At The Salty Herald, we get feedback from the fleet all the time. Occasionally, people send me drafts that are just flat better than anything I could ever write. I usually delete these and tell them to stick to their day job. In this rare case, I decided to let Lieutenant Blake Herzinger give us his thoughts on that magical spreadsheet software, Microsoft Excel. Enjoy!
So you’re headed to staff duty or your first department head ride, but you don’t know how to use Excel? Not to worry, neither does anyone else! The slick “planning tool” N4 is using to calculate the end of year budget? N4 didn’t make it, he found it on the share drive. At least two of the cells are totally wrong, and we’re just going to buy a bunch of new office chairs and some reference pubs with any money left in September anyway. That communications stoplight chart N6 displays every brief? He figured out conditional formatting and earned himself a NAM. Good news, Admiral, NIPR just went from RED to ORANGE!
You’re probably asking what all this means to you, the new staff hero. Here it is: you need to use Excel so you can put minimal effort into products that will make you look like you know what you’re talking about, without inviting more taskers. No good deed goes unpunished . . . don’t overachieve! Excel is the perfect tool for ensuring mediocre results in nearly any enterprise—but where it really shines is as DoD’s all-purpose substitute for any kind of actual planning, budgeting, tracking, or management tools. Remember: I said you need to use Excel, not learn how to use it.
Need to develop a tracking system for an entire department’s travel and leave plans? Throw it into Excel—bonus points if the user has to scroll down awkwardly to roll through everybody’s name during staff briefs. Pro Tip: make sure the calendar extends all the way to the end of the FY, it forces a lateral scroll into the mix that will confound the poor petty officer assigned to click through the staff brief. CoS will love it.
Need to make a budget with no training? No problem. Slap that bad boy into some cells. Spend weeks of your time plugging in functions and “huge data” (big data is for civilians). Make sure you have plenty of sheets there at the bottom so it’s impossible to see all the pertinent information at one time, and that any attempt to print a useful hard-copy comes out in absolutely useless quarters that need to be taped together. Don’t fret, if some enterprising young lieutenant comes along behind you and tries to adjust the print area, the font size will be reduced below the spectrum of human vision.
Project management? Easy day, you did your MBA on shore duty, right? How hard can it be to isolate some key performance indicators and measures of effectiveness? Can you believe that people outside the Navy actually get paid to do project management full time?! What they do with specialized software and hundreds of hours of training, you’re doing with MS Office and no training at all! With Excel, you’ll be doing **PROMOTE NOW** work for million-dollar programs in no time. If your numbers aren’t right, just make the cells greenish-yellow and tell the boss “you’re on glide slope” or “we’re moving the chains.” Read your boss. You’re a staff officer. Picking the right euphemism for “we suck” is like 90 percent of your job.
Whatever high-value tool you develop during your years on the staff, make sure you drill down and bury it five levels deep in the share drive when you save this beast. You’ll need to name it something easy to reference, like YOURNAME_FY_BUDGET_PLAN_N5_V2_EDITED.xlsx. Don’t delete any drafts or previous version either, who knows when someone might want to use an outdated version of your brainchild.
Don’t let a lack of experience or training stop you from shaking up the status quo on the staff. Remember, innovation and disruption are the name of this game, and you are a game changer! Your enterprising creativity, technical acumen, and steadfast devotion to duty reflected credit up . . . oh wait, that’s your NAM write-up. Anyway . . . BZ!