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I have looked through What topics can I ask about here? in the help-centre. If I were to define a category for my question I would go with freelancing and business concerns. On the other hand I have concerns that my question is not a good fit for programmers because I couldn't find any similar questions. I have tried different variations of searching but haven't even come close to anything related to my question (or maybe overlooked it). I realize that my question is primarily opinion-based.

My question:

As a business analyst(not officially but a programmer too) I was asked to analyse and rebuild an Excel spreadsheet that came to a company from another one ages ago. The spreadsheet is used as both back and front end as it stands. They would like me to break them apart and design a front end for it and create a template (back end) that could be automated based on content in some other files. The whole point is to reduce the possibility of human error in populating data.

Currently, there is no one at that company who would be able to explain all the parts of the spreadsheet. After local research it turns out that the file is populated by different departments. It turns out some people say: oh, we do not need this or that part cause nobody uses it while others say do not touch this or that it's needed. It is a mess...

I wouldn't know which parts of the spreadsheet are needed and which ones are not needed. I am afraid it would take me ages to work that out. I would have to go through all the people who use the spreadsheet to figure out who does what. I have the time to do that but I am unsure if it wouldn't be easier to start the file from scratch.

They held a meeting for the review of the file (which I did not attend, no invitation was sent out to me) and literally nothing has been decided but the fact that the spreadsheet needs to be rebuilt. I know this sounds extreme to some of you but I guess it's how that company works... They sit in a meeting for hours talking about some changes, bollocking, although every one leaves with no conclusions and no further instructions. Also, it's one of the "we hate any changes" places...

It's a hell of a job to actually achieve what they want. So, in terms of making it easier for myself what do you think should I do:

  • try to convenience them to start from scratch?

  • get on with the current design and try to achieve what they want?

Have you got any experience with similar cases? What should I do?

Is it completely off for Programmers or should I ask it somewhere else (maybe another stack exchange site)?

Is there anything I can improve or modify to make it fit for Programmers?

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    I would suggest to 1) wipe out everything after "So, in terms of making..."; 2) expand "try to convenience them to start from scratch" and "get on with the current design" with your own considerations on pros and cons of these approaches; then 3) work out the question you need to ask – gnat Sep 13 '13 at 9:13
  • thanks for your suggestion @gnat. I agree with no 1 and no 2. The hardest part for me is putting a question together. I just can't think of what the actual question should be. Maybe: I'd like to get an answer explaining why should I go with the 1st or 2nd way of solving the problem - would this be a better question? – user96226 Sep 13 '13 at 9:35
  • hard to tell, maybe it's just because you jump at it too early, trying to proceed to #3 while #2 is not yet completed. Do your research, ponder about these approaches yourself, try to find the way out and pay attention to questions that flow in your mind while you investigate. That's the way that works to me, while I am trying to find the solution, question to ask eventually pops up. Good questions from others I've seen, also often carry that trait: I can see asker going through their research that somehow naturally leads them to the question asked. Speaking of research... – gnat Sep 13 '13 at 11:19
  • ...one thing worth trying is to load draft of your text into "Ask question" box and check similar questions that get loaded to the right. This trick often works better than plain search. I actually tested it with your text but it seems missed this time, none of the questions loaded by the system looked like helpful... though I may have missed something, you better check yourself. By the way, regarding questions that are indeed similar... – gnat Sep 13 '13 at 11:20
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    ...I think these two are worth checking and probably even referring in your question: Dealing with bad/incomplete/unclear specifications? (that one has quite an interesting collection listed in "Linked" section) and When do you rebuild an application or keep on fixing the existing one – gnat Sep 13 '13 at 11:20
  • reading through the links I came up with an idea of what to do in my case. I am going to put something like a cover note together and make people aware of what I will be doing with the project and what will be required from them in order for me to proceed with the rebuild. I will put some questions together and then divide people into logical groups for my resources. I need to think it all over but it seems like a good starting point. – user96226 Sep 13 '13 at 11:40
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    This meta question went a bit off topic, but thanks to your very helpful comments and links I was able to come up with a solution to my original problem. Feel free to post an answer even if it's just your last comment @gnat I think any future visitor will be happy to screen through your comments and see how to identify the correctness of their question. – user96226 Sep 13 '13 at 11:41
  • paradoxically, the simple "shortcut" to get to the answer in your case seems to be just to shoot your question as-is and hang around waiting it to be closed as a duplicate, ideally as a dupe of two questions I mentioned. That way, you'd risk getting couple downvotes because the part I mentioned in #2 is really weak, but hopefully, strong and accurate intro that preceeds it would encourage someone to upvote and offset that rep loss – gnat Sep 13 '13 at 12:42
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    @gnat I don't feel comfortable with the idea of even suggesting that someone post a question known to be off-topic and possibly even a duplicate. Part of what happened here was teaching/learning how to take a question known to be a bad fit and working it into something that is a good (or at least better) fit. As happens many times, the process of properly framing the question resulted in finding an answer without having to post. I've lost track of how many times the answer came to me by working the question into a stack-friendly format... leaving nothing left but to close the window. – AnonJr Sep 13 '13 at 15:09
  • @mehow a safer, though a bit slower way would be, as you wrote above to analyze your options and ask after that. That way, there would still be a risk of downvotes, since the question as you drafter is still rather poor, but demonstrated effor makes this risk lower and, which is even more important, increases chance for upvotes. That way, you'd likely even end up with positive rep balance... – gnat Sep 13 '13 at 16:53
  • ...Hmm let's see, you could get answers helping to find way out, positive rep balance plus respectable dupe closure... not bad isn't it – gnat Sep 13 '13 at 16:54
  • @AnonJr I think you miss the part about the duplicates, these are 100% OK in my view, and I think I even can prove that. Another part you likely didn't notice is that even as-is, drafted question has a fairly strong point of accurate and easy to understand description of the situation - that sort of makes it stand out and deserve softer treatment in my view – gnat Sep 13 '13 at 16:57
  • @gnat I did miss the latter part of that series of comments. And while I'm more ok with the duplication part, I still have deep reservations about posting a question that is known to be a bad fit and then relying on the edit/re-open cycle of improvement. I think it would be better to see something like this with instruction that could help future questioners see the process of improving a question before it hits the main site. But that's just one person's opinion, and maybe better discussed as a separate meta question. – AnonJr Sep 13 '13 at 17:43
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I think that strong point of your question draft is description of the situation: it looks clear, detailed and easy to understand. This lays a solid ground for a good question.

