Errors in Operational Spreadsheets

Errors in Operational Spreadsheets

Stephen G. Powell (Dartmouth College, USA), Kenneth R. Baker (Dartmouth College, USA) and Barry Lawson (Dartmouth College, USA)
Copyright: © 2011 |Pages: 12
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60960-577-3.ch011


Spreadsheets are used in almost all businesses, for applications ranging from the mundane to the mission-critical. Errors in the data, formulas, or manipulation of spreadsheets could be costly, even devastating. The received wisdom is that about 5% of all formulas in spreadsheets contain errors, and this rate is consistent across spreadsheets. However, this estimate is based on five studies, some of which are quite informal, and a total of only 43 spreadsheets. Our research was designed to deepen our understanding of spreadsheet errors. Specifically, we address three questions about errors in operational spreadsheets: what is the average cell error rate, how does it differ among spreadsheets, and what types of errors are most prevalent? We created a spreadsheet auditing protocol and applied it to 50 diverse operational spreadsheets. We found errors in 0.9% to 1.8% of all formula cells, depending on how errors are defined. We also found that the error rate differed widely from spreadsheet to spreadsheet.
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Previous Work On Spreadsheet Errors

Since our interest in this article is primarily with the classification and frequency of errors, we will discuss only those questions here. In a related article (Powell, et al., 2008a), we provide a review of the literature on all aspects of spreadsheet errors.

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