5 Questions You Must Answer Before Starting a new Excel Project - Excel TV

5 Questions You Must Answer Before Starting a new Excel Project

In this episode, I discuss how to scope out an Excel project based on my history as a consultant. I give you the 5 questions you must answer before starting an excel project.

Before I go into that, however, I should describe why many projects fail. Projects fail because they are too narrowly focused on outcomes. I describe three ways projects fail:

  • technology/capability focus
  • deliverable focus
  • and the obsessions with new is always a better

It’s true that these things could be proscribed to any technology project. But in the video I relate them to Microsoft Excel. 

Technology/capability focus

Projects fail when we are too obsessed with one technology over the other. We start the project, but the outcome becomes about the installation of some new dashboard or business intelligence system. Or, perhaps, we focus too much on Excel as the deliverable. I offer that we take a step back and try to trace what we want to build to bring value to the organization. 

Deliverable Focus

Some project fail because we focus too much on what the deliverable will be. We say the project needs to be an interactive dashboard for example. Or, we find some other buzzword we would like to incorporate (anyone remember “mash ups”?). Again, this focuses on developing to please what the marketplace thinks you need from a data product not necessarily what you actually need. 

New is always better

This is perhaps the most obvious way a project could fail. In this trope, companies simply think having something new will set them apart. You’ve heard this marketing fluff before: “if you don’t have AI, you’re already behind….” etc. The most obvious case in our space is that of Power BI. Power BI is a data compression tool. It’s not designed to be a flashy dashboard reporting tool (despite what Microsoft’s marketing team would have us believe). Organizations spend hours making improvements to the frontend of Power BI only to lose the gains they made because they switched to it. 


The five questions can are as follows: 

  1. What keeps you up a night?
  2. What types of problems are these? (answer yourself)
  3. Who do they affect? 
  4. What do they need? (answer yourself)
  5. How will you know when you’re better of? 

What keeps you up a night?

This is my favorite question. And it’s one every consultant should deploy. This will get at the heart of what you’re trying to accomplish. Rather than have the organization prescriptively tell you what they think you need to build for them, this question will give you their true pain points. 

What types of problems are these? (answer yourself)

All consulting problems can be reduced to Data, Technology, and Operations. Although, I would even go a step further and say that all data and technology problems are actually workflow/operations issues. Operations is the tide that lifts all boats. 

The point is really is any ask just about technology or not having the right people to code.

Who do they affect? 

Before moving forward, you need to understand who the stake holders are who will be using your work. Often it’s more than just the person asking you to build it. In fact, the person asking you to build it might not even really get what’s being built, so it’s super important for you to find the people who will use your work and go talk to them. 

What do they need? (answer yourself)

This is where you can start being prescriptive. After you’ve answer the previous questions, you can identify what your client/customer/manager will need to move forward. Sometimes it’s what they asked for initially, but often it’s not. This answer could be anything from a dashboard to training to mentorship to focus groups – even if the end product will be in Excel. Be flexible in what you can deliver. 

How will you know when you’re better of? 

This is perhaps the most fundamental question of Excel consulting. It strikes at the heart of why you were hired. Organizations might say, “oh, you’re the person we hired to build a dashboard,” and this is where you respond, “actually, I’m here to reduce data quality issues and provide insight into how they’re affecting the business.” 

This questions effectively helps answer why they need help and how the current condition of the client will be improved with your support. 

Bonus: Get the Bonus Project Template

In the video, I review my project template that I use for consulting. You can get a copy of it for yourself by clicking the following link:


What do you think? Leave a comment!

What's been your experience in helping people with Excel projects? Do you agree with my advice? What are you tips? 

Let us know in the comments!

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  • Zara says:

    Very good read. Specially the free templates 🙂

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