Excel

As the so called “Excel Champion” in our office I am a massive advocate of Excel and its many ways it makes processes more efficient. Needless to say it is a very powerful tool for data manipulation but I still see some worrying signs with its use that I think are worth bringing to light to ensure that Excel does not get a bad name. These areas to name a few are:

  • The use of multiple Excel workbooks with the same data in each leading to inconsistencies
  • Intended improvements to workbooks that overcomplicate the sheet leading to it being very difficult to discern any real value from the sheet.
  • Over dependence/reliance on Excel workbooks

Multiple Excel workbooks

How many times have you seen data copied across multiple sheets which then means when one item is changed you have to go across each workbook to ensure each corresponding item is also updated. Instead Excel provides many ways to link data sources together such as Data Connections etc

Intended Improvements

This could more easily be treated as the never ending pursuit of perfection in a sheet. Whilst this is admirable it is very easy to turn a very good Excel sheet that effectively summarises a data source, into something so complicated that no one knows how it works and cannot glean any information from it. It is important to fully think through why you are trying to improve on a sheet and whether this adds value to the intended user. If not, why amend the sheet in the first place?

Overdependence/Overreliance

Finally and probably most importantly is the over dependence on Excel. This is becoming far more frequent and I constantly hear the excuse “well Excel calculated it so it must be right”. Whilst it is true that Excel will always return the correct answer to the formula entered the error most likely stems from the formula being entered incorrectly.

I and people far more versed in Excel’s usage than me have always said that Excel should be used to speed up a process/calculation that the individual already knows. In essence you should always be able to double check the outcome of the workbook to ensure accuracy.  For example I use the Financial formulas a lot but stay well clear of the Engineering formulas as I could not calculate these myself.

Take Home message

Overall I think the take home message is that Excel is there to make your job easier but if you cannot succinctly explain how a sheet and the formulas in that sheet work then you should not be using it and even more importantly it should not be used to provide information that others rely on.

This is by no means meant to be a criticism of Excel, but I think we need to treat it with more care and attention than it currently gets. As such at our offices we do run regular training sessions internally and also a yearly one for clients to keep their knowledge up to date. If that fails you can always fall back on YouTube to help as there a numerous very helpful tutorials on there.

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