Learn Excel, Spend More Time with the Kids

I love to spend time playing with my three-years old twins, and I wholeheartedly want to create for them the memories of a happy childhood. This is something that I can’t delegate, and if I don’t have the time, I’ll have to find it. They will not wait to grow up.

Stupid time wasting at work really bothers me. When you work for a company where a high percentage of people use Excel as their primary tool you inevitably find horror stories of people spending days with a task that should take minutes. Here are some examples:

• Hundreds of sums, calculated one by one, when a pivot table could give the same result in seconds;
• Two persons matching two lists, when they could use a lookup function;
• Hundreds of copies of the exactly same chart, but with different markets, sales territories or measures (a single chart with some basic interactivity would do);

(This also leads to errors and to the spreadsheet hell, but that’s another story.) I really hate to see people wasting their time this way, when they could leave earlier and go play with their kids. And it is so simple! You just have to tell yourself: “this is stupid; there must be a better way“. And usually there is. You just have to find it. Keyword: curiosity.

If you are a manager, let me share with you a management secret: you can’t imagine how inefficient a beginner Excel user can be, and you are likely to have several eternal beginners in your team. It is not a matter of training. People forget theory and examples that don’t apply to their own problems. You better hire an Excel power user. Make him/her the go-to person for Excel things. Tell this person to meet users, find inefficiencies and solve them.

I am sure you have much better inefficiency-related Excel horror stories. Do you want to share them in the comments?

4 thoughts on “Learn Excel, Spend More Time with the Kids”

1. Dead on. Every time one of my analysts says that they are “ok at Excel”, I know that they are in actuality total beginners, and that something that would take me 5 minutes may cause them to come back 4 hours later having done wrong.

2. I have a slightly different story. I am awesome at Excel (I am not a guru, I am just plain and simple awesome). I do not have the time anymore to be awesome. So I solved my time issue by creating a new position and hired someone who at worse, is as good as me at Excel. In reality, he is better then me in some areas of excel (arrays and sumif) and I am better at others (database integration and pivot tables). This allows us to push each other. What makes him so good is that he is not afraid to learn new things. I introduced him to Stephen Few and Edward Tufte. Since that time he has learned as many Excel non VBA charting hacks to make Stephen Few worthy visual charts. Who is my super star employee? He is non other then http://twitter.com/hubert_urruttia

In summary, for me as a manager, it was important to get someone who is accomplished in Excel and not afraid to learn something new. This has made us both more efficient.

3. I agree with the sentiments above. However, as a very good (but not awesome) Excel power user, I have found that I have ended up doing many things that other should have done – even if it took them longer. Being great at Excel slows promotion through management ranks – delegate and show what a manager you are!

4. Huddo, that’s a good point. In fact, too good to be discussed here, in a simple comment. I’ll make it the topic for my next post.