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Spreadsheet Project Management

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Nanine Camélia May 10, 2021 Spreadsheet

So why does data that inevitably finds its way into a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet often suffer from the problems outlined above. The reasons are many. If the data is imported, it may have been sourced from a combination of other spreadsheets, databases, systems, reports, word documents, emails or web pages. If the data has been entered manually it may have been poorly done so by an inexperienced computer users such as administrative or junior staff with a lack of understanding for data structures. Excel is easy to use and widely accessible, so an inexperienced colleague can quite easily update your spreadsheet with a false sense of confidence and inadvertently enter new data incorrectly. And finally, unlike a fully functional software system, data entry in Excel generally has no automatic validating rules, unless carefully setup by the spreadsheet‘s creator.

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In a well-designed spreadsheet, any output can be calculated from the raw data. However, that‘s not always enough. Sometimes the output is fixed and the raw data is variable. Let‘s say you run an investment company and want to offer your clients a fixed return. An Excel expert could create a very complex model to calculate the likely return on investments over a fixed period. You could then calculate the internal rate of return being offered to clients. The problem is that you‘re not interested in the return offered to clients; that is, after all, fixed. Instead you‘re concerned with how much money you expect to draw from the investment fund, whilst still offering your investors a satisfactory return. If you have $1 and owe investors a quarter, you can calculate your profits using a simple formula.

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Microsoft Excel is a phenomenally powerful calculator. You can create spreadsheets with 10,000 lines of data and calculate subtotals instantly. Indeed, if you change your data, any totals will get automatically updated. Arguably that‘s not too impressive. If we have quarterly revenues of $1m, and we secure another $20k, we can update our subtotal without summing revenues from scratch. So it‘s more impressive that Excel can do the same thing with statistical functions. If you‘ve ever plotted a chart on Excel, you may be aware that you can add a best fit line. These best fit lines are calculated using a method known as regression. Basically, you have to calculate the distance of every single point from the line, and minimise the sum. The maths is a little more sophisticated but the key point is that, every time you change the data, you need to perform the analysis all over again.

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It does have one severe limitation. Goal seek is not a formula. It does not permanently reside in the spreadsheet or the selected cells. Therefore you have to re-run Goal Seek each and every time you change the spreadsheet. Often this is acceptable because you have created a model specifically to calculate that one parameter. Having said that, there will be occasions where this is inadequate. What are the plans for your meeting or convention this year? Does it start with a budget or did you even do one last year? If you did one, did you do it the easy way with a Budget Spreadsheet for Meetings? Let us discuss your needs and see what forms and budgets can be facilitated the easy way. If approached correctly, you can cut your ”Hassle Factor” by more than half with the right event template.

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Whilst Excel cannot clean or structure all of your data for you it does come with some useful functionality for manipulating and analysing clean and structured data sets. This in-built functionality includes pivot tables, sorting and filtering. Filtering alone is a powerful tool and can help to quickly isolate data based on specified criteria. But what happens if your data is clean but not very structured (a common problem). For instance what if you, a client or your team is using colours, fonts or some kind of formatting to classify data in an Excel spreadsheet. In short, you wont be able to filter the data, because Excel‘s in-built filtering logic requires rules based on numbers, dates and text only. It will not perform filtering based on formats. In addition Excel filtering only applies down rows. It will not perform filtering across columns.

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Second – Planning your Budget – is this easy or are you going to start over from scratch? If you kept good records and have accurate figures, then you have a great start for you next meeting. It is easy to modify last year‘s information and make changes for this year. That will be necessary for a variety of reasons. You will need it to tell your hotel contact what you want and you will also need it to prepare this year‘s budget. Third – Budgeting Spreadsheet for Meetings – take the easy way out. Use a spreadsheet that will make your job easy. There are excel spreadsheets that can do it for you. Do not waste your time trying to design something that already exists and is proven to save you effort and stress.

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