Limiting the dependency of operational and repetitive processes on those who execute them is, surprisingly, what makes organisations people-centric. It also helps to accumulate the know-how.
What is a truly people-independent process?
It is a process that could be quickly taken over by another person without contact with those that previously executed it and without any unnecessary effort to obtain the relevant know-how.
What does it mean for processes involving Excel use?
Whether it regards financial reporting or business intelligence, every process is composed of tasks. They require technical skills, industry-specific expertise and collaboration with others. Each such a task could be deconstructed into specific requirements and then brought to a lower level of difficulty and complexity.
Constructing pivot tables could be simplified to just choosing them from a list and creating with a pre-programmed VBA macro. Gathering data someone else processes could also be automated with smart data connections. Industry knowledge could be integrated with data, emphasising which reporting elements are crucial for decision making based on spreadsheet insights.
Have Excel Experts simplify workbooks so anyone can use them
There is a specialised software package for nearly every industry. But more often than not, it requires commitment for years, with hefty subscription fees and dedicated consultant or employee to leverage it. That means your company's performance gets bound with that niche programme and the market for its specialists. An alternative to that is transforming the tasks to such that do not require advanced skills to perform.
An elaborate report could be automated with VBA and no longer require a person to handle online databases and complex formulae, but rather to check if it correctly reflects business performance.
Inventory analysis might no longer require choosing appropriate graphs and calculating metrics when the right template is in place. Then it is just a matter of updating input data and revising the results.
Have every Excel workbook & process documented
If you have been producing all monthly sales KPI dashboards for the last four years, you have developed an analytical "muscle memory". You know exactly how to curate data, which cells carry most important insights and that the sales of certain categories always pick in February. Butyou only think about that sales hike in the first quarter and if you were to be asked about the procedures in July, you would likely not mention that to your successor.
Now, why stress yourself with remembering all that? Why not instead focus on spotting new trends, improving the scope of relevant insights or their interpretation? Also, why would you have to spend several hours explaining things to your college before your week off if you could had them properly documented?
The ideal situation here is to have every Excel file or process paired with a simple to use, yet detailed manual that doesn't leave a room for interpretation. Each operation on data should be described precicely, referring to files and data ranges (go to sheet "quarterly forecast", range B1:L65 instead of "find the forecast data"). Making notes of deadlines and contact details of people involved in the process is also vital. They can be included either inside the spreadsheet or in Google Docs or PDFs. All the tasks could also be recorded on video and even narrated.
What are the benefits of this?
You release your organisation from the pain of ambiguity.
Your colleagues no longer waste time on "grasping" files and tasks
You accumulate know-how and every tasks executed contributes to process improvement
You are less vulnerable to abstentism: sick leave, days off or employees leaving company
Your organisation nails all the HR KPIs such as retension rates and induction length because the work is more enjoyable and allows for quick learning
You foster the culture of openness and collaboration as your colleagues no longer stress over unclear procedures
Detaching processes from the people that execute them at certain moment is the key to assuring the efficiency and future-proofing companies. The spreadsheet environment is perfect for rolling out such initiatives. They allow you to make tangible time savings, accumulate the knowledge and empower people by removing troubling ambiguity.