# Errors in Operational Spreadsheets: A Review of the State of the Art

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4 Figure 1 Distribution of cell error rates across spreadsheets Number of Spreadsheets % 5.00% 10.00% 15.00% 20.00% 25.00% 30.00% Cell Error Rate Figure 2 Distribution of cell error rates across spreadsheets (wrong results) Number of Spreadsheets % 5.00% 10.00% 15.00% 20.00% Cell Error Rate - Wrong Results This study leads to the following tentative conclusions: Moderately-skilled Excel users can successfully analyze operational spreadsheets for errors with minimal training when provided with an explicit protocol to follow. Cell error rates average 1 or 2 percent, depending on the definition of error. 4

6 the use of the spreadsheet. However, for the purposes of this study we categorized it as an error with zero impact. Within this sample of 25 spreadsheets we identified a total of 381 issues. After we discussed these issues with the developers we found that nine spreadsheets had no errors; among the remaining 16 spreadsheets we found a total of 117 errors. Of these 177 errors, 47 had zero quantitative impact, leaving 70 errors with non-zero impact. Table 2 Errors and impacts in 25 spreadsheets Organization- Workbook Size (KB) # Issues # Errors Errors with No Impact Maximum Percentage Impact Maximum Absolute Impact % \$ , % \$32,105, , % \$110,543, , % \$ , NA NA 2.1 3, % \$13,909, % \$74,000, NA NA % \$10,650, , NA \$ % \$238, % \$ % \$4,930, % \$ % \$ % \$13,355, % \$272, , NA NA 4.4 2, NA NA 4.5 1, % \$216, , NA NA NA NA 5.3 1, NA NA NA NA NA NA Totals As we pointed out above, there are two ways to measure the impact of errors: absolute and relative. Absolute impacts are important because they tell us how large errors are in the units of the spreadsheet. However, they cannot be compared easily across workbooks, since a million dollar error may be trivial in one spreadsheet and catastrophic in another. Relative (or percentage) errors more accurately reflect the significance of an error, but they have their shortcomings as well. One problem with relative errors is that percentage changes cannot be determined when the initial value is zero; another is that percentage changes in percentages are not generally as meaningful as percentage changes in 6

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