On Halloween, I was summoned to a meeting where I learned I was to be in charge of creating a reasonably complicated resource scheduling tool. I will keep this vague for the sake of discretion, but it boils down to moving a large number of assets through a production environment while adhering to multiple, overlapping maintenance requirements. When I was given the assignment, I explained to the assembled group that I felt a database was the right tool for the task. I was told I was only allowed to use Excel. I explained that I imagined I could do this in Excel, but that I really felt that the reporting needs for this system would be far better met via a database.
I lost that argument, and so for the last month, I have crafted the most complicated spreadsheet I have ever created since I first started working with Excel (back, before it was called Excel and before it ran on a PC, when it was called MultiPlan and ran on a Mac in 1987 (I used it for Lotka-Volterra Predator Prey equations back in the day)).
While doing this, I was encouraged to make use of the skills of a consultant who has been tremendously helpful in helping me build the convoluted logic into Excel formulae). With his help, I have managed to encode a wide range of the business rules that govern how the resource scheduling decisions are made. From our first conversation, this consultant and I agreed that a database was better suited to the task before us, but we worked hard to make this work despite being compelled to use the wrong tool for the task.
On Friday, I was told that Tuesday would be the day to display the progress I have made so far, despite the fact that I had been told it would not need to be shown to anyone but me until 2008. I frantically cleaned up a number of loose ends and swept a lot of debris under the rug, much as you would if you were cleaning house as with only twenty minutes notices before guests arrived.
For several hours this morning, I stood before the man who assigned me this task, and showed him how far I had come in hammering the square task through the round hole. While he was polite and avoided any personal criticism, the gentleman got to the end of my explanation and concluded that my creation was awkward, complicated, cumbersome, and incredibly fragile once the consultant who helped build it was no longer available. I agree with all of these assessments.
Nonetheless, I feel such frustration at having a month’s worth of hard work dismissed out of hand. True, I learned a range of things about Excel that I never knew before. Additionally, my original instinct that the task called out for a database was validated, although the reader will not be surprised that I received no credit for that prognostication. Given how hard this has been, I am to a certain extent relieved that I will not have to keep
polishing this turd, er, refining this tool. It’s the sense that I have been on a fool’s errand that really frustrates me. I wish I had been more persuasive and stubborn a month ago, yet I have a hard time imagining what I would have had to say or do to change the mind of the man who assigned this to me then.
Anyway, that’s all for this little rant – I will be curious to see if I get roped into the database solution’s creation, or if I am freed up to get back to my regularly scheduled work. Time will tell.