What am I looking out for when I'm investigating a client file

In my over 37 years I have seen many spreadsheets from my clients.

And it never ceases to amaze me what people can or would do with Excel to make it work for them.

You know, as long as it working for you and you are happy with the use, the functionality, the accuracy and the output, why change? Never change a winning formula.

On the other hand, and that’s why business managers engage me, if the workflow model you have in front of you day-in day-out is giving you frustration of any kind– do something about it.

So what do I do when a client drops his well-used spreadsheet into my lap and says “Could you make this file more user-friendly please? We are having these kind of issues…”

a. What is behind the data?

I’m extremely curious and like to understand what is it that the data are telling me. Usually I try find some outliers and make a business case.

b. Functionality?

Does the model do what it is supposed to do? Usually I change data in an extreme way and see whether these changes have the expected effect on the subsequent sheets.

c. Formula consistency

Are all formulas in the spreadsheet having the same structure? Or is a column or row missing in a total? Or (even worse) is a hard coded value present in any of the formulas?

d. Visibility of data

Are there any dashboards and graphs? Are they well formatted and clear in their message? Could we even introduce more dashboards?

e. User friendliness 

Is it easy to work with this file? Is it appealing and structured or looking like a dog’s breakfast? Is there a clear section for assumptions and parameters and one for the calculations?

f. Logic

Is there a consistent logic within the file? Do I understand the train of thought the person who has created that wanted me for follow?

g. Story

What is the story this workbook wants to tell? Yes, I know it sounds strange, but if you are breaking it down, every spreadsheet, every workbook tells a story or wants to tell a story. Is this one clear to understand?

h. Would I like to work with this file?

This is a very subjective criteria and ties in a little bit with the first one – where I want to get behind the data. When I won’t like to work with this file it does not mean that the spreadsheet is broken or not functioning. But it gives me an angle to start investigating and making suggestions to my clients on how to improve it.

You see, it is a bit like unscrambling an egg or – to stay in the picture – untangling ropes.
If you are happy with your system – don’t change it.
If you are frustrated or unhappy about it – give me call. I’m here to help.
“Jürgen brings German precision and design to all of his solutions, and you can have confidence that the solution he develops is accurate and commercially robust. He has excellent communication skills and can work easily with you and your team.”
Ron Wood, Founder and Director of Pricing Insight
Use Your Systems – Trust Your Numbers
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  2. You have an existing Excel – solution that is lacking functionality. This is exactly where I helped hundreds of clients with their Excel spreadsheets and workflow.
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