What was your worst mistake in Excel

The Worst Excel Mistakes Ever Made and What The Construction Industry Can Learn From Them

The most famous mistakes that have made headlines around the globe are often the smallest. Especially with the popular Microsoft Excel. The calculation tool that every project manager or controller uses every day and with which everyone has already made a mistake. A single typo, a wrong formula or a twist of numbers can have dire consequences. The result: 88% of all tables with more than 150 rows have been proven to contain massive errors.

But Excel is not only the cause of serious errors in the construction industry. We have summarized five blatant Excel “failures” that illustrate why caution should be exercised when using Excel.

# 1: embarrassing wiretapping

In the course of an investigation, the MI5 secret service wanted to tap suspects over the phone. The last 3 digits were accidentally changed to 000 due to incorrect formatting of the telephone numbers in MS Excel. As a result, thousands of people unrelated to the investigation were bugged. The following public debacle was one thing above all for MI5: embarrassing.

# 2: Millions for worthless contracts

During the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy process in 2008, Barclays Capital created an Excel document for possible purchase agreements. Unintentionally, cells with sales contracts that should not be made were simply hidden instead of deleted. When the attorneys were given the PDF export of the Excel sheet, the hidden contracts were visible. Barclay had unconsciously but legally binding undertaken to buy more Lehman shares than wanted.

# 3: 50% less return

AstraZeneca saw a misformatted financial forecast in 2011. For the pharmaceutical company from Great Britain, this meant that only half of the dividend could be distributed. This made the company the lowest-yielding company in the European pharmaceutical industry.

# 4: More tickets than seats

At the 2012 Olympic Games in London, ticket planning was organized using Excel. Due to a minimal number error at the Olympic Committee, 20,000 instead of 10,000 tickets were sold for synchronized swimming. Since the hall capacity could of course not simply be doubled, a high and expensive reverse processing effort had to be made.

# 5: Fakenews from Harvard

Two Harvard professors also made an Excel error. In their paper they published findings on the economic development of a country in relation to the respective debt level. They came to the conclusion that economic growth declines by 0.1% if a country's debt exceeds 90% of GDP. Unfortunately, when calculating the data in Excel, 5 out of 20 countries have not been taken into account. When it was published during the economic crisis in 2010, the study became the basis of many discussions. Accordingly, the bugfixing headlines got bigger when it turned out that a country's economy would grow by 2.2%.

What can we learn from this in the construction industry?

The fact that Excel errors can reach such proportions should encourage companies to question their use in sensitive and complicated planning and reporting. It doesn't always have to be millions or even billions of dollars in damage, even smaller errors can be painful. Errors can definitely be avoided with a modern software solution that is tailored to the financial processes of construction and real estate projects.

With software like Alasco, all financial data is recorded in clearly defined workflows and automatically linked to controlling, cash outflow planning, etc. in real time. Without any error-prone Excel tables.