Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Hiring the right Excel VBA developer or consultant who best fits your business

Excel VBA developer or cosultant reprising the role of the Renaissance man
Leonardo da Vinci, L'Uomo Vitruviano, c 1490
Whether you are a CEO of a business entity in a global multi national company or founder of a small business; marketing sales and trading desks love it, operations and logistics teams love it, finance and accounting departments love it, project managers love it and your freshly minted MBA hire most certainly adores it!

It is certainly hard to find anyone dealing with numbers who does not like the built-in user friendly features and functionality that ship with spreadsheet applications like Excel. Couple that with the ability to test a working business or financial model and rapidly rolling out an automated solution to a long outstanding manual process; you end up with a rather outstanding product right out of the box, customizable as a bespoke solution achieved at relative low cost.

Maximizing the benefits of Excel while addressing its known challenges

Still, wide spread popularity almost always comes with its own horde of detractors. Tim Worstall (a contributor at Forbes) named it "The Most Dangerous Software On The Planet". As anyone recently employed at a bulge bracket corporate and investment bank in the post Dodd-Frank world can attest to, Excel is now commonly showing up in the cross hairs of internal auditors and regulatory bodies all over the world, and rightfully so.

In the hands of the uninitiated, Excel in an uncontrolled development environment could potentially introduce operational risks leading to a plethora of undesirable consequences. But it would be a shame to forego its benefits based purely on its deficiencies, especially when these can all be easily addressed with a suitable degree of involvement by subject matter experts together with appropriate controls or formalized policies in place.

At the risk of sounding facetious from the application of reel life quotes, thinking in terms of absolutes is to give in to the power of the Dark Side, and of course it's just common knowledge that "only the Sith deal in absolutes"!

Not all Excel consultants are born equal

To further expound on the premise behind this section's headline, not all Excel consultants necessarily possess the business, technical and soft skills to successfully transform your business model into an execution plan, and implement a viable Excel based solution that is also integrated in a complete end to end workflow process.

So what depth and breadth of experience should you really be looking out for in a candidate when deciding whom to hire as an Excel developer or consultant?

As this document serves to help small business owners or autonomous leaders of business entities within larger organizations make informed hiring decisions for consultants specializing in Excel development, I will use the terms, "developer" or "consultant" interchangeably depending on context in the interest of brevity.

If you are an Excel developer or consultant, there will be questions at various points in this article (prefixed by Excel Consultants) to offer you the opportunity to reflect on how your own skills align with the ones mentioned here. I strongly encourage you to showcase your talents and supplement them with personal experiences in the comments section.

3 core skills that every Excel consultant must have

3 core skills that every Excel VBA developer or consultant must have
Your ideal Excel consultant should take on multiple roles (to be discussed later) requiring some subset or an intersection of each of the the following skill sets:

Business Skills 

These skills are generally accumulated with relevant industry experience. Obviously, the deeper and wider an Excel consultant's knowledge of your business is, the better the chance of achieving a positive end result in any project. That said, this requirement can sometimes be compensated by soft skills if they are complimented by related industry knowledge.

Technical Skills

At the early stages of an Excel developer's career, accumulation of technical competencies are key. Since programming with Visual Basic for Applications (VBA) does not inherently have a steep learning curve, it might even be relatively easy to hack something together that does the job.

But it is even more critical that best practices are religiously followed throughout the developer's career to avoid the high profile man-made disasters that have hit some of the largest corporations in the world. For example, having a well organized source control system of historical software archives with the ability to quickly roll back software versions would allow businesses to not only react quickly to technology related problems but also dynamically adjust business models to ever changing market conditions. The importance of such implementation details can never be sufficiently emphasized.

Soft Skills

These include (though are not limited to) skills such as the following - the ability to understand and articulate a business problem, communicating the value proposition of applying a certain technical design and training stakeholders in the use of an end product.

Soft skills may be honed on the job or simply be specific innate behaviors that come with personality traits such as an individual's focused attention to detail by nature of being meticulous. As discussed earlier, soft skills may fill the gaps where specific business or industry experience is lacking.

Excel Consultants - Which of these 3 core (business, technical and soft) skills did you apply the most at various points in your own career over the years?

The conceptual diagram below illustrates typical competency levels of prerequisite skills associated with being an effective Excel developer at various stages of their career life.

Excel VBA developer or consultant core competency progression over time

Contemporary Renaissance man

To effectively design and develop an Excel based solution is a lot more involved than what is commonly perceived. Your prospective hire would most likely need to be someone who is capable of wearing some if not all of the following hats (list may not be exhaustive).
  • Change Management Consultant
  • Business Analyst
  • Application Developer
  • Quality Assurance Tester
  • Technical Document Writer
  • End User Training Specialist
  • Application Support Engineer

Excel consultants - Which of these roles did you most and least frequently assume in your past experience?

Imagine how the course of history would have changed from 1508 if a painter instead of an artist such as the likes of Michelangelo was commissioned by Pope Julius II to repaint the vault at the Sistine Chapel! Understandably a Utopian goal but your prospective Excel consultant and developer should assume the role of a present-day Renaissance man or woman, as much as the reality of the situation permits.

Ultimately, it scarcely ever pays to hire an apprentice to do the work of an artisan.

The opinions expressed in this article which first appeared on LinkedIn, reflect the views of the author and not necessarily those of his employers, past or present.

For more information on how Cymatia Consulting can help you meet your business goals and objectives with sustainable cost effective solutions, email to arrange an initial business requirements consultation.

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