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UK XL User Conference 2006 Spreadsheet Design Concepts Simon Murphy Developer – Codematic Ltd.

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Presentation on theme: "UK XL User Conference 2006 Spreadsheet Design Concepts Simon Murphy Developer – Codematic Ltd."— Presentation transcript:

1 UK XL User Conference 2006 Spreadsheet Design Concepts Simon Murphy simon.murphy@codematic.net Developer – Codematic Ltd

2 UK XL User Conference 2006 Spreadsheet background Up to 200 Mb size Up to 1 Million formulas 1-10,000 unique formulas 5-10,000 lines of VBA £Billions in values Often linked to other technologies such as OLAP, ADO, COM or.net etc. Finance, Banking and Sales and Marketing areas Development cost up to $1M Active member of Eusprig – European Spreadsheet Risk group – dedicated to raising awareness of dangers and error rates in commercial spreadsheets www.eusprig.org

3 UK XL User Conference 2006 Agenda Fundamental Imperative Security Software Development Lifecycle Design –Technology choice –Inputs –Data –Logic/Formulas –Documentation Summary Any Questions

4 UK XL User Conference 2006 Fundamental Imperative Manage complexity (McConnell) Solution complexity grows at 4 x the rate of problem complexity. (Glass) [Things] should be as simple as they can be, but no simpler (Einstein) K.I.S.S. This principle should drive all other work. Easier to build, easier to test, easier to document, easier to use, etc… [No conflict]

5 UK XL User Conference 2006 Security Is everybody’s concern Spreadsheets can be used as a staging board for privilege escalation (with your login details!) Consider SD 3 +C –Secure by Design Default Deployment Communication Threat Modelling – Assets, Threats Threat Types – STRIDE –(Spoofing, Tampering, Repudiation, Information Disclosure, Denial of Service, Elevation of Privilege) Threats – rate with DREAD –(Damage potential, Reproducibility, Exploitability, Affected Users, Discoverability) Spreadsheets (all flavours) are fairly insecure –Compiled UDFs (.net, COM, XLL) and Database servers can help Set macro security to high and use code signing certificates. See Microsoft MOC 2840A – Implementing security for more info.

6 UK XL User Conference 2006 Software Development Lifecycle Systems Development lifecycle –Requirements, –Analysis, –Logical Design, –, –Physical Design, –Construction, –Test, –Release, –Maintain. –In some shape or form. Spreadsheet Development lifecycle – “Oh! I need a model” – clickety-click, reasonableness check, release, (Test & Maintain in live environment).

7 UK XL User Conference 2006 Big Design Issues Project Scope Business needs Security Performance Maintainability Extensibility Availability Scalability Human factors Integration Methodologies

8 UK XL User Conference 2006 Design – Excel or not Excel/VBA is often not technically the best solution –Databases better for large volumes of data –Compiled languages better for security –Spreadsheets are a 2 dimensional tool where most business problems are 5+ dimensions It is good when considering –Initial speed of development –Cost of initial development –Current skill sets –Simple initial deployment Note: If you need to restrict Excel functionality you may be better outside Excel

9 UK XL User Conference 2006 Design – 2 Questions, 2 Approaches 2 Questions –What will happen when things go right? –What will happen when things go wrong? 2 Approaches: –What will the system do? –What real world objects am I modelling?

10 UK XL User Conference 2006 Assuming Spreadsheet Design –N-Tier –Defensive Designs –Inputs –Data –Layout –Formulas –VBA –Extending Excel –Documentation

11 UK XL User Conference 2006 N-Tier Basic version is 3 tier –Data layer –Logic (or analysis) layer –Presentation layer Each of these may be further broken out (into N tiers) Easily implemented in worksheets Suitable for most non trivial workbooks Powerful and flexible but adds weight

12 UK XL User Conference 2006 Basic design (N-tier) Inputs Reference Data Logic Reports Assumptions WorkbookStructure Accountability Revision history ModelSupport structure Demo

