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Looking up when the data won’t co-operate (case study)



Occasionally we deal with data that is so uncooperative that we might as well give up and go back to calculators & ledger books.

Recently I found myself in such a situation and learned something new.

Introducing … data that won’t play nice

Drum roll please. Here is a data-set that I got from somewhere.

2D Lookup problem - Example dataset

The problem – build a lookup formula

And the problem. Oh, simple. Write a lookup formula to find how many customer walk-ins we have on any given day.

But how?

After wrestling with a few variations of VLOOKUP, INDEX, MATCH, OFFSET… I found the right formula for this occasion.

SUMIFS Formula

That’s right, the good old (well, its just 7 years old, born in 2007 Excel) is the one that works in this situation.

Assuming our data is in the range:

  • B4:H15
  • Even rows (4,6,8…14) containing date
  • Odd rows (5,7,9…) containing customer walk-ins
  • And lookup date is in L5

We can use this SUMIFS formula:


to find out how many customers walked in to the store on the lookup date.

How does this formula work?

See this illustration.

2D Lookup formula with SUMIFS - how it works


Since SUMIFS (and SUMIF too) formula works in 2D, our formula works elegantly.

Any caveats?

There are a couple of problems with this formula.

  1. It works for looking up numbers only
  2. It doesn’t work if any of the numbers are same as dates we are looking up. For example 15th October 2014 is 41927, so we have a data point that is also 41927, then our SUMIFS result would be wrong.

A better formula?

If you want a formula that works with any type of data, then of course we can come up with one.

That is your home work.

Go ahead and figure it out and share your magic potions in the comments.

Here is a clue: If we cant go somewhere directly, we can go indirectly, if we know the address.

Download Example Workbook

Click here to download the example workbook. Examine the formula in cell L6 to understand how this works.

How do you deal with such data?

Badly shaped data is everywhere. Not a week goes by when I don’t come across poorly structured data. Thanks to Excel, I can alter the shape of almost any data. My favorite techniques are – text import, power query, formulas, pivot tables, remove duplicates & go to special.

What about you? How do you deal with poorly structured data? What tools do you deploy to alter the fitness levels of your data? Please share your thoughts and tips in comments.

Don’t forget about the formula challenge.

Excel not co-operating? Its time you tamed it

Data that is messy, bosses with high expectations, coffee machines that don’t work are everywhere. Fortunately Excel can fix 2 of those 3 problems. (Sorry folks, there is no fixCoffeeMachine() macro, yet.)

Learn a few Excel tricks & concepts and you could be on your way to taming messy data & demanding bosses. Start with these:


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40 Responses to “Looking up when the data won’t co-operate (case study)”

  1. Sumit Bansal says:

    Nice Trick.. Clever use of cell references

    Here is a formula I tried to create:

    It takes care of Caveat #1 (can handle text), but Caveat #2 remains.

  2. PeterB says:

    In situations like this, I will often use VBA to restructure the data (2 columns: dates and values) on to a new worksheet. I can then use this 'clean' source for data analysis (formula or pivot table).

    =SUMPRODUCT(((NOT(ISERROR(SEARCH(L5,B4:H14))))*1),(B5:H15)) and complex formulae in general are all very well but when you come back to them in a few weeks / months time, it is not at all easy to see what they do and what the limitations are.

  3. Somendra Misra says:

    Hi Chandoo,

    I had used this type of cell ref. various times while calculating average.
    But for the situation here try below formula . Note this is an array formula and must be confirmed with Ctrl+Shift+Enter.



  4. Somendra Misra says:

    Hi, I think Using SEARCH in here will create a problem say there is a text like SUN and another text SUNLIGHT both result will be added by SUMPRODUCT.


  5. Elias says:

    Array option.



    • Michael (Micky) Avidan says:

      Nice approach.
      Although not requested - the formula I suggested closes all possibilities.
      Criteria: _____ Value to retrieve:
      Date__________ Numeric
      While your formula copes with only the 3 first combinations.
      Michael (Micky) Avidan
      “Microsoft® Answer” – Wiki author & Forums Moderator
      “Microsoft®” MVP – Excel (2009-2015)

      • Elias says:


        Sorry but I don’t understand your point. I believe the challenge was to return the summary of a given date. What is your really volatile formula doing that mine is not?


