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Why spreadsheets are killing your product development

Microsoft Excel is frequently referred to as the number one product development support tool because it is commonly used and extremely flexible. For smaller medical device companies, Excel is an effective tool for simple calculations and analysis. But as your company grows, your need for sophisticated data management that can support increasing regulatory requirements and collaboration across sites will outgrow Excel’s capabilities.

At this point, the limitations of Excel are, at best, inefficient, and, at worst, potentially dangerous. Here are the 7 most common downfalls when using spreadsheets in your product development:

Downfall 1 – spreadsheets are susceptible to human errors

As your business grows, so too is the amount of data you will analyze. Because entering and manipulating data in Excel is a manual and unstructured process, Excel spreadsheets are extremely vulnerable to human error. Compromised data integrity can lead to considerable opportunities for error in your product development, quality and compliance management that ultimately can damage your business. No company can afford to rely on an unstructured and isolated tool that is potentially full of error.

Downfall 2 – spreadsheets are difficult to troubleshoot

The ability to troubleshoot spreadsheets would mitigate the problem of human error. However, spreadsheets are not built for troubleshooting because interrelated data is often scattered throughout various folders, departments, and branches.

Even if the location of every related data file could be located, pinpointing error in a formula through related cells would be extremely time-consuming. This inability to troubleshoot can be quite dangerous if a critical business decision is made using questionable data.

Downfall 3 – spreadsheets lack structure

Spreadsheets are not linked to the data sources. They are often referencing documents, parts and other pieces of information that can be updated, undergo several revisions, be moved from one place to another and running the risk of becoming obsolete, making the spreadsheet invalid. Because spreadsheets lack structure, they can be hard to control and validate. Spreadsheets also lack the integration into the product development processes. That means that users cannot know for sure what spreadsheet or what information inside the spreadsheet that needs to be evaluated or updated in case of an engineering change.

Downfall 4 – spreadsheets are not collaborative

Collaboration across different departments is essential to the day-to-day tasks like data management, compliance management, etc.

When using spreadsheets, the fastest way to exchange relevant data is through e-mail. This method is subject to duplication or even flawed data. With so many files being sent around, it is difficult for team members to keep track of them all. Eventually, mistakes will happen.

Downfall 5 – Spreadsheets are not supportive of quick decision making

Data is extracted from different departments and is consolidated to provide an overview. When using spreadsheets, this process is very time-consuming as it can take several days to compile a report. Oftentimes, the data in the report is obsolete by the time it reaches your desk. Consequently, it is nearly impossible to engage in the rapid-fire decision making necessary to keep up in a dynamic marketplace.

Downfall 6 – Spreadsheets are not intuitive for the average business user

The fact that a spreadsheet is typically created by one person means that it is very difficult for someone else to use because other users don’t necessarily know how the spreadsheet is set up.

This means that the majority of spreadsheet users find it difficult to use on a daily basis. Spreadsheets lack the intuitive nature of a dedicated product data management solution for medical device companies, making it a complex and time-consuming process to update, refresh, or merge data.

Downfall 7 – Spreadsheets have security risks

Since spreadsheets are commonly shared through e-mail or taken off-site with a flash drive, your data is at risk of security breaches. Unprotected data can be exposed to fraud or can be sent to your competition. Because there is no built-in audit trail, there is no way to record who made the changes. There is also no rollback capability or archive to rely on.


When spreadsheets are used in place of a more appropriate product data management tool for medical device companies, you expose your company to several risks. With a quality solution in place, you can manage large volumes of data from disparate sources without the risk of human error.


About the author

Slavko Jovanovic

Slavko has high energy with the atitude to solve complex business problems using an innovative approach. Practitioner of latest software and product management processes that drives continual adaptation product to market fit. He has mastery knowledge of manufacturing process planning, execution and quality process. Solid understanding of modern and legacy software architectures and technologies including J2EE, JavaScript, RDBMS, Non-relational DB, HTML5, JQuery Cordova (PhoneGap), C, C++ along with many others.

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