Measuring Spreadsheet Formula Understandability

This paper is accepted at the Annual Conference of the European Spreadsheet Risk Interest Group in July in Manchester.

Measuring Spreadsheet Formula Understandability

Spreadsheets are widely used in industry, because they are flexible and easy to use. Often they are used for business-critical applications. It is however difficult for spreadsheet users to correctly assess the quality of spreadsheets, especially with respect to the understandability. Understandability of spreadsheets is important, since spreadsheets often have a long lifespan, during which they are used by several users. In this paper, we establish a set of spreadsheet understandability metrics. We start by studying related work and interviewing 40 spreadsheet professionals to obtain a set of characteristics that might contribute to understandability problems in spreadsheets. Based on those characteristics we subsequently determine a number of understandability metrics. To evaluate the usefulness of our metrics, we conducted a series of experiments in which professional spreadsheet users performed a number of short maintenance tasks on a set of spreadsheets from the EUSES spreadsheet corpus. The results of these tests clearly indicate that the number of ranges, the nesting depth and the presence of conditional operations in formulas significantly increase the difficulty of understanding a spreadsheet.