        • Michael (Micky) Avidan says:

          I didn't say that the challenge differs from what you just mentioned/aimed to nor that your formula doesn't provide the requested result.
          Please read my previous comment again and focus on the last combination (TEXT / TEXT).
          I, myself, always try to provide a global Formula that is capable to handle all sorts of data.
          Michael (Micky) Avidan
          “Microsoft® Answer” – Wiki author & Forums Moderator
          “Microsoft®” MVP – Excel (2009-2015)

          • Elias says:

            I see your point, but you are missing the below points if you are trying to cover all sorts of data.

            What happened if the lookup value does not exist?

            Do you want the first, second, summary, concatenation of the values if the look value is repeated?

            See they are too many possibilities to be cover with just one formula.


  6. Michael (Micky) Avidan says:

    1) The range: B4:H15 was named: RNG.
    2) The following Array Formula was "retrieved from my sleeve" and I hope it can be shorten.
    3) The formula seems to take care of BOTH(!) caveats.
    Michael (Micky) Avidan
    “Microsoft® Answer” – Wiki author & Forums Moderator
    “Microsoft®” MVP – Excel (2009-2015)

    • Elias says:


      Check what happened with your result if you type 41927 in D5.


      • Michael (Micky) Avidan says:

        Correct. Didn't predict that.
        Will find time to work something out.
        Michael (Micky) Avidan
        “Microsoft® Answer” – Wiki author & Forums Moderator
        “Microsoft®” MVP – Excel (2009-2015)

      • Michael (Micky) Avidan says:

        Let's hope the following Array Formula "closes all open doors".
        Again - it has nothing to do with your formula which works fine as long as the 3 first mentioned combinations are concerned.
        Michael (Micky) Avidan
        “Microsoft® Answer” – Wiki author & Forums Moderator
        “Microsoft®” MVP – Excel (2009-2015)

        • Elias says:

          Ok, if you insist. The following will cover all the scenarios you listed. However, I’ll never recommend/use such of formula.

          Defined names:
          rDat = $B$4:$H$15
          rRow =ROW(rDat)-MIN(ROW(rDat))+1
          rCol =COLUMN(rDat)-MIN(COLUMN(rDat))+1
          rInc =MOD(rRow,2)=MOD(MIN(rRow),2)

          Array Enter


        • Frank says:


          unfortunately, your array formula still seems to return wrong results (eg 3-Nov).

  7. Magda says:

    If data are organized like in the example, ie. looks like a calendar, the INDEX formula seems quite simple:

    • Marc says:

      Yours is effectively the same as what I just came up with, and I believe this is the optimal answer to this particular problem.

      My solution, before I saw yours:

      OFFSET will work for an arbitrary list size, but INDEX might be easier to read.
      QUOTIENT does the round and division in a single step.

  8. XOR LX says:

    If there's an improvement over Elias's solution then I for one can't see it.

    Perhaps a non-CSE version which would also mean that only two references (B4:H14 and B5:H15), as opposed to three (B4, B4:B14 and and B5:H15), would require manually amending should the data range change, i.e.:


    I suppose we could make it a single, uniform range reference:


    which might be more appropriate should we e.g. wish to use a Defined Name for our range, i.e.:


    though whether that compensates for the extra, volatile function call is something to be debated.


  9. Mahir says:

    I have tried something and then my Excel workbooks got shut down. Maybe that was too much?

    Anyway here is what I've tried:


    Guess that was wrong? Would this approach work anyway?

    Looking forward to learn something from you Excel Experts.

  10. XOR LX says:

    @Michael Avidan

    As it stands that is not a very rigorous construction.

    You say "I, myself, always try to provide a global Formula that is capable to handle all sorts of data", which is a wonderful philosophy, but isn't it at least as important that we ensure that our formulas are independent of the row and column references of the data range in question, so that, should that range change, we do not have to re-work our solution?

    What happens with your formula, for example, if RNG is instead re-located one row down, from B4:H15 to B5:H16?

