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April 18, 2013

When we work on large projects, creating a set of documents and files that can easily be followed from beginning to end is critical.  It’s so easy when working through the project to just grab the data needed, save it and move on.  But what if each time the data changes, you create a new file.  Or you copy the data to a new tab in Excel and modify it, without labeling the tab, or including any headers or descriptions in the file?  If your naming conventions aren’t disciplined, you’ll end up with multiple files named data 1, data 2, data 3, etc. with multiple unlabeled tabs that may at first glance all look the same. 

If you created this and you’re trying to wade through it, you’ll have enough challenges remembering which version to use, and how to locate it.  This lack of discipline often leads to errors, and certainly inefficiencies.  It really doesn’t waste time to take a minute to label your work.  And just think of the lucky person to pick up this project for the next update – they’ll probably have to spend double the time to get through the project in order to decipher the prior data set.  Of course, you’d never think “not my problem,” but what if you’re that lucky person who needs to deal with the unlabeled puzzle of another mind?  Even if you completed the first version, how much will you remember if you have to pick it up a year or two later?  For that matter, even six months is a challenge – you’ve moved on, and flushed the memory banks by then.

A disciplined approach to data should be a given. Take a few minutes to label your work.  Include reference notes so data flows can be followed.  Please – do yourself and everyone you work with a favor – leave a trail of breadcrumbs.  Thank you!

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