Does your project require excel? Whatever your project scope, if you are not using excel – to categorize, count, calculate, or correlate things – I would argue that you really don’t have much of a project. It’s my bias, but a project that does not require excel in some form is well . . .more like coaching, staff augmentation, project management, and training – not management consulting. A bit arrogant, perhaps.
In essence, without excel you are not really driving to a conclusion using data. There might be research (sure), and interviews (sure), and observations (sure), but it’s more anecdotal and qualitative. Your “analysis” is based on impressions, feelings and points of view, not data. Basically, you don’t have enough data to need excel. Bad.
Small sample size. If you are not using excel in some way, it means that you have a small sample size. Your analysis is too narrow, and perhaps misleading. Somehow you are keeping track on paper, MS Word, or in your mind.
- A robust logistics spend analysis might involve 100,000 deliveries.
- An analysis of bed utilization for a hospital might have 30,000 patient records.
- A trade promotion analysis might involve 3,500 different product types
How are you organizing that in your head? Are you digging into the data enough?
Excel is the lifeblood of the consultant. The first place for most consulting analysts to start is excel. It is like the Karate Kid who constantly practiced “wax on, wax off” to learn the skills needed to fight. Same thing with excel. Like Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers (affiliate link) you need 10,000 hours of excel to call yourself an expert and proficient.
To be successful, you need to quickly be able to group, organize, slice-and-dice data. A GMAT analogy might be: Consultant : Excel = Plant : Water.
What novices don’t realize that behind every smartly worded, insightful PowerPoint is usually 2-3 crazy, ugly, complicated (and often frustrating) excel files. We might use Powerpoint to simplify complex ideas, and hallway conversations to build client rapport, but excel is where the money is made. From my experience, there are 10 hours of Excel for every 1 hour of Powerpoint.
If you are an engineering undergrad, you know what I mean. The consultants who come out of undergraduate from Cal Tech, MIT, IIT, Carnegie Mellon, Georgia Tech, or Tsinghua, you understand the importance of having good data. You get excel. These are the folks who model out student loan debt, and catalog recipes on excel. They are a bit type-A, and really like to keep things organized. Wicked good at excel and understand its importance. You get it.
Find data to put into excel. If you are on a project that does not require excel. . . think again. Push yourself to find or create quantifiable data (e.g., surveys, interviews, RFP evaluation scores) that can be analyzed, and categorized. You will see trends and commonalities that you would not see if without the rows and the columns. It will force you to think through the data, and give you more credibility in the eyes of your client.
Eureka moments: Although people think of PowerPoint for its graphics and visuals, it is when you are analyzing data with excel that those Eureka moments avail themselves. Powerpoint is for telling stories. Excel is for uncovering the real story.
Visualization: Our team uses Tableau for data visualization. It makes excel look laborious. An Analytics director once told me, “If I had to use Excel instead of Tableau, I would refuse.” If you are an excel expert, time for Tableau. Start your free trial here.