A lot of my content talks about the why and how of knowledge sharing and reuse. Yes, this is something to consciously integrate in your organisation's way-of-working. And yes, a systematic approach enables this. But much (if not most) of the value comes from tricks and small improvements that are easy to replicate and adopt. Their impact might seem small at first, but really adds up over time.
So, I'd like to share three 'tricks' I've learned to improve your work and life.
Trim Your Columns!
A while ago I was working on a project with another consultant. He looked quite frustrated so I checked in to see how he was doing. He sighed and said: "I don't understand it. I have this data export that I want to analyze, but the vlookup won't work. I've been trying to figure out what the problem is all day." “Fortunately” I had experienced the same problem some years ago, and learned it takes 10 seconds to fix.
Different systems encode data exports in different ways. This might add hidden characters to values that affect spreadsheet functions. An easy way to prevent issues is to trim any text columns you want to use in vlookups (and similar functions). Create a second column with the =trim(original column) formula, and use this in your vlookup. Doing this is a good practice that will save you a lot of confusion and headaches.
Don’t Trust Averages
The standard deviation (StDev) is one of the most useful statistical measures. It's also a standard function in spreadsheet tools so it's easy enough to calculate. Yet, I didn't know how and why to use it until someone explained the 68-95-99 rule to me.
For example, if you have an average delivery time of 20 minutes and a standard deviation of 2 minutes, that means:
68% of deliveries happen within 18-22 minutes (average +/- 1 StDev)95% of deliveries happen within 16-24 minutes (average +/- 2 StDev)
99.7% of deliveries happen within 14-26 minutes (average +/- 3 StDev)
Note that this only works for data with a normal distribution. You can quickly check this by making a histogram of your data, and see if you have a bell curve.
So why does standard deviation matter? Because it indicates the volatility of a certain process or change.
Here's the delivery time of two different restaurants.
Or the travel time of two trains on the same route.
Or the value of two stocks.
Or temperature changes in two countries.
Or the response time of two ambulances.
Same average, different stories.
Averages are popular and easy, but they only give a very limited impression. Ignoring the volatility of a process can have serious consequences.
The Answer To All Questions
Recently, a legal knowledge management consultant told me the following story. She asked her client how exactly she was bringing value, and improving the clients' work. He told her that she had helped him save a lot of time and frustration. Before, he received the same questions all the time. For example, how to remove the 'draft' watermark from contracts. He found this immensely frustrating as it interrupted his work and broke his focus. Together, she and her client set up an FAQ page on the firm's intranet for these sorts of questions. The client's colleagues learned to look there first, freeing him to focus on higher value tasks.
And there it is. Three small things to improve your work and life.