Let me start with a stereotype: the Excel modelling guru (“EMG”).
The EMG is a perfectionist. No solution is perfect; all can be improved. Their coding and use of Excel functions takes on the quality of a Japanese haiku; the neatness of their syntax is a work of art.
EMGs find innovative ways of using the lesser known and more complex Excel functions – such as INDIRECT(). Their work carries a distinct character and style – like a fingerprint. It does not occur to them that people may not be able to read their spreadsheets: a simple solution is not nearly as good as a clever solution. They work in a world that is fascinating and impenetrable to other spreadsheet users
Like most stereotypes, the Excel modelling guru is an amalgam of different people that we all recognise. It is useful nonetheless because it highlights the risks that we deal with when we leave the modelling to the EMG. For starters:
- Decisions are made on the basis of spreadsheets that only the EMG understands;
- The organisation suffers when the EMG is on holiday or – even worse – leaves to join another organisation; and
- The organisation starts to accept that with complexity comes greater accuracy
I suggest that the last point is most dangerous of the three since it has such a long term impact. Such received wisdom is handed down unchallenged through the generations. It is why “senior management buy in” has become such a watch word for change management programmes. The boss needs to be on board if you are to unlearn old habits.
Through the use and promotion of the FAST standard, we at F1F9 do our best to challenge the EMG. So a spreadsheet that only the modeller understands is a bad spreadsheet. Just as a technical drawing that only the architect understands is a bad technical drawing.
Likewise, we encourage all in the modelling community to collaborate so that EMGs are able to go on holiday. The FAST standards are designed to make collaboration easy and second nature – within organisations and across difference organisations.
And we do our best to build simple spreadsheets. Why? Because with simplicity comes transparency. Transparency breeds good analysis and judgment. Good judgment breeds good decision making.
It is too easy to demonize the EMG as something external, over there or not invented here. The EMG exists in all of us that work with Excel to help our organisations’ decision making.
Collaborative modelling is the smartest way for organisations to get what they need from the spreadsheets they rely on.