How do Business Analysts use Excel [Guest Post from a Rock-star BA]
On Jan 4, I received this email from Matt,
Thank you for sharing all of your knowledge on such an incredible website. Your site has such an incredible array of useful tips, tricks, and solutions to every day problems, I don’t know what I would do without it! It’s the only place I go to look for help when I’m stumped with excel. Thanks to you, I’ve become an “excel wizard,” and have been able to show coworkers mind blowing new things with excel they never knew about. I even taught a 4 week training class at my old job! Over the past 3 years, tips I’ve learned from your site have been appreciated all the way in Seattle, Washington, at an internet marketing company, a newspaper, and a food website.
While the mail is flattering, I was more interested to know how Matt uses Excel in his day to day work. So I asked him to write a small guest post sharing his experiences. He gladly accepted the offer and here were are, with a post full of tips & ideas to help you. I am sure many business analysts, analysts and managers out there can co-relate to Matt’s experience.
Guest Article by Matt Decuir
At Allrecipes.com we use excel for a variety of purposes. Analyzing site trends, forecasting traffic, charts, dashboards, and slide shows; you name it, we use excel for it. That’s why Chandoo’s tips have been so helpful – because we use excel every day. Thanks to chandoo.org, I’ve developed a reputation as an “excel wizard” and even taught a 4 week excel training class!
Most of your colleagues are probably like mine – they’ve got a pretty good understanding of excel. They use formulas and charts regularly, occasionally experimenting with Pivot Tables. As a Chandoo reader, you’re probably already an excel expert or well on your way to becoming one. But even more important than your excel expertise is the ability to communicate helpful tips to others. Regardless of your audience, complicated formulas can be difficult to explain. If you can point out tips that are within your colleagues’ comprehension, you will quickly become an excel rock star. The trick is to know your audience.
Here are a few simple tips that will wow your colleagues:
- Autofill: Instead of wasting time scrolling and dragging a formula all the way down the page, your colleagues will be amazed that double clicking on the AutoFill icon will automatically do it for them.
- One co-worker affectionately calls this the “double click trick“
- Transpose: Need to change how your data is oriented? Not sure exactly how to phrase what you’re trying to do? Just Paste Special and check the Transpose box and your data will magically be transformed from horizontal to vertical.
- Keyboard Shortcuts: Scrolling is the enemy. Nobody wants to waste their whole day scrolling to the bottom of a spreadsheet. Here are a few keyboard shortcuts that will save time:
- CTRL + down arrow:To get to the bottom row of your data set
- CTRL +up arrow: To get the top row of your data set
- CTRL + right arrow: To get to the last column of your data set
- CTRL + left arrow: To get to the first column of your data set
- CTRL + Home: To get to the first cell (top left) in your data set
- CTRL + End: To get to the last cell (bottom right) in your data set
- Bonus: Holding SHIFT down while using any of the above shortcuts will select that entire range
- Charts: Charts are confusing. They never do what you want them to do. Most people have used charts before, but are in no way experts. You’ll win points if you can explain how to:
- Add a secondary axis
- Create a combination chart with both bar and line graphs
- Pivot Tables: Pivot Tables are daunting to most people who don’t use them regularly. If you can help your colleagues navigate the treacherous waters of Pivot Tables, they will definitely appreciate it. Keep it simple though, as the flexibility can get overwhelming to new users very quickly.
- Start by creating a Pivot Table to answer 1 question. Then explain how to filter and sort the data. By doing this, your colleagues will slowly warm to Pivot Tables, making them less overwhelming.
Now that you’ve got some simple tips in your repertoire, here are the formulas and tools I use the most:
Lookup and Text Formulas:
- SUMIFS, AVERAGEIFS, and COUNTIFS: Like SUMIF on steroids. Useful for looking up any non-text values with multiple criteria
- Great for recreating the functionality of a Pivot, but allowing you to format the output however you would like
- Makes month over month calculations extremely easy, especially with named cells.
- VLOOKUP, INDEX, and MATCH: Useful for looking up any text values
- Always make sure to end your VLOOKUP with FALSE to return the exact match
- IFERROR: Replaces errors with a different value
- i.e. IFERROR(A1/B1,0) replaces errors with zeroes
- LEFT, MID, RIGHT, and SEARCH: Useful for parsing specific parts out of URLs
- TODAY(): Automatically calculates today’s date
- DATE: Useful for calculating specific days in the year
- i.e. DATE(YEAR(TODAY()),1,1) calculates the first day of the year (“1/1/2011″)
- EDATE: Increments a date by X number of months. Negative numbers also work to go backwards.
- i.e. EDATE(A1,1) increments a date by 1 month (“2/1/2011″)
- TEXT: Converts a value to any date format you would like
- i.e. TEXT(A1,”dddd”) converts a date into day of the week (“Monday”)
- i.e. TEXT(A1,”mmmm”) converts a date into a month (“January”)
- WEEKDAY: Returns the day number in the week.
- i.e. WEEKDAY($A1,2)>5 returns TRUE for weekends
- Dynamic Chart Ranges: Use OFFSET and named ranges to only chart cells that have values. This saves time because you don’t have to update chart data ranges each month
- Alternatively, returning errors (#N/A) when values are blank will also exclude empty cells from line and bar charts
- Rolling Chart Data Ranges: Set a static number of months and use SUMIFS to populate values automatically
- Dynamic Chart Data Labels: Great for showing month over month % change, instead of default data labels
- Named ranges: Useful for referencing calculated dates, lookup formulas, data validation lists, creating dashboards, etc…
- CTRL + F3: shows all the named ranges in your spreadsheet
- Data Validation: For creating drop down lists
- Named ranges allow you to reference a list of values in a separate tab
- Conditional Formatting: For formatting everything!
- Highlight Cell Rules: Highlights positive values in green, negative values in red
- Custom Formula Rules: Useful for shading weekends in gray when looking at a whole month’s data by day (i.e. WEEKDAY($A1,2)>5)
- Data Bars: Shows a tiny bar chart within the cell. Good for showing trends within a data table
I hope these tips help you become a rock star among your friends and colleagues!
Business Analyst, Allrecipes.com
(decuirm at gmail dot com)
Thank you Matt
Thanks for sharing your experiences and ideas so openly. This proves that to be a successful analyst, good understanding of numbers and tools is necessary.
If you like this article, say thanks to Matt. Also tell us how you are using Excel to become awesome at work. Go ahead and leave a comment.
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