A Simple System to Solve Problems in Excel

What to do in excel and when to do it

This is the big question that stumps a lot of people, especially beginners or reasonably experienced people. Excel can be a vast and murky big world of tools, formulas, pivot tables and macros. Sometimes you just don’t know quite exactly what you should be doing and when. There is so much of it and that vastness creates overwhelm.

Lumberjack Tools

I am a big fan of lumberjacks; they are incredibly productive. They chop trees down and only use one of three tools to do it. They’ll use an axe; if it’s a small tree, a wood saw; if it’s a big tree, they’ll get a big petrol power chainsaw. They’ll take that thing down.

Now the fact they only ever have to use three tools makes their job very easy. They’ve broken their work down to using three tools. So that means they walk up to a tree and say,’ right, I just need to use a saw on that and that one over there, an axe’. Job done.

As accountants; analysts; PMO’s; management consultants etc, we’re doing problem solving on a daily basis and using excel almost on a daily basis. But Excel is big. We can often get confused with how to approach each task or set of data that, for example, might need to be converted into a report with a bit of analysis. I appreciate these problems can be overwhelming as I’ve been solving these kind of problems with excel for over ten years. When I first started out, I used to suffer from that same overwhelm.

But over the years, having done it so many times, I have eliminated that overwhelm. I don’t even think about it and the people I teach are exactly the same. They look at something and they have the confidence: ‘Right I know exactly what to do with this, no problems.’ How can that be? Well, after using Excel in my career for 10+years, I concluded that you are only ever going to deal with three types of problems:

Three types of Problems

1. Tracking or organisation of data.

2. Analyzing data whether that’s regular analysis or adhoc analysis. Forecast, variance analysis, or for example, you’re working on a project and need to know what milestones are going to deliver in several months time.

3. Communication of data, i.e. reports and MI.

And those three problems only need four kinds of solutions to tackle them:

Four kinds of Solutions

1. You are going to find the information. That means you are going to look it up or find it.

2. You are going to treat that information with rules eg. you find some information, do some analysis saying, ‘I want this data to do these calculations or I am just looking for this, if it looks like this then I want that.’ Those are very important things the if and the then.

3. Build a negotiation with the non-numerical information that most of us analysts, accountants, controllers, PMO’s, and management consultants are often dealing with eg. names or product codes.

4. Summarizing your data after your analysis eg. a table, chart or graph.

Back to the Lumberjacks

Lumberjacks may use just barely three tools to bring down trees. In our professional world we need a few more tools than that but the ability to be able to simplify is invaluable.

So if you remember on day one I mentioned the number one reason we need to get good at Excel is to save time. Now if you are on the way to saving time but still deciding how to go about doing it, you are not saving time, you’re wasting time. You need to be someone with a framework; a structured approach to basically say, ‘right if this is the problem then I do this and I need to use these things’. Over my 10+ year career I have worked out what those things are.

My course Zero to Excel Guru takes that overwhelm away from you. It turns you into a lumberjack who see only the few things are that are needed to get the job done.

So I hope you thoroughly enjoyed that lesson and if you want to finally once and for all conquer this Excel beast and become an absolute master at it in six weeks then link below and sign up and I’ll see you on the inside.