Introduction to our Guidelines for Excel
Excel is easy, right? Enter some figures, formulate some calculations and you’ve got immediate results. A spreadsheet is born. But then it grows, and grows, and… On average, spreadsheets continue to be developed for five years, and they are used by thirteen different users. Not surprising then, that spreadsheets tend to get rather entangled. It’s been estimated that 7 billion dollars are lost each year due to errors in spreadsheets. Excel isn’t so easy after all!
To help improve the world’s spreadsheets, we’ll start to publish on a regular basis: Excel Guidelines for Professionals. We don’t write manuals, the how-and-what of Excel, as there are plenty of resources to be found on Excel’s features. Instead, we’ll employ our longstanding expertise as Excel researchers at Delft University of Technology, as well as our spreadsheet validation knowledge at Infotron, to formulate a set of well thought-out principles and best practices to create maintainable spreadsheets. We call these principles guidelines; guidelines which we apply ourselves when we build spreadsheets.
Two common themes you’ll encounter throughout the guidelines are:
- Be disciplined
- Think about the future user
Strict, eh? With many guidelines you might nod in agreement, but do you always follow them up? Discipline is crucial. It is very tempting to make a draft today and tell yourself to add structure tomorrow. But tomorrow brings new deadlines and priorities and before you know it your draft is never properly organised.
The Future User
Another dangerous pitfall is to think that next time you open your spreadsheet, you’ll remember how you did it. You won’t. And often it is not even you who edits the spreadsheet next. Put yourself in the feet of the next person who’ll look into it. Do you think the spreadsheet speaks for itself?
But even if you are the only editor… you might be working on several similar spreadsheets simultaneously, making it likely that you’ll forget the details and exceptions for each one individually. Always keep the future user in mind (also if that user is you)! Make sure your spreadsheets are comprehensible, maintainable and well-documented.
Professionals With Basic Excel Experience
As the title indicates, our guidelines are for professionals. We expect our reader to have basic knowledge in creating Excel documents, but we don’t expect you to be an expert. Being a professional means to us that you work with Excel on a daily basis.
What to Expect
Fundamentally, our Excel Guidelines for Professionals will help you to create maintainable spreadsheets that are structurally and visually consistent. Large scale guidelines focus on helping you organise your spreadsheet from input to output in the most logical, comprehensible way. In other guidelines we’ll advise you about the use of formulas, how to make good use of VBA, and we’ll teach you best practices about topics ranging from Pivot Tables and Array Formulas to Conditional Formatting and hiding stuff in Excel.
Do you want to become even better at building high-quality Excel spreadsheets? Follow along with PerfectXL’s Excel Guidelines for Professionals today!