After six years in my previous job, my department ran like a well-oiled machine. Not just well-oiled, super-cooled frictionless nano diamonds. I had top-shelf, A-1 people working with me, so I don’t want to discount that. But I also used technology, including a large dose of Office automation, to make the processes efficient, effective, and error-proof. After seven years, I left. Almost immediately, my awesome solutions started collecting dust and my successor went a different way. I would call that way “backward”, but that’s only from my perspective. From his perspective, it was the only way he could go to get the job done.
He didn’t understand my solutions, couldn’t maintain them, and couldn’t change them when the inputs changed. What responsibility did I have to leave behind processes that someone without my skill set could maintain?
Jump ahead five years and I’m walking down that same path. There’s less Office automation in the processes I’m creating (still a fair bit), but I’m still using technology to make things better. When I leave here, who will pick up where I left off? Will they have the skill set to do it?
The obvious answer is that it’s none of my business. And that’s correct. But let’s say for the sake of argument that I cared. I’ve taken a different approach to developing Excel solutions that only I, or a small number of people within shouting distance, use. I build more robust solutions that will last beyond my death. Mostly. If the inputs or the outputs change, maintenance is necessary. If the file format that is uploaded to the unemployment insurance website changes, my solutions fail. If the sales people implement a radically different commission structure, my solutions fail.
On one hand, I’m providing better service to my employer. If I get hit by a bus, my efficient, effective solutions continue to work. On the other hand, the added robustness reduces the number of people that have the skills to maintain those solutions. How many CPAs in Omaha can fix an Excel project that uses custom class modules? I know of one.
The alternative is to build solutions with my successor in mind. They would be less efficient, less effective, and less error proof, but they would be maintainable by a far larger group of people. Honestly, I’m not going to dumb down my spreadsheets any more than Stephen Hawking is going to start writing physics books for toddlers. Maybe I should, but I probably won’t. Do you ever think about this stuff?