To work fast in Excel, you need two things: process and skills. Having one without the other means you may not be maximizing efficiency. By process, I mean the overall framework, strategy, or approach you use to optimize your workbooks. By skills, I mean Excel skills like XLOOKUP, SUMIFS, PivotTables, and Power Query. Both process and skills are needed to maximize efficiency.
This is the first post in a series that discusses the Speed Loop process. This is the same process that enabled me to reduce a 2-week per month project down to 2-days per month. I hope it can help you save time as well.
I use an investor metaphor to teach the Speed Loop.
An investor wants to make a wise financial investment in assets that appreciate in value over time. The investor wants to have a positive return on investment and ultimately realize a financial gain.
The same goes for us. Instead of investing money we are investing time. Our assets are our workbooks. And, we want to save more time than we invest.
The Speed Loop process follows the same path:
- Invest Time
- Appreciate Assets
- Realize Gain
Each of the three stages has multiple steps, and I’ve created this visual representation:
In this post, we’ll dig into the first stage: Invest Time.
Stage 1: Invest Time
Overall, the goal here is to invest wisely. This means spending time where we will be able to see a return. That is, save more time than we invest.
There are two steps:
Let’s talk about each step.
They key idea here is to identify your recurring-project workbooks. That is, the workbooks that support a project you do over and over … every day, week, month, quarter, or year.
It is only in these types of recurring-use workbooks where we have any chance of recovering our time investment. If we can make the workbooks faster to update each period, then each subsequent period we will have saved that much time … over and over again.
In this step, you want to think about one project that you do on a recurring basis. Then, identify the workbooks that support it. Locate the actual workbooks you update each period when doing the project. Perhaps your project is closing the books each month, or running payroll every two weeks, or updating the forecast each quarter.
You want to organize the workbooks related to that project. If possible, it would be great to store them all in a single folder. If that isn’t possible, you at least want to make them quick and easy to access … perhaps by using links (hyperlinks in an Excel workbook or even links in your file manager).
Once you have identified and organized the recurring-use workbooks, it is time to move to the next step.
This step is all about preparing the workbooks for the loop. To do this, we need to insert lead sheets. Lead sheets aren’t any type of Excel thing, they are just a nickname I use. You can call these worksheets anything you want. They are administrative in nature. I like to place them first in the workbook (ie, lead sheets).
These sheets do things like store input values, document instructions for updates, define the data flow, document the data sources, provide hyperlinks to key worksheets or related workbooks/files, document assumptions, and so on. They are administrative in nature, and come before the “real” worksheets like your data and report sheets.
There is a good chance you are already using these types of sheets. And, depending on the complexity of the workbook and project, you may only need a few lead sheets … or, it may make sense to have many.
Regardless of the complexity of the workbook, I recommend having at least these three lead sheets:
- Start Here
Let’s talk about each briefly.
Start Here Sheet
You can name this sheet whatever you’d like. I just happen to call mine Start Here. It is the very first worksheet in all of my workbooks. I use it to store things like workbook purpose, input cells, instructions, and assumptions.
For example, I document the purpose … and it might look something like this:
I have input cells like this:
Instructions for manual tasks like this:
This instructions list is a key part of preparing the workbook for the loop.
You want to list each manual task you do to update the workbook each period. Write down the estimated amount of time each step takes. This will be very important when we enter the loop. This list of manual steps shows us exactly which things we are going to automate with Excel.
The idea here is that over time, we will be delegating each step to Excel … so that we don’t have to do them anymore. Noting the time each step currently takes will help us prioritize. Plus, it will provide us with the amount of time we have saved by using this process.
The ErrorCk sheet helps detect potential errors. You want to set up as many tests as needed. Here’s an example of a test:
I use an admin sheet to just store administrative notes … perhaps just a list of changes and who requested them.
That completes the Invest Time stage (Identify recurring-project workbooks and Insert lead sheets).
Ready for Next Stage
We are now ready for the next stage. We’ll explore the Appreciate Assets stage in the next post … thanks!
- Next post: Speed Loop 2: Appreciate Assets
If you’d like to learn more, I offer a free webinar where I teach the Speed Loop. On the webinar, I share some files you can download including sample Start Here, ErrorCk, and Admin sheets. Plus, a free Speed Loop Implementation Guide PDF. To learn more or register:
Hope you get a chance to join me on the webinar!