13 UK XL User Conference 2006 Defensive Designs How will I test this? Clearly identify Input areas Group items that need updating with similar frequency Place formulas where they are safe from accidents Don’t use sheet protection, its weak, annoying, counter productive, and reduces peoples ability to check and understand your logic (it creates more problems than it solves),(Trust – but check) Use a compiled component if security is a genuine concern. DemoDemo Use cross checks Use a (simple) consistent convention to separate items that should be treated differently (inputs/formulas or actual/forecast) Use blanks cells around different blocks (enables ‘Current Region’) Consider using a status sheet with summary error reports on it Consider support structure – Index, assumptions, accountability. Consider personal and tool comfort zone Place check controls where they will be noticed

14 UK XL User Conference 2006 Inputs Never trust inputs Always test for correctness as soon as possible Limit inputs wherever possible (eg option buttons, or drop downs) Use data validation but be aware of its limits demodemo Help users by clearly identifying what is needed Give clear feedback on errors or problems Minimise input – Let Excel do the work Have validation formulas nearby If test is ok say “ok” (or “Row/Column check ok”) not “” Prefer Text in cells rather than comments

15 UK XL User Conference 2006 Database (Relational) Useful for flexible and efficient storage and updating Identify Entities (nouns), Attributes (adjectives) and relationships (verbs) in problem statement 2 approaches –Top down (identify entities then attributes) –Bottom up (group attributes to describe entities) Data normalisation –Basically keep related items together –Provides design flexibility –3 rd Normal Form (TNF/3NF) All items depend on the key (a unique identifier), the whole key and nothing but the key. More useful at the transaction processing end rather than analysis and reporting. (eg sales recording) Analysis performance can be poor PL demodemo

16 UK XL User Conference 2006 Database (OLAP) Useful for flexible/powerful reporting. The most useful concept of Dimensionality – the number of ways to describe something In a spreadsheet it’s the row, column, worksheet, workbook, and maybe directory. Very useful for things that may ordinarily be missed How to describe the numbers (dimensionality) –Eg Inflation –Eg. P&L value –Useful for layout – time in cols or time in sheets? Hierarchies are ways of adding up dimension elements –There may be more than one hierarchy for any given dimension –Eg time –day > week > quarter > financial year –day > calendar month > calendar year Reporting performance can be excellent as many calculations pre- aggregated

17 UK XL User Conference 2006 Spreadsheet eg. of Dimensionality

18 UK XL User Conference 2006 Spreadsheet eg. of Dimensionality 2 338 is Period 8 2005 Actual Figure For Employment Costs For the North For Large Co

19 UK XL User Conference 2006 Pivot Tables Probably the most important feature in spreadsheets A superb way to manage complexity Most users can’t access them because their data is already half pivoted. Repeated blocks are a strong hint to use pivots Pivot source data should have 1 one column with numbers in (slightly simplified) Demo

20 UK XL User Conference 2006 Software Development Principles Modularisation Cohesion Coupling Fan in / Fan out

21 UK XL User Conference 2006 Modularisation Basic idea – to break down complexity into understandable chunks (note Millers Theorem (7+/-2)) Advantages –Simplifies and adds analysis layers –Adds flexibility –Improves robustness –Reduces dependencies –Improves testability Disadvantages/Limitations –All Cells can be read from everywhere –Can add redundancy –Not really applicable for very small models Use of a block of cells for one (single) task Volume Calcs (eg Geographic) Total Volumes Volume Summary Total Revenue Sales Price

22 UK XL User Conference 2006 Worksheet modularisation

23 UK XL User Conference 2006 Worksheet modularisation 2

24 UK XL User Conference 2006 Worksheet modularisation 3 (bad)

25 UK XL User Conference 2006 Modular blocks A ‘block’ is a area of cells surrounded by empty cells, that performs some analysis

26 UK XL User Conference 2006 Cohesion How interrelated a unit is High cohesion means all elements are highly interrelated – this is good, it aids understanding and reduces range of influence Low cohesion makes things harder to understand like random letters Cohesion is like well normalised data – but also considers what the unit does Cohesion test…

27 UK XL User Conference 2006 Cohesion 2 A { "@context": "http://schema.org", "@type": "ImageObject", "contentUrl": "http://images.slideplayer.com/3240719/11/slides/slide_26.jpg", "name": "UK XL User Conference 2006 Cohesion 2 A

28 UK XL User Conference 2006 Cohesion 3 Who can remember the first string? The second?

29 UK XL User Conference 2006 Cohesion 4 Keep different shaped data blocks apart Either diagonally or on separate sheets Try to make all formulas in a block similar

30 UK XL User Conference 2006 Poor Cohesion

31 UK XL User Conference 2006 Poor Cohesion 2

32 UK XL User Conference 2006 Coupling How strongly 2 separate elements depend on each other Low coupling is better, especially through clearly defined interfaces High coupling often means hidden dependencies which generally leads to incorrect modifications (side effects) Example: hard coded cell addresses in VBA code

33 UK XL User Conference 2006 Fan in / fan out Low fan in – a ‘unit’ (cell/worksheet/VBA routine) depends on only a few other units –Good because it minimises dependencies and reduces complexity High fan out – a ‘unit’ (cell/worksheet/VBA routine) is used by many others –Good because it minimises duplication Example: putting VAT (Sales tax) rates in their own cells, and referring there in calculations Example: calculating an offset once and using the result many times

34 UK XL User Conference 2006 Logic/Formulas Sketch design on a whiteboard first Don’t use IF(ISERROR(, be specific demodemo Put expected part first in Ifs Don’t start in A1 – Give yourself room to manoeuvre. Try D10 – hide the unused. Line sheets up on first data cell rather than headers Don’t hide rows and columns for visual effect, use a separate sheet if required Use Goal seek and or VBA rather than circular references Avoid more than 2 or 3 levels of formula nesting – break it out across several cells. Use tools – many pay for themselves on first use. But don’t totally rely on them. Place totals above and to the left of details (more flexible and robust eg links, filtering) Build for testability – how to test you did what you meant to do

35 UK XL User Conference 2006 VBA Connection VBA UDFs should get all range info via parameters Where (non UDF) VBA uses worksheet ranges, these should almost certainly be named ranges. –Sheet1.[Inflation].value = 0.02, rather than –Sheet1.[C5].value = 0.02, which may become invalid if rows or columns are inserted or deleted –strInflationRange = “C5” is just as bad – it creates a hidden dependency that must be manually updated when worksheet changes (poor coupling) Variable and routine names: –Use very meaningful names (8-30 chars length) –Use a simple naming convention (matched pairs) –Use scope prefixes (g, m), and minimise it –Don’t have to use data type variable prefixes (s, str, l, lng etc) (see.net advice) –avoid abbreviations Don’t use code comments demo make code ultra clear insteaddemo Option Explicit on Avoid Application.Run (non VBA – breaks error management) routines 1 screen long max 3-4 levels of nesting max Use source control

36 UK XL User Conference 2006 Extending Excel Excel is powerful not perfect Leverage benefits whilst managing weaknesses by using complimentary technologies Data: VBA, ADO, ODBC, OLAP,.net, COM, Info Bridge, XML, DDE, Web Queries, SOX Solution Accelerator Logic: VBA, COM,.net, xll, Pivots, Filters Search the web for vast array of free or cheap tips and tools.

37 UK XL User Conference 2006 Documentation If you design for simplicity only very minor additional documentation is needed Design and build the user Interface with the Users needs primary, the documentation will automatically be there Design and build the business logic parts with the maintainers needs primary, the main documentation will automatically be there, expand as required. Integral tests should explicitly clarify intent. Reports should contain enough description to be meaningful. External documentation is almost always so out of date its worse than useless. Excessive documentation is too hard to plod through Poorly targeted documentation is pointless Working software is more useful than documentation Sometimes documentation is important

38 UK XL User Conference 2006 Summary Manage complexity Consider security carefully Excel/VBA not the best tool for everything Be defensive, especially with inputs Understand your data Aim for cohesive models with low coupling Use names to connect VBA to worksheets Use complimentary technologies where appropriate Manage documentation

39 UK XL User Conference 2006 Questions? simon.murphy@codematic.net –Spreadsheet consulting, reviewing, maintaining, rescuing, migrating, add-in development etc. –Staff coaching, mentoring and training Websites –www.codematic.net –www.xlanalyst.co.uk


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