You Don’t Have To Do It All

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To put today’s topic in context, let me share with you two pieces of advice I received from some good friends, one a very successful businessman, the other an excellent sales manager.

“If you want to be successful, figure out what you like to do, and what you can do very well.  Hire people to do the other stuff.”

“When you give other people a task to do, you must inspect what you expect.”

What’s the point?  Well, I’ve noticed that when people have trouble creating a spreadsheet, it is because they are trying to do too much – they don’t focus only on what they can do well.

If instead the client asks someone else to create the spreadsheet, but is disappointed with the result, then probably the client failed to “inspect what he expected.”

My house was flooded from Hurricane Harvey a couple of years ago and I had to have the entire house rebuilt.  When I would get frustrated with the progress, the contractor would reply “Patience, Bruce…. lots of moving parts here.”

So it is with spreadsheets – lots of moving parts.  For a spreadsheet to be an effective tool, you need the following:

  1. A well thought out plan – what is the spreadsheet’s purpose, who will use it, what should it look like?
  2. A good user interface – easy to understand, easy to use.  Everything the user needs to know to use the spreadsheet should be in the spreadsheet.
  3. Proper spreadsheet structure – separate tabs for data, assumptions and reports; same formula across a row or down a column.
  4. Using the correct formulas – the user needs to understand how calculations are done, use the best formula for the situation.
  5. Concise, well documented code – can the user understand what the code is doing?  Can a different developer come in later and understand the code?

Few people can do all of these things very well.  For example, if you can clearly articulate the purpose of the spreadsheet, maybe you can do a rough draft, but you may not be able to properly structure it to prevent errors and ensure the spreadsheet is scalable.

Likewise, there are many brilliant developers out there who can write very elegant code faster than you can blink an eye, but need guidance when it comes to designing a user interface that a layman can use.

In my case, while I can write VBA code, I know this is not my area of expertise.  Often, the spreadsheets I create or fix do not require much code, if any.  But when they do, I ask a developer to write the code for me because I know s/he can do it faster and better than me.  Once the code is written, I can modify it as needed.

But remember “inspect what you expect.”  Before I give the developer the go-ahead, I make sure that he has very specific instructions on what the spreadsheet should look like, and how I want the automation to work.  That way, there are no surprises for me or the client.

So, what can you do well, and what should you delegate?


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