The Lost and Found Spreadsheet

Spreadsheets are great–versatile, shareable, and easy for individuals to get started. Often the first step to building a real product begins by trying to solve a problem with a spreadsheet, for example, Lost and Found.

But (and we’re pretty biased here) Lost and Found is not a problem well served by a spreadsheet. In fact, you’re probably causing more harm than good.

Lost and Found Spreadsheet

How Spreadsheets get started

There’s a problem that’s just not getting solved, so someone steps up to do it, and there are a lot of issues in Lost and Found:

  • What has been found? 
  • Where do you look?
  • Found property goes “missing.”
  • Where’s the peoples’ info for what they are missing
  • Wasted time rifling through boxes of found stuff.
  • So on.

Hey, a centralized place to record all of the found stuff that can be easily shared with other staff seems like a fantastic idea.

The idea has merit, but the execution falls apart in implementation.

Get a Spreadsheet

That being said… grab the example template below. You love a good spreadsheet and don’t need more out of life, exit this page with a template used by some of the largest and most well-known music festivals in the US to solve their lost and found problems.

Note: it hasn’t been in use since 2016; they found something better (cough cough)…

Doing more work for less return

A lost and found Spreadsheet provides structure to your process. The addition of Google sheets creates a living document that the team can share and update live across several locations for a real-time centralized record.

Buuuuuuuut… most found property doesn’t fit that structure, and your team does a lot more work than they benefit.

Names are perfect for a spreadsheet; items with Identification Cards, Payment Cards, Wallets / Purses, so on fit in a spreadsheet is fantastic. An interaction will typically play out like so:

  1. A customer comes inquiring about a missing item.
  2. Staff asks for their name.
  3. A quick ⌘ F (or windows Crtl + F ), and boom, there’s the name.
    1. Or there isn’t, but that’s for another matter.
  4. Staff retrieves the item they’re on their way.

Now try it with a phone, keys, electronics, clothing, and on and on… The best you can do with a spreadsheet is a brief arbitrary description, subject to the staff’s discretion at the time, “Big, brownish, and has a dangly bit…”, which rarely, if ever, is helpful. This means you need to check the physical items anyway.

That’s just the found property side of the problem; the loss side gets much worse.

Only 1/2 of the Problem

A spreadsheet covers a small percentage of half the problem, the “Found” bit–the centralized catalog of all the found property. We probably could have worded that better…

The “Lost” side which usually presents as all the people (your customers) needing help:

  • Showing up in person
  • Leaving voicemails or constantly calling
  • Sending social media messages
  • Filling out forms
  • Emails
  • On and on and on

If they can’t find their item, they often request to leave their information. Insert your spreadsheet. Unfortunately, this is as effective as item descriptions, which isn’t practical.

You have their information somewhere centralized now, but their experience isn’t any better, and you still have all the same problems. So you might take other approaches to communicate to your customers, even change how you tell people what you have.

Coachella 2014 Lost and Found
Customer Portal

A rough user experience… not instilling much confidence.

126 pages! Woof, that’s pain.

Spreadsheet Problems you Create

We’ve talked about some of the solutions the spreadsheet provides, but it also creates new potential problems for your organizations. Like adding found property information into a shared document, say with 22 people, no data controls, no expiration date could be leaked… CCPA and GDPR might become important to you.

Super Powered Spreadsheet

Add a third part company and pick up a bunch of extra features surely will make the spreadsheet work–AirTable has plenty of additional features to take your sheet to the next level. Even the fanciest spreadsheets for lost and found fall far short of the actual problem.

Check out AirTable, and their use case for Insomniac’s EDC Music Festival. Link

EDC AirTable Lost and Found

Splitting the difference between the generic tool of a spreadsheet and the narrow purpose of custom software, usually is the worst of both worlds. A clunky experience, like adding a picture to a cell in AirTable for lost and found doesn’t even compare to Instagram.

Purpose built software can be magic. Generalized spreadsheet-ness only goes so far.

Software... that's basically a spreadsheet

Not all software is created equal; there are some less than great options, especially in Lost and Found. More often than not, the software creators take that spreadsheet, add a few forms, and boom, you have… still kind of just a lost and found spreadsheet.

Of course, they can bolt on many additional features; expiration dates, keyword search, standardized fields while still wholly missing the point of Lost and Found–return more stuff.

Software vs Spreadsheet

So what are the choices?

Not all Lost and Found problems are equal–if the spreadsheet works, or paper notes, or just a box in a closet, then more power to you! 

But if you actually want to solve your teams’ and your customers’ problems in Lost and Found, check out the Liff App.

Lost and Found Spreadsheet Hero