In defense of the humble spreadsheet

I wrote a post a while ago on scoping out your tests. In it I described how I use Excel spreadsheets to scope out and estimate what I need to test.Judging by the comments I got back then, Excel spreadsheets in software testing have the ability to divide the software testing community.

I was once in the 'down with EXCEL in testing' tribe. Now I'm in the  'Excel is cool" camp.

I used to hate spreadsheets in large organisations. They created havoc on my test methodology. Every every project has their own version of the template that is an improvement on the orginal design. Not only that, but every tester within the project had their own version on their PC. There was no way of really knowing how many bugs had been found.

I couldn't understand why testers didn't just use test management tools like Test Director. Why didn't testers see the benefits these tools could bring?

That was until I started freelancing with startups. Oh my, did things change.

Suddenly I was in an environment where there were no resources to invest in expensive test tools. "No problemo" I thought, "I am an independent free thinking tester,  I will investigate some opensource tools and put forward those as suggestions". Ha!! Even when I did find a tool that was liked, there was little time to invest in installing and configuring a tool. Furthermore, I knew the minute I left, nobody was going to maintain the scripts etc, so really was there any point in wasting my time installing such applications?

So I turned back to the humble spreadsheet and started estimating,scoping and tracking my results in it. I would send updates to my clients regularily, and sometimes I would even add some pretty metrics to make people feel good about my testing. Now that you can upload spreadsheets online, much of the issues with version control disappear. It works for me.

The great thing about spreadsheets is not its flexibility, its power and its ease of use. The great thing about spreadsheets is this: Everybody knows EXCEL and has the it on their PC. Its available to everyone, needs no training, maintenance or configuration. People understand and are familiar with spreadsheets.

That means the time I would normally need to spend installing a tool, configuring , maintaining and training people on a tool, now can be used in testing. And believe me when your given 3 days to test and report on an application, that additional time really counts!

So Viva the humble spreadsheet, and long may your silvery squares compute.