Some years ago, as part of my (then) new job, I had to maintain a monthly updated Excel dashboard. It was a maintenance hell, I hated it, but I couldn’t change it because of my poor Excel skills.

“This is stupid, there must be a better way”, I kept saying to myself.

So, I searched, and searched, and searched, and within a few months I became the most skillful Excel user in my company and I could solve my initial problem. An all day long update turned into a ten minute task. I revamped the entire dashboard, but I kept the same user interface.

An Excel Dashboard is a Jigsaw Puzzle. Learn How to Solve It.

Back then, I was able to use some of the more common formulas, like most Excel users do. But if you want to create Excel dashboards you must understand how everything fits and works together. If you don’t, expect nothing less than a spreadsheet hell. You should never underestimate that.

I hate repetitive and time-consuming tasks, and I avoid them like the plague. If I suspect that a co-worker, after asking for a report, will come back and ask for different scenarios, I usually offer that functionality from the start. It’s a win-win situation: it doesn’t take longer than a static report, I avoid extra work and the user loves to play with his/her new toy. :)

Make Sure You Market Your Skills

As I said, I kept the same user interface in that dashboard. It proved to be a huge mistake, from a personal marketing/career perspective. After all these years, I still believe I made a remarkable job but, because I kept all the changes behind the scenes, they went unnoticed by the users — including the boss. Well, marketing and promotion is a big step out of my comfort zone, and office politics is not exactly what I do best…

Lessons Learned

That old dashboard was created by an above-average Excel user, but he failed to understand this basic concept: an Excel dashboard is a jigsaw puzzle, and fewer pieces makes it simpler to solve (for example, a simple pivot table can often replace dozens of formulas).

Go beyond the individual formulas. Create a project that forces you to learn how they work together (that’s what my dashboard tutorial is all about).

And never make your outstanding job invisible, use your Excel skills to work less but try to make sure that too much Excel will not harm your career