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Spreadsheets are a gift from the heavens and they are awesome at helping us organize our thoughts in a logical analytical manner. But as with so many things in life, the pitfall lies in knowing the difference between what you can do and what you should do.
With a spreadsheet, any calculation, sum or comparison that comes to mind is immediately tangible, real and accurate as soon as the numbers start appearing in those white cells.
We have all embraced the power of Excel in our day-to-day work.
We have all built Excel models that range from sheets for small calculations, to complicated vlookup/index/array masterpieces.
And there is absolutely nothing wrong with this way of modelling in Excel provided that it is for ad-hocbrain dumps and quick calculations.
But Excel isn’t a database and therefore it cannot (and should not) be an organisation-wide modelling, planning, reporting and BI tool.
How Excel model chaos happens in five days
(swipe right for a familiar story)
It all started off so elegantly, on that glorious Monday morning when you amazed everyone with the insights you produced in your spreadsheet.
After the meeting, feeling five inches taller, walking away as the king of the numbers, your colleague gives you that tap on the shoulder…
If you could do that same calculation for their unit, because your Excel skills seem to be out of this world, and the numbers you produced were equally insightful for their part of the business.
Sounds like a great plan!
The extra effort of running the same report for two units is minimal.
Tuesday morning at the coffee machine, sure enough, two more colleagues heard about your kindness, adding two more reporting units to your list.
You are smiling and proud by the end of the day, you’ve made this company a better place, by providing everyone their own version of the ultimate truth.
In the Management meeting on Wednesday you started noticing that you are getting more than what you bargained for.
After a long discussion about the layout and colours used in the worksheet, the summary tab doesn’t seem to cut it for all units, and two different report layouts start to see daylight.
And by the way, those numbers ideally should also be available in local currency, but of course that is just another pivot table on top of the FX lookup table.
You realise you should have stayed in bed on Thursday.
That small calculation error in the INDEX formula messed up the numbers for two of the units, making everyone doubt if you deserved that superhero-spreadsheet god status in the first place.
While fixing the calculation errors, your colleague points out that there were some late journal entries, and you should make sure not to forget to rerun the entire set of reports, because he couldn’t tell you for sure which units might have impacted numbers.
Some of the forecast data was also changing in light of your incredible insights and the sales team would be sending in their input for your report by 5 pm, in time for you to update the files on Friday.
Chasing down the last of them on Thursday night 10 pm, you are relieved to press the send button on the final report, ready for the board committee meeting.
Friday is not a sunny day.
With a satisfied feeling having delivered even after a late night, you confidently enter the meeting room.
Printed copies of the reports are available for discussion. Tables filled with black and white, some with an exotic graph to shake things up… Hey, apparently you missed adjusting the print setup on some of the tabs, and they came out way too small or spread over too many pages.
Minor issues nevertheless, let’s start the meeting.
Unit 1 comments on the outcome, blames a few sales people, spreads confidence with a forecast, and gives a sign of appreciation for your preparation work.
The sales manager of unit 2 starts off swiftly, but stops mid-sentence with the dreaded words “these numbers are not correct”.
Apparently two of the sales reps changed their forecast after submitting it to you, and only sent it to their manager. Not your fault obviously, but nevertheless there is no point in continuing to discuss Unit 2.
If it hadn’t been for the next unit, where for some reason all costs went missing and the values had mistakenly been translated to the wrong currency, people might have forgiven you for displaying the numbers with too many decimals.
But the fact that you forgot to copy down those VLOOKUP calculations, really pushed you into defense on the salary calculations.
When people leave the meeting, you hear yourself promising an updated version of the reports by Monday.
Your colleague, father of 4 young children, is quickly collecting all the printed reports for his kids to make drawings on.
We all know that it starts with a few good ideas and plenty of good intentions. Throwing together numbers from different sources, helping colleagues, and taking into account everyone’s wishes and input from countless worksheets. And very soon, it all goes dramatically wrong as it is a never-ending, ever-consuming cycle, of exponential spreadsheet proliferation and growth.
This is what we call, “Excel Hell”.
It’s a real thing. And you’re probably in it.
And it’s okay. We’ve been there. Keep on reading to see the way out of it.
TM1 deepens Excel’s flexibility and eliminates its limitations without losing any of the good stuff. You should check it out here.
All of this a bit conceptual?
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