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Excelling in excel just makes it more difficult

January, 18 2022

Excelling in Excel can sometimes get in the way of improvement

I have watched with great envy young engineers rattling out charts, pivot tables, and various other fantastic looking data spreadsheets. My mind is just not made that way. I struggle to keep up with reading columns and rows or cell numbers and then relating that to the interpretation. My wife tells me it is actually a condition recognised in schools and that I should get some diagnostic done to understand the problem further. Are you kidding? What else will they find? They might insist I retire on grounds of age related frailties. Who 'they' are I have no idea but I'm still shying away from the White Coats. Anyway, I rather like my 'excel disability' as some of my colleagues call it.

However, it does raise a point in my Lean world. We need to make sure being an excel wizz does not prevent the frontline teams making informed decisions or disempowering them from action.

Powerpoint and Excel are the opium of our consulting world

I have observed organisations inadvertently preventing improvement on a mass scale because of the choices made in who has access to laptops and who doesn't. Not that I think that a laptop will make a difference to continuous improvement, in fact, quite the opposite. The problem emerges when we then turn to those with access to excel - usually a manager, engineer or Business Improvement Analyst - to then interpret the data, make the pivot table and so on. I have seen teams having to wait weeks for information which could easily be done with a calculator and a flip-chart. But for some reason this does not hold the same credibility as having had the data flushed through mini-tab or excel and presented in a lovey pie chart, you know, the one I'm talking about, where the offending percentage is nicely shown as a slice of the pie slightly off set from the main body? Looks great! And therein lies the problem. Management want things presented in a neat format that can be slipped into the monthly report and by doing so it is unlikely the frontline teams will be as involved as they could be. It is a form of disenfranchisement, if you will, that we sleep walk into without knowing.  Powerpoint and excel are like a narcotic in our leadership strata, the opium of the consulting world.  OK, I exaggerate somewhat but they do salve our sensitive nerves about looking professional in front of the boss.  As for the animation, don’t get me started.

I am at my happiest when a scruffy, well used, hand written A3 is put under my nose that has been developed by the team (with the support of an analyst I might add). I can see it is theirs, they are proud of their findings and ownership of the problem and its solution.

Stick a flip-chart by the team. Encourage them to work the data without defaulting to excel or mini-tab. Sometimes a simple Pareto will do.

Celebrate their workings with the pen and be brave: take a photo of the scruffy piece of paper and stick it in your report. When asked what it is, take the leadership team on a Go Look See.


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