    When a formula is reliant upon the addition/subtraction of certain constants within the formula, which themselves are necessarily dependent upon the specific rows/columns in which the data lies at any given time (e.g. the -1 in MOD(ROW(RNG)-1,2)), then that formula is not a very flexible one.

    Hence the reason for my choice of a slightly longer construction:


    which ensures that this part of the calculation is not dependent upon the precise location of the data range within the worksheet, and so will give correct answers even if that range is re-located.


  11. Haz says:


    • Haz says:

      Non-array formula:

      Using one range (B4:H15), one reference (B4), one lookup value (L5) and no INDIRECT or OFFSET.

  12. MF says:

    My trial with defined names:


    =RANK('lookup problem'!$L$5,DateRange,1)

    =OFFSET(B4,ROUNDUP(Position/7,0)*2- 1,IF(MOD(Position,7)=0,6,MOD(Position,7)-1))

  13. Jeff Weir says:

    I'd probably just run with something like:
    ...which is basically the same as Elias' but without the IFs

  14. Bermir says:

    The opposite of elegant but it works...


    • Bermir says:


  15. HF says:

    Named Range
    rownum = SUMPRODUCT(('lookup problem'!$B$4:$H$14='lookup problem'!$L$5)*ROW('lookup problem'!$B$4:$H$14)*ISEVEN(ROW('lookup problem'!$B$4:$H$14)))


  16. Venky says:

    How about SUM(IF(B4:H14=L5,B5:H15)) with array..it should work

  17. xen says:

    Sorry, Chandoo, you can't find stuff this way in every possible scenario.
    What if 2014-10-01 sales would equal 41.927 ? Which is serial number for 2014-10-15 ? SUMIF would fail to retrive correct answer. And your example data suggest that such number is possible in your table.

    It's better not to search through dates and numbers at the same time.

    If I'd solve a problem like this, it'd reformat table first so I get one column with dates and the other with numbers.

    In this case, formula to form date column would be:
    and numbers would be the same formula with sight adjustment (+3 instead of +2 at the end of first argument):

    And now you got two columns that you can safely use for searching!

  18. xen says:

    Oops, sorry, you actually mentioned that it doesn't work if number=date! I missed that part 🙁

  19. Vad says:


    Works for all data... the solution I got for indirect looks little lengthy

  20. Rajesh says:

    I want to count last 20 records of a person, whose marks is greater than 2 and grade "manager". ....

    Assume A1 has got names (James, John...etc...)
    A2 "Manager"

    A3 "2"

    Someone please reply

  21. Rajesh says:

    I want to count last 20 records of a person, whose marks is greater than "2" and grade "Manager"

    Assume A1 "geroge" A2 "Michael" A3 "George" etc...name can found anywhere in the rows

    B1 "Manager" B2" clerk"

    C1 "2" C2, "4"

    please reply

  22. Marc says:

    Simplest I can come up with. No limitations for either 1 or 2. This does assume dates are an ordered list with 7 per row, and 2 rows per set. Assuming this is always true this will work for an arbitrary long list of dates.


    • Michael (Micky) Avidan says:

      Nice approach - however, as there are no "Negative Dates" - try:
      Michael (Micky) Avidan
      “Microsoft® Answer” – Wiki author & Forums Moderator
      “Microsoft®” MVP – Excel (2009-2015)

  23. Vijaykumar Shetye says:


    B4 has been used as reference cell for OFFSET().

    ROUNDUP(....,0) gives the integer value of a division. In case of presence of a remainder, ROUNDUP will add 1 to the Quotient.
    As opposed to ROUNDUP(), the INT() or QUOTIENT() functions eliminate the remainder.

    41911 = 01-Sept-2014, the first date in the data.

    *2 has been used because there are 2 columns per set of data.

    /7 has been used because there are 7 columns per set of data.

    For columns

    Vijaykumar Shetye,
    Panaji, Goa, India

  24. Awais says:

    This is how i did it

    {=INDEX(B4:H15, MAX((L5=B4:H15)*ROW(B4:H15))-2, MAX((L5=B4:H15)*COLUMN(B4:H15))-1 )}

  25. Paul says:

    Here's my solution:


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