What People Want for their Businesses, and How Spreadsheets Help
Here is a recent poll that I asked on LinkedIn, and while I thought that productivity and understanding would come out on top, people actually wanted more focus and structure. The bottom line is that all of these are important in business, and the right spreadsheet can increase all of these. The wrong spreadsheet, however, can decrease them all. Let’s take a look one by one and see how a good spreadsheet can help.
Productivity boils down to what you can achieve, and how much effort and time it takes. If you can achieve better results, using less time and effort, then you become more productive. I’ve seen some very manual-heavy spreadsheet, that are very error prone and difficult to use. They take too long to fill in, and they don’t produce enough of a result to make them efficient. They are merely dumps of useful (but not analysed) data. Having the right spreadsheet can help you to cut down the time and effort of data entry and fiddling about. Also, if your data is organised the correct way, it can often be used to create a wealth of reports, so that you can see exactly what is going on (see Understanding). Not only this, but they can often be used to achieve more, but with less effort in less time. Most clients who come to me will show me their current spreadsheet. Some are better than others, but in almost 10 years, I have only ever found one that I could not improve on (I could improve it, but the cost would have outweighed the added efficiency).
I’m surprised this was so low, but you don’t know what you don’t know. One of the biggest issues I find with spreadsheets I see from others, is that they don’t do enough. They have loads of data that is being entered, but they track only the basics. Some only have a total at the bottom with a value. No analysis of the data whatsoever. Many have a wealth of untapped possibilities, with all the relevant data. A few formulas, and it could produce a comprehensive report, but it is just not used. Usually because they person either doesn’t know how to do the formulas, or they simply don’t know what is possible. Either way, they are missing out. My normal questions are, “What data can you put into this spreadsheet?”, and “What do you want the spreadsheet to tell you?”. Ideally, the data inputted should be less than what it does, but in most cases, people expect less than what their data can tell them. I realise that you may not need to know everything, but make sure you’re getting what you do need from as little data as possible.
This one is often overlooked, but a well-designed spreadsheet can help you be more focussed. In my last employed position, I had a spreadsheet with all the projects captured. I arrived at work, opened the spreadsheet, and it showed me a list of active stages, so I knew exactly what was required of me that day. This brought me tremendous focus, as I knew what needed to be tackled when. No forgetting, no standing around, no post-it notes all over the place, no confusion. Clarity and focus. Not only this, but the layout of the spreadsheet was also in the right process, so I didn’t need to think of what to do, and what process to follow, it was all in order. I often ask people about the process around a spreadsheet because I want to make it fit in with your process. It needs to flow properly, and it needs to capture all possibilities. Most spreadsheets I see from others do not take workflow into account, and there is random data all over the place. People don’t often consider focus as a benefit of a good spreadsheet, but I can assure you that it is.
This is similar to Focus, but the structure helps to create focus. I often see companies go too structured, so that there is no play for client needs, but then others have no structure which leads to mistakes and confusion. The key is to be structured, but to understand how to work within that structure to provide clients with what they need. The right spreadsheet will help with structure, as it provides the necessary data required, and in the order that it is needed. This can be very useful if staff are using the spreadsheet, as it enforces the structure, and makes sure that processes are followed correctly. Having the correct structure, and a spreadsheet that enforces that in a good way, can increase focus and productivity. That is why so many people have voted for structure, because it is the first step to achieving all the others.
So, there you have it. This is what business owners said was missing in their businesses. What is missing in yours? The right custom spreadsheet can give you and your staff a structure to work to, which will improve your focus and productivity. The collected data can then be used to produce more understanding as it produces reports of your data. If this is something that you feel could help your business, please get in touch. Show me the spreadsheets you are currently using, and I will show you how I can make ones to help improve all of these areas. If your spreadsheets are already good enough, you’ve lost nothing.