This is the second post in the Speed Loop series, where I’m sharing the process that helped me dramatically improve efficiency. In the first post, we covered the Invest Time stage. We identified our recurring-project workbooks. We inserted our lead sheets. We are now ready to move on to the second stage: Appreciate Assets.
Let’s take another look at the Speed Loop visual:
You’ll notice that the Appreciate Assets stage has the most prominent visual. This is because it is the heart of the Speed Loop and will take the most time. It is displayed as a cycle, or loop, which implies we go round and round. And that is exactly right.
Just like an investor expects the investment to appreciate in value over time, we will increase the value of our assets incrementally over time. So, let’s get into the details of this stage.
Now that we have identified and prepared our recurring-project workbooks, we are ready to increase their value.
Our assets are our workbooks. So … how do we increase their value? There are three steps to increasing the value of our workbooks:
Let’s unpack each step.
In this step, we Automate Manual Tasks. The term automate may sound technical or like we need to be a computer code wizard. But, all it really means is that we getting Excel to do the manual steps for us.
Which manual steps? The ones we documented on the Start Here sheet we inserted in the first stage.
How do we automate them? It depends on the specific task of course, but generally, it means using Excel’s features and functions. Stuff like formulas, PivotTables, Tables, Power Query, and VBA.
We automate as many tasks as we can this period, given our current Excel knowledge and skills.
Automating a manual task could be as simple as replacing a manual input cell with a formula. Or, it could be something more complicated that requires a VBA macro.
Generally, automating the steps will require a combination of various features and functions, and generally, we’ll pick away at them over time. We’ll automate a couple this month, a few more next month, and so on.
I like to think of this step as using our Excel skills to delegate each manual task to Excel.
Each period, we focus on automating one or more manual tasks. We get Excel to do them for us by using our Excel skills.
Automating them will help improve efficiency. In addition to improving efficiency, we also need to improve accuracy. Which brings us to the next step.
In this step, we Anticipate Errors. We try to anticipate errors so that we can prevent or detect them.
A question that needs to be on our mind is “how can a user break my workbook?” This question helps us anticipate potential errors and address them.
The best case is that we can prevent such potential errors and make the workbook bulletproof. There are some Excel things we can use to help here, such as workbook and worksheet protection.
When we can’t prevent an error, we definitely want to detect it. This is where the ErrorCk lead sheet we inserted in the first stage will be helpful.
We will set up one or more tests. Each test is designed to look for a specific error. Common examples include confirming that the total on the data sheet equals to total on the summary sheet, that the cash on the balance sheet agrees to the cash on the cash flow statement, or that debits equal credits. You get the idea. These are the same things you would look for when you do a manual review to make sure everything looks good.
Here is an example of how I like to set up each test on my ErrorCk sheet, but any format will do:
The basic idea is that you set up one test for each error you’d like to detect. This allows you to quickly scan the ErrorCk worksheet to confirm that everything looks good.
You are basically asking Excel to help you with your review.
After we have automated the steps we can given our current Excel knowledge and anticipated errors, it is time for the next step.
At this point, we have improved efficiency by automating the manual tasks that we can … given our current Excel skills.
This means that some of the manual tasks are not yet automated because we don’t know how. Which leads us to our next step: Accumulate Excel Skills. We accumulate the specific Excel skills needed to automate our remaining manual tasks.
A big key to this step is changing your mental question from can Excel do this? to how can I get Excel to do this?
This is the light-bulb moment that happened to me. I kept trying to automate my tasks, and I would think to myself “can Excel even do this?” And, time after time, I realized that it could. This happened so often that I just changed my mindset. I approach things now with the underlying assumption that Excel can do this, and it just up to me to figure out how.
How do we do this step? Tons and tons of ways, and it depends on your learning style. Some common examples include:
- Blog posts
- Discussion forums
- Online Courses
- Onsite training
- Trial and error
- Excel help system
- Web search
- And so on
This step really helps you focus on which skills you need for your workbooks. People use Excel for so many different things, it would be nearly impossible to say ALL Excel users need to know a given function. Plus, there are different ways to approach any given Excel task, which means different functions could be used to automate any given task. Every workbook is different and people use Excel for different things. So, this step is really about acquiring the Excel skills needed to automate the specific manual steps you’ve documented in the Start Here sheet.
This step is all about accumulating the Excel skills needed to automate YOUR tasks in YOUR workbooks.
You have accumulated additional skills which enabled you to automate the next couple of manual tasks. You have improved efficiency, so now you improve accuracy by anticipating errors. Next period you accumulate additional Excel skills, automate more tasks, and so on. You go through the loop again: Automate > Anticipate > Accumulate. And again. And again.
You could go around the loop for 3 months or 6 months. I had a set of workbooks in the loop for about a year. I received efficiency much sooner than that, like, after the first or second month. But, to get every last little thing dialed in, it took some time.
And what I noticed is that there were a few skills that could automate some pretty big things and save a lot of time. It felt like 20% of the skills could automate 80% of the task time. But then there were the tricky ones. Some of the tasks didn’t take much time to do manually, but took a lot of time to automate. These were still worth automating. So, here’s my motto:
- If it can be automated … automate it
At this point, we have improved efficiency and accuracy … this means we have improved the value of our workbooks. Our assets have appreciated in value … yay!
Step Out of the Loop
Once all, or nearly all, of the manual tasks identified on the Start Here sheet have been automated, it is time to step out of the loop. When we step out of the loop, we head into the final stage: Realize Gain. This is when we get to leverage our time savings to further improve efficiency.
We’ll cover that step in the next post…thanks!
- Next post: Speed Loop 3: Realize Gain
I also teach the Speed Loop in a webinar, and if you’d like to learn more or grab a spot, just use the link below: