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Justin Smith, Justin Middleton, & Nicholas Kraft


Spreadsheets are ubiquitous. Thus, it is important to understand the challenges faced by spreadsheet users in practice.

To better understand these challenges, we surveyed ABB employees and then interviewed a cross-section of survey respondents. We used a two-phase coding process to classify the challenges they described. Our survey findings demonstrate that practices in our single-company setting are consistent with practices in broader settings.

Our interviews revealed both individual and organizational challenges. For instance, individual participants described data pipeline challenges related to importing data from external sources or storing and archiving spreadsheet data. Further, participants' collective responses revealed challenges pertaining to knowledge distribution within the organization.

We outline possible interventions to address these challenges. Our results will help guide researchers and tool designers in addressing the practical challenges facing spreadsheet users.


Survey results
Survey results

Key survey responses:

  • 58% create spreadsheets from scratch at least half the time.
  • 30% borrow a design from an existing spreadsheet.
  • Experienced users are more likely to modularize spreadsheets.
  • 84% have their spreadsheets used by at least one other person.
  • 87% examine individual cells or use a calculator to check selected cells.
  • 40% test performance for plausibility or extreme cases.
  • 18% use Excel's testing tools.
  • Half of "very experienced" respondents test their spreadsheets more than half the time.
  • Few respondents use more than the most basic test practices.
  • 62% rarely or never document their spreadsheets.
  • 75% share parts of, or entire, spreadsheets.
  • 11% who share spreadsheets provide a summary.
  • Spreadsheet users do not formally use version control.
  • 74% typically have two or more versions of a spreadsheet.
  • 64% track spreadsheet versions by embedding dates or version numbers in the filenames.


2017, IEEE Symposium on Visual Languages and Human-Centric Computing (VL/HCC), October

Full article

Spreadsheet practices and challenges in a large multinational conglomerate