Workflow and other monitoring and reporting systems in place… why duplicate it in a spreadsheet too?

It is surprising what you find when you walk into an office to talk to someone and see what they are doing on their screen at the time. I did this recently, and there was a spreadsheet open with outstanding work on it. I simply fail to understand why this is needed.  Apparently, it was just in case something fell through the gaps in the other systems.

VAT returns due for completion where we file on behalf of clients pop up automatically in the practice management system and remain there until finalised i.e. when the return is submitted. Other recurring jobs are created as needed and again finalised when complete.

The personal tax software has, for many years, a very good tracking system and automatically updates the various stages. At any time, it is easy to see tax returns in progress, out for signing etc.

There are all sorts of reports – both filtered, unfiltered and user configurable - that have been created in the practice management system which can be run at any time to report on the status of jobs- work in not allocated, in progress, awaiting client, out for approval etc. These can be reported by partner, manager etc.

Company filings (accounts and confirmation statements) are also automatically monitored through software with direct links and updates direct from Companies house.

So why duplicate workflows in a spreadsheet???

Why create the tasks in a spreadsheet that is personal to the end user - saved in a non-shared directory not available to anyone else? What happens in the case of illness, holiday etc? The tasks should be created in the practice management system, so that they are visible, so that someone else can pick it up and do it if necessary.

I have no objection to the use of spreadsheets where appropriate, but this does not, to my mind, fall into that category.

Whilst the personal tax status is automated, most of the others depend on manual input, and if there are two places to update, which is the “source of truth”? Other users will be running reports across the practice management system and this database therefore needs to be as accurate as possible.

One of my annual gripes at this time of year is the tax returns database, and specifically the tax returns outstanding report. A staff member may know a return is not needed, but it needs to be marked as such to stop it appearing. Similarly, it is necessary to check with HMRC online systems-it is not unknown for some clients to decide to file their own returns without necessarily telling us. They need to be tracked off of the system as not being necessary. Leaving them on the report just clouds the picture for other users looking at the reports.

What “inappropriate” use of spreadsheets have you stumbled across?