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Organizational design tools: move on from the pain of Excel and PowerPoint

How to avoid the pain of Excel and PowerPoint for organizational design.

Published by Rupert Morrison 

As a management consultant my life was spent to a large extent in the PowerPoint and Excel. I’ve most certainly created several thousand slides and hundreds of spread sheet. For over ten years, I have even trained consultants how to be more efficient & effective in both platforms (I ran the Consulting Analytics Training at A.T. Kearney in London for a number of years). I know all the shorts cuts by muscle memory. I can build fancy arrays and write macros. I can integrate my Excel with Access with forms, cross tab queries and update routines. In terms of using these tools, most people who have worked with me will tell you that I’m “pretty good” at it – I even got the nickname “Numbers” for a while.

To be honest, I still love Excel (what a thing to admit). I love the freedom, the what-if analysis, the ability to answer a range of questions quickly and effectively. But for OD work, it is a poor tool. It doesn’t do hierarchies (organizations are hierarchical) or linking well – vlookups, sumif arrays or Pivots are painful and inflexible. In terms of linking, the need there may be to link roles to decisions or activities. I can equally be linking employees to roles/positions or projects or competencies (this is when we can be developing the Micro or System design).

OK, so I love Excel but don’t think it works for Org Design & Management. But I really detest PowerPoint. It is fiddly and SmartArt looks like rubbish (in my view). I know tricks like the Ctrl + Shift + Drag to duplicate an object and move it in a straight line increase speed enormously, but even still and most people only use a fraction of these shortcuts in any case. I have my templates all set-up. But it is a poor way to visualise an organization. It is static. It is for a one-off purpose.


But, it is when you need to combine Excel & PowerPoint that you really start to suffer. Make a change in the structure (move a box in PowerPoint) and then you have to update the Excel file. I’ve sat in workshops defining things on Whiteboards or flips charts with post-it notes, mapping out processes, then a RACI grid in Excel, then need to update the accountabilities in PowerPoint so that everyone can see it. Drawing and redrawing boxes (having them connected or even SmartArt is really only a limited saving). The biggest pain of all, is keeping them both simultaneously updated. If you ever had to prepare presentations for Boards or Union consultations at the end of a design process, you will know you can’t make a mistake. So why put yourself at so much risk? I’ve literally been up to 0400am with my team checking and double checking before a 0900am Union presentation. Oh the pain and stress – live is too short. It is just too risky. It is just too important to get right.

And then when it is all done, then what? How do you maintain it? How do you share it? How do you enable one part of the organization to see their piece but not the rest (by creating more & more decks and spreadsheets?)?. How do you get the data in and validated in the first place? If you run a survey on who does what, how can you easily link this to the payroll data to workout the cost of that activity?

The answer is: you can’t practically do this with the current tools out there – i.e. PowerPoint & Excel. Having been through this pain time & time again, all those wasted hours, all that crazy stress, helped lead to the inspiration of developing the beautiful and robust organizational design platform which is OrgVue.