Find the data, put it in excel

By | January 31, 2014

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.

Put it in Excel

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. 

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4 thoughts on “Find the data, put it in excel

  1. Simon Teale

    I agree with the hypothesis that you should always consider quantitative aspects of a consulting assignment. Another reasons for this this is to encourage consultants and clients to agree on specific, detailed aspects of the engagement – minimising ambiguity and helping to lay out a common future, case for change.

    But Excel? Purleese! Sooo last century!

    Consultants should be thinking now of collaborative solutions whereby multiple clients and consultants maintain a single common online spreadsheet. For example Google Spreadsheets. Many advantages eg: you can’t lose it, common ownership between client and consultants teams, change control, access via many devices, etc. Oh, and it’s free.

    1. consultantsmind Post author

      Totally relevant and fair feedback. For the analysis-phase of projects, I am less apt to give clients a chance to fiddle with the excel, numbers, and calculations. A big protective, I guess.

      Have used Google spreadsheets, and Evernote – cloud storage – among team mates and vendors, but not yet with clients. Need to get over that mental hurdle, I suppose.

      Also, wonder how uptight the big 4 audit firms are with their consulting in terms of co-owning working documents. Right now part of an implementation plan – including lots of communication / PMO with stakeholders. . . wish the client would take more ownership of those documents. Might be my first foray into shared document ownership, Google Docs etc. . . Thanks for the nudge.

  2. EI

    Actually I’m the other one around. I worked in a company where 99.9% company data/info is stored on a G.Spread Sheet and I’m telling you it’s the most inconvenient & annoying things ever. Why ? If we’re just get past the fact that it’s online – yeah, true easy to share, easy to revise, etc but imagine you’ve have a file of above 40Mb & a shitty internet with multiple access at the same time, it’s slow & lagging. For example, I have one report using 4 different workbooks. To update easier, I linked & reference on those 4, so every week I can just update those data on 4 workbooks & let the main template calculated itself. And because we’re using G.Ssheet we I have to literally hard copy those values on those online Spreadsheet. Nightmare I’m telling you!. Further more, G.spread sheet is fully optimized for web usage, it doesn’t come with many features & add-on like the offline stuff. If you don’t know what it is, trying using complex chart in there

    1. consultantsmindadmin Post author

      Thanks for the input. Yes, any 40mb file is going to suck the life out of you. With bad internet and co-ownership, that sounds like a recipe for confusion, error, and potentially finger pointing. Good point.

      Perhaps we need to choose G docs for special types of work. Not just blindly. Great feedback. Thanks.

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