Contrarianism in Excel – When to Break The Rules

You need to know when to be a contrarian: someone who breaks the rules, bucks conventions and gives it to the client straight. When it comes to the field of data analytics, the motto “customer is always right” cannot be more wrong. With Szilvia Juhasz facilitating the session, we have Jordan Goldmeier, Oz du Soleil and Rick Grantham on the panel today.

Let’s get cracking!

1 – Criticizing Work

Szilvia was once fired within two days of getting into a gig. A client of her firm’s asked her to make a few changes to a financial model and Szilvia did not want to get anywhere near that ‘house of cards’. It was an overgrown model with no flow, hard-coded values mixed in with the formulas and no documentation at all. In such situations, starting from scratch is the only way forward. Of course, the client took it personally and she lost her job.

2 – Protecting Repute

Rick said that he will not be a contrarian unless his market reputation is at stake. As an Excel consultant, you would want to be in a place where the customers come to you. Hence, you need to oppose to whatever will potentially disrupt this dynamic.

Szilvia brought up the point that turning away work to protect repute is surely a tough decision. And this is especially so when your year has not been great, financially speaking. Jordan followed it by saying that even if you need money, if your heart is not in a project or piece of work you have taken up, it will prove to be problematic.

3 – Delivering Value

Rick emphasized on how nobody tells an owner what’s wrong with their business. He calls it ‘ugly baby syndrome’, no offense intended. If you are serious about delivering distinctive value to the client, you have to overcome this hurdle. The client may fail to appreciate this, and that is fine.

Jordan added on it by saying that people do not like being proven wrong. But that is exactly why they call you in: to fix issues with their work. When clients say to Jordan that he’s saying things others don’t, he replies by saying that this is exactly why you need him. He advised that you, as a data analyst, must act boldly and turn work away if people are not ready for it. Your clients need to understand that, for you to deliver value, there would indeed be a pushback from you on some things.

4 – Being a Good Analyst

When Oz is called for a job, he turns up with a tattoo behind his ears and cowboy boots on his feet. The idea is to give an immediate impression to the client that he will take ownership of whatever he will be entrusted with.

You also have to remember that a lot of times, the client may not be interested in your ideas, no matter how amazing they might be. They just want someone to fix the issue(s) and head off. And a good analyst has to know how to deal with such situations as well. These are the reasons why his own blog went from focusing on Excel tips and tricks to what it means to be a good analyst.

Jordan seconded Oz. People do indeed need to know Excel techniques. But being a good analyst comes first. If you do not have a distinctive service to offer, then you are not being a contrarian. Clients do not require an Excel MVP to solve many of their problems, but they do desire a good analyst.

5 – Minimum Responsible Level of Development

Oz mentioned how sometimes clients cut the budget short and ask you to deliver the product in half the time. You have to realize that forgoing code comments and Data Validation is equivalent to asking for trouble down the road. To protect your market repute and for ethical reasons, there is a minimum responsible level of development that you should maintain. And there needs to be pushback from you if the client is preventing you from doing so.

What’s next?

Do not forget to share your experiences and advice with our audience in the comments section below. And share this video with your colleagues and aspiring data analysts.

Jamani Arsalan


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