This week’s episode is around fail-safes, that is, preparing for the worst! Of course, it might not always work out as planned. But one definitely ends up a few funny stories as a consequence. Let’s join our favorite Excel TV trio Jordan Goldmeier, Oz du Soleil, Rick Grantham and our special guest Ken Puls.
Jordan sparked the discussion by sharing a peculiar story. Back at one of his old jobs, his colleagues used to password protect the sheets and then forget those passwords. Now Jordan could help them in this case by hacking into those files. But, having realized that sheet protection was not that secure, his colleagues started putting passwords on the entire files! Of course, they eventually forgot those passwords as well while rendering the files useless.
Oz shared his experience of how getting into freelancing can be scary. One never knows what to expect. And Oz realized soon enough that this was how it was supposed to be. Most of the time, one might not know what’s happening and neither does the client. Even when it comes to delivering training courses, one never knows what type of a class awaits them. Disasters do happen, and one has to just own them, fix the issues and move on.
Jordan shared a good practice with everyone. After going over the same training quite a few times, one can easily anticipate follow-up questions. Hence, it is always a good idea to prepare back-up slides for them.
Ken mentioned how he uses thoroughly worked-out examples on a separate set of notes. But sometimes there might be a wrong step in them waiting to be discovered during the presentation.
He also stated how delivering the same material many times can make actively looking over the notes less and less important. And this can result in skipping over an important part and making the entire audience confused. Obviously, it is always possible to backtrack and cover that part, and most people won’t even notice this mistake.
Sometimes, the guy with the keys to the auditorium comes in an hour late. And then the projector’s adopter doesn’t fit with your machine or its bulb goes out. Or your guest speaker doesn’t show up because they mixed up the date. Oz believes that as long as you do what you can, it alright.
Rick, on the other hand, is just petrified of being embarrassed in front of other. So, to avoid technical difficulties, he goes in as early as 2 hours before the time!
Jordan, towards the start of his freelancing career, did face an embarrassing situation due to a technical difficulty. So he started carrying his own gadgets and wires of all sorts from the next time onwards.
Oz mentioned that there are always people who are just not interested in the training. Then there are self-appointed helpers who can disrupt your flow. Knowing how to control the class cannot be emphasized enough.
Rick abides by a few rules when it comes to developing tools and models in Excel. Firstly, one should have a clear structure so that anyone can pick up one’s spreadsheets. Secondly, always save early and save often. Lastly, one should use a single, well-labelled set of inputs to make sure changes in them cascade down the workbook correctly and completely.
Ken seconded Rick. A lot of spreadsheets become business critical tools and you don’t want them to fall over. On the other hand, it also helps to discuss with the client what a model is not supposed.
Oz stressed on asking a lot of questions pertaining to what the tool is set to achieve and who will be using it. Only answers to these questions will help you determine how automated and Data Validation-intensive the model should be, how much training of the staff will be required and what you should charge the client for all this.
Jordan has a habit of saving often. Hence, when he fires up a Macro which messes things up, he follows it by pressing CTRL + S out of habit. This makes the changes irreversible. Maintaining a version control mitigates the risk of this to some extent.
Ken narrated a few stories where good intentions led to terrible spreadsheets. For example, turning on track changes to maintain history, or separating out data from different sources in different Excel files and linking them together. These practices can give rise to errors so complex that one cannot even begin to imagine them.
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I am a healthcare consultant, currently based in Middle East, at an international professional services firm. My work largely revolves around project management, and statistical analysis. And my professional interests include developing my knowledge within the discipline of health analytics.
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