After you're done with it though, there is a sharp drop in question quality, and the rest essentially spoils the fun:

So, in terms of making it easier for myself what do you think should I do: - try to convenience them to start from scratch? - get on with the current design and try to achieve what they want?

Have you got any experience with similar cases? What should I do?

As far as I can tell, the only valuable elements in above quote are "try to convince them to start from scratch" and "get on with the current design". Anything besides that can be stuffed into any imaginary question and would add no value to it.

Think of it, "in terms of making it easier for myself" - no one would be interested in making it harder to themselves. Or, "what do you think" - any asker is sure interested in this. Stuff like that is basic, it is implied in any question at Programmers, stating it explicitly is just noise.

From the perspective of those who would answer your question it is useless - drop it, wipe it out, get rid of it - and this cleanup will help you find out what is missing in your question.


Okay, how would it look if you filter out the noise? Something like,

Options I can think of are either try to convince them to start from scratch or get on with the current design.

Above is fairly poor but at least: 1) you can see that it's poor yourself (which opens a door to thinking how to improve) and 2) as small as it is, it's 100% substantial - there's nothing to throw away.

Okay, how it can be improved? Improvements I suggested in comments quickly posted after you asked here may sound like wisdom obtained through some magic glass, but it really isn't.

To me, key aspects of SE posts are substance, presentation and effort and I simply evaluate everything I read / write through these. Let's see how it will work at your question...

The way you explained the situation tells that your presentation is all-right (and I think you know it yourself).

Substance is there, too - what is left after we removed the noise, is substance, and it is there.

The feel that it's still poor indicates that it's effort that is missing and if you take a closer look at cleaned up part, you'll see that effort you are expected to put into considering mentioned options just isn't there.


What kind effort is expected? well whenever you deal with options, most basic effort to put is to list and evaluate pros and cons of these.

  • Note, since we are at Stack Exchange, this is not something you could expect answerers to do for you: asking for list part won't fly because list questions aren't welcome, and as for evaluation part, without knowing lots of your concrete details and context, doing this would be, as they say in one of close reasons, "too broad".

Adding this to your question would cover effort part, the only thing left after that would be to, well, just state the very question, explain what would you want to learn / understand. What would it be - no one can tell you beforehand, since this should be based on your analysis.

There is no magic glass nor magic aspects that would predict what would be outcome of your research.

After you're done with it though, there will be one magic thing you could do prior to posting. Simply put your text into "Ask question" box and study similar questions that get loaded to the right. This trick often works better than plain search and it can give you an insight on how to further improve your question or even, if you are lucky, reveal that there is already an answered question like yours.

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    this is the best answer ive been given since I signed up at the stack exchange. It well spots all my strong and poor sides. It helps me understand the scope of programmers and how not to ask questions. Thank you very much – user96226 Sep 14 '13 at 2:02

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