Keep it simple stupid with Microsoft Excel

by 1vet2another

During the military, I didn’t use any computer programs that would be relevant to my future career.   College was my first real introduction to programs that would be integral to life in the corporate arena. With a business major, I had a few courses that taught basic software knowledge in Microsoft products like Excel, PowerPoint, Visio and Access.   There were two major issues.  1. I didn’t take these tools seriously enough (the majority of the blame falls on me).  2. I don’t believe our professors put enough emphasis on how important these tools were for our career.

For now, let’s look at Excel.  Know enough to be dangerous.  If you get assigned to project that requires more detailed knowledge, you can learn on the job (Google, YouTube, nearby experts, etc.)  In fact, I urge you to not fill your head with details of every function and capability these programs offer.  Use your time more efficiently, learn enough to be dangerous and do deep dives as needed.

As an analyst, I would often run into situations where I needed to utilize functions, graphs, or other capabilities of Excel that I wasn’t familiar with.  I would go straight to google and ask the question.  So far, I have been able to find a step-by-step “how to” guide or YouTube video for every unique scenario I ask about.   The best part is (in addition to learning new things), people become impressed and start thinking you’re some kind of Excel guru (ha!). Here are some tips to simplify Excel…

Have a goal for your spreadsheet

Every document serves a purpose.  Know what you are trying to accomplish every time you build a new spreadsheet. Corporations often have hundreds of spreadsheets floating around.  Many of those spreadsheets are either way too complicated or lack updated information. Unless you are using Excel for quick ad-hoc analysis that only you will see, I suggest you put some thought into it.

What analysis do you need to perform?  What is the goal of bringing this data together?    Who else will being using or seeing it?  Do we really need another spreadsheet out there (might be another one already out there that just needs an update)?  Answer those questions first.

Mind your audience

Make the assumption that the people opening your document are either very busy or have limited skills/experience using Excel.  Make it easy for the user to see the analysis and navigate the document if needed.  Use a cover page on the first tab with a brief description of the document and its purpose.

Bring key results or metrics from the data to the front tab/s.  The point is, don’t let a giant spreadsheet with all the raw data be the first thing they see upon opening the document, it is overwhelming.  Present the data in either table or graph format, whichever highlights your analysis and makes it obvious for the user.

Less is more

When you start gathering data in a spreadsheet, it is easy to keep adding more columns.  We keep thinking of more things we would love to analyze and track over time.  This can be somewhat of a trap.  Try to stay focused on the goal of the spreadsheet and resist the temptation to make it more complex.  More columns mean more data, and more data means more time updating and potential accuracy concerns.

More data also can be more overwhelming and confusing for the user.  Keeping your spreadsheets focused on the goal is important.  Each column, in general, should be NEEDED to support the goal of the spreadsheet.  If you run across a column that is just nice to have, you can likely delete it.  Every time you or someone else thinks of adding more information, give it the same “nice to have” vs “need to have” test.

If they need to navigate and use the raw data, make it as easy as possible.  If you have a spreadsheet with multiple columns and rows, do your best to organize it in a way the user would likely need it.  Prioritize the important columns and either place them in the beginning or highlight with another color (try to avoid using more than 1 or 2 colors, nobody likes a confusing rainbow spreadsheet).

Sort the data so it looks uniform and groups information in a way that makes sense.  The point is, it should look clean and organized. Finally, turn the filter on each column and allow them to easily find what they need (assume they don’t know how to turn on the filter).

Know your options

Assuming you are not just sending out the raw data, you will likely need to show the analysis/major findings in a way that people understand.  Learn how to create pivot tables, graphs and tables that are simple and easy to read.  Don’t try to get fancy.  No need to add colors or cool designs that don’t add value.  Only include the data that is absolutely needed to support your analysis.

Once again, weigh the “nice to have” vs. “need to have” when building tables and graphs.  Label things appropriately so every number is understood. Finally, make it all look neat and organized.  Take pride in your work.  Bring the highlighted analysis to the front of the document (cover page or next tab). The raw data should be the last tab.

Good luck and remember, keep it simple stupid.

19 Replies to “Keep it simple stupid with Microsoft Excel”

  1. In this great scheme of things you secure a B+ just for hard work. Where exactly you actually confused us was first on your particulars. You know, it is said, details make or break the argument.. And that could not be much more accurate at this point. Having said that, let me inform you precisely what did do the job. Your writing is certainly quite convincing which is most likely the reason why I am making the effort in order to comment. I do not make it a regular habit of doing that. 2nd, although I can certainly see a leaps in reason you make, I am not sure of exactly how you appear to unite your details that produce the final result. For the moment I shall yield to your point however trust in the future you actually connect the dots much better.

  2. There are some interesting points in moment in this blog post although I don’t know if I see all of them center to heart. There’s a little validity however, I will take hold judgment until I consider it more. Good post, thanks and we would like more! Added to FeedBurner at the very same time

  3. I simply want to mention I am newbie to blogging and definitely savored your blog site. Most likely I’m planning to bookmark your blog post . You really have remarkable articles. Thanks a lot for revealing your blog site.

  4. I simply wanted to appreciate you all over again. I do not know the things that I would’ve tried in the absence of the type of ideas discussed by you about this concern. Previously it was a very traumatic setting in my position, but spending time with a specialized strategy you resolved that made me to leap with contentment. I am grateful for this guidance and thus sincerely hope you are aware of an amazing job that you are putting in teaching most people via a site. Most likely you haven’t come across all of us.

  5. I¡¦ve read a few excellent stuff here. Certainly price bookmarking for revisiting. I wonder how so much attempt you set to create this kind of great informative website.

  6. That is the suitable blog for anybody who needs to search out out about this topic. You notice a lot its virtually onerous to argue with you (not that I truly would want…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a new spin on a topic thats been written about for years. Great stuff, just nice!

  7. I as well as my friends came going through the nice tips and tricks located on your web site while all of the sudden I had a horrible suspicion I never thanked the site owner for them. These young men had been totally joyful to read through them and have without a doubt been making the most of them. Many thanks for indeed being considerably considerate and then for picking out this form of fabulous subjects millions of individuals are really eager to know about. Our own honest regret for not expressing gratitude to sooner.

  8. well my friend made a blog and he won’t show me what his blog is until he finishes everything with it. So i was wondering if there was a way to find someones blogger with their email address. If anyone could show me how. thatd be great thanks!.

  9. I will right away clutch your rss feed as I can’t to find your email subscription link or e-newsletter service. Do you’ve any? Please allow me recognize so that I may just subscribe. Thanks.

  10. MetroClick specializes in building completely interactive products like Photo Booth for rental or sale, Touch Screen Kiosks, Large Touch Screen Displays , Monitors, Digital Signages and experiences. With our own hardware production facility and in-house software development teams, we are able to achieve the highest level of customization and versatility for Photo Booths, Touch Screen Kiosks, Touch Screen Monitors and Digital Signage. Visit MetroClick at or , 121 Varick St, New York, NY 10013, +1 646-843-0888

  11. Faytech North America is a touch screen Manufacturer of both monitors and pcs. They specialize in the design, development, manufacturing and marketing of Capacitive touch screen, Resistive touch screen, Industrial touch screen, IP65 touch screen, touchscreen monitors and integrated touchscreen PCs. Contact them at, 121 Varick Street, New York, NY 10013, +1 646 205 3214

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.