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Twenty principles for good spreadsheet practice

ICAEW's IT Faculty held its ‘Twenty principles – one year’ event on 8 July 2015. A focus this time was on the practicalities of adopting the Principles within an organisation. Speakers included Professor Ray Panko of the University of Hawaii, James Akrigg from Microsoft, David Lyford-Smith of BDO and Kenny Whitelaw-Jones of F1F9.

Many spreadsheets are created with little thought given to design, with inadequate or non-existent documentation, with no integrity checks, by people who have had little or no training in their use. A few high-profile, costly spreadsheet errors hit the headlines from time to time, but also a vast number of less spectacular problems occur throughout businesses of all shapes and sizes.

The purpose of these Twenty principles for good spreadsheet practice is to help reduce the amount of time wasted, and the number of errors caused, by businesses (including accountancy practices) as a consequence of the way they and their employees use spreadsheets.

The Principles are the culmination of several months’ work carried out under the auspices of the Excel Community Advisory Committee, which brings together a group of 17 expert Excel users with vast experience in a variety of roles across business and practices, large and small.

Twenty principles

The twenty principles in brief
  1. Determine what role spreadsheets play in your business, and plan your spreadsheet standards and processes accordingly.
  2. Adopt a standard for your organisation and stick to it.
  3. Ensure that everyone involved in the creation or use of spreadsheets has an appropriate level of knowledge and competence.
  4. Work collaboratively, share ownership, peer review.
  5. Before starting, satisfy yourself that a spreadsheet is the appropriate tool for the job.
  6. Identify the audience. If a spreadsheet is intended to be understood and used by others, the design should facilitate this.
  7. Include an ‘About’ or ‘Welcome’ sheet to document the spreadsheet.
  8. Design for longevity.
  9. Focus on the required outputs.
  10. Separate and clearly identify inputs, workings and outputs.
  11. Be consistent in structure.
  12. Be consistent in the use of formulae.
  13. Keep formulae short and simple.
  14. Never embed in a formula anything that might change or need to be changed.
  15. Perform a calculation once and then refer back to that calculation.
  16. Avoid using advanced features where simpler features could achieve the same result.
  17. Have a system of backup and version control, which should be applied consistently within an organisation.
  18. Rigorously test the workbook.
  19. Build in checks, controls and alerts from the outset and during the course of spreadsheet design.
  20. Protect parts of the workbook that are not supposed to be changed by users.
Excel Community Advisory Committee

Christopher Blunn - Grace Frank
Tom Brichieri-Colombi - Mazars
Roland Brook - Smith & Williamson
Grenville Croll - EuSpRIG
Daniel Emkes - Harrow School
Glen Feechan - needaspreadsheet.com
Simon Hurst - The Knowledge Base
Alistair Hynd - Baker Tilly
Tony Lee - Global Aerospace
David Lyford-Smith  -BDO
Adrian Maconick - Finsbury Solutions
Sanjay Magecha - Financial Visibility
Vinit Patel - Filtered
Rishi Sapra - KPMG
John Tennent - Corporate Edge
Paul Wakefield - Paul Wakefield

Spreadsheet competency framework

The spreadsheet competency framework helps you to asses ability and proficiency when using spreadsheets. The framework consists of four key skill groups, described as levels. Each group has its own core competencies and other indicative skills. There is no formal assessment attached to the framework.


Recognition of spreadsheet products

The IT Faculty has developed a scheme whereby spreadsheet standards, and other products and services such as training, can be formally recognised as compliant with the Twenty Principles.

spreadsheet principles

So far, the following products have achieved recognition:

Any organisations interested in seeking recognition should contact the IT Faculty.