the non=hidden columns. Aargh, and back to reentering all the data.

                                    But use it properly and its neat. If I want to print a table of data I don't bother with an Access report; I simply export to Excel, and the formatting is way easier. And it's obvioulsy great for Mathematical analysis.

                                    The rule I follow, is analyze your data in Excel, but keep it in Access, and print blank forms out with Word.

                                    Incidentally, it may sound horrific but  it is quite common to hear of people asking if the half-million plus sales records they are consolidiating every evening from eight different regional officesare getting a bit much for Excel and should they upgrade to Access.


Stephen Jones
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

Well put, Stephen.

I'll add that Excel is particularly useful for graphing.  At work, I'm managing updates to about 400 documents.  With Excel and a few macros, I export the current list of documents from Lotus Notes, sort them and format them attractively.  I then export the current week's totals to a different spreadsheet and generate graphs that illustrate our progress graphically.

At home, I use Excel to track my finances, and it's wonderful.

Brent P. Newhall
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

On excel vs. project for project planning...

I find I use excel because I generally don't need the precise dependency tracking of project or the auto-levelling. So maintaining them becomes a bit of a chore.

Don't get me wrong, there are dependencies in my projects, but my projects tend to be smallish (less than 12 developers) and we try to minimize dependencies in design; so we can pretty much keep track of them in our heads (like, Joe works on the Foo module and Sue works on the Bar module, they have dependency on their interfaces but each developer only needs to keep track on dependencies inside their module).

So all I need for project planning is: task breakdown, estimates (and progress), task assignments, and some way to look at totals (e.g. "what's Sue's total"). And as Joel pointed out, excel handles this. Project handles it as well, but with a bit more work and you tend to need to do some other things as well.

So really, it's not that excel is better than project. It's that for my needs, project is too heavy.

Bill Tomlinson
Wednesday, April 30, 2003

I use Excel in all sorts of ways, but have never really seen a need to use VBA with it. (Unlike Access, which would be rather dinky without code.) So it doesn't really make sense to rail against Excel because it allows people to shoot themselves in the foot with VBA.

One of my favorite uses for Excel is flowcharts. Unlike the other Office programs, it provides a connector drawing object, so you don't have to sit there trying to align lines and boxes. Also unlike, say, Word, text in drawing objects can be vertically aligned. Most importantly, unlike Visio, it's simple, straightforward, easy to use, and easy to edit. Visio is like an overpowered sportscar with a tiny little steering wheel and a gas pedal that only has two speeds: snail and maniac.

I can definitely see the logic behind using Excel for scheduling rather than Project, given how much Project resembles Visio (in behavior, not necessarily appearance).

Wednesday, April 30, 2003

*  Recent Topics

*  Fog Creek Home