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Solving with the Right Tools

Updated: Mar 21, 2021

Sometimes when faced with a problem in the workplace, we have two gut instincts. Instinct # 1 is "We can't do that." Instinct # 2 is "We can solve using this solution." While # 1 has its own set of problems, often times, we quickly revert to # 2 and find a solution far too quickly.

Recently I was working on a project where we wanted to collect measurement data and we also wanted to evaluate a model. The measurement data was already being collected with Microsoft Forms, but the prediction was new. It didn't fit in the box of MS Forms. The solution that was jumped to was to make an Excel spreadsheet with boxes to enter the information. There is nothing wrong with that answer until you start thinking through the failure modes. Let's think through some of them:

• What if you share the spreadsheet with the formula in it and someone accidentally changed it?

• How do you plan on making sure that the spreadsheet is updated if you need to tweak the formula or model?

• How can you ensure that the numbers will be entered in the right box?

All of these failure modes could be solved in Excel, but what else exists that could solve them better and make the use of the calculator easier for the end user?

That's when I thought of PowerApps. PowerApps is a Microsoft tool that lets you design a user interface for an "app" that can be viewed on the web or on mobile devices. It allowed the calculator to be built with simple inputs that hid all of the complexities behind the scenes. The formula is linked to an Excel spreadsheet that others don't need to see or edit. They can use the PowerApp interface and be presented with dropdowns and three input boxes to allow the prediction to be calculated. I can edit the source spreadsheet when I need to if I update the model or find an error, and the end users won't know it. I wouldn't need to distribute a new spreadsheet to everyone and make sure that they are using the latest one.

Why is this important? Sometimes you just need to expand your view and see what all tools are available for you to use. Don't just solve a problem the first way you think of because that's what you've always done. Take a minute, think though the problem and consider alternative solutions. With software suite subscriptions that many companies have today, perhaps there are better ways of doing things with tools you already have available to you.

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