Excel's PivotTable feature