Most software exists to replace spreadsheets

Tue, Mar 15, 2022       2-minute read

Several years ago, a colleague told me that every major software project they’d ever worked on boiled down to one thing: replicating the functionality of a spreadsheet via the medium of the web.

It struck me as a silly comment, but is something that has become more and more self-evident with each year that passes in my career.

Think about software you’re been tasked with building that in some way organises data. Now ask yourself whether it could be represented by a spreadsheet. Now go talk to the person who commissioned the project and dig into why they really needed a software solution. You might be surprised how often you find a spreadsheet somewhere in the mix—either an old spreadsheet that cannot scale, or a perfectly functional spreadsheet that is e-mailed around so much that a single source of truth no longer exists.

Most software is spreadsheets. I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that’s a good or a bad thing. But it is something worth acknowledging, and once we understand the limitations of the legacy system (because there is always a legacy system, even if we have been commissioned to build a greenfield project), we can better understand how to solve the problems of those who have come to us for help.