Fine Tuning: Spreadsheets are not your friend

By Sam Chandler

Published November 17, 2016
Last modified May 21, 2020

Is it 5:13 on a Friday afternoon and you're missing happy hour. Why? Because you’re just now starting to update the enormous spreadsheet report your boss requires before you leave for the day. We've all been there. But what's worse than missing out on happy hour is knowing that you're spending hours updating a report that no one is reading.

In today’s Fine Tuning discussion in the Zendesk support forums, I’ll show you how to vastly improve your reporting strategy, starting with ditching your spreadsheets. Before working at Zendesk I was a Zendesk administrator, and I’ve led success experiences with hundreds of customers interested in improving the effectiveness of their reports. I’ll share best practices I’ve picked up along the way, as well as some important questions to ask yourself each time you approach your data.

Join the conversation
Head over to the forums any time today to join the discussion. We started with part 1 at 8 a.m. Pacific time, looking at effective data visualization. Part 2 kicks off at 11 a.m, where we’ll talk about how to improve your data analysis. By 2 p.m. Pacific time, I’ll share my final words of advice when it comes to building better reports today. All that’s required on your end is to read through the best practices and, if you’d like, to leave a comment to ask a question or share your own tips or experience.

Breaking up with spreadsheets
The discussion this morning began with some important examples of how simply relying on spreadsheets could be holding you back. So what do you do now? Here’s my advice:

Tell a story with your data. One of my favorite features of our Insights product is the ability to create dashboards. And if you’re using dashboards to store enormous spreadsheets, then you’re missing the point of this feature—and of your core responsibility as an analyst.

Then how do you visualize your visualizations? My recommendation is to start at the beginning. Akash Mukherjee of Data Products and People Growth at Facebook, shares his list of five questions when trying to communicate any data:

  1. What question are you trying to answer?
  2. How big is your data in terms of volumes as well as richness?
  3. What is the data-savviness of your audience?
  4. What business domain does your question fall in? Is it HR, marketing, finance, or something else?
  5. What are some pre-attentive processing biases that your specific audience has?

What story are you trying to tell with your reports? Read the full post and join the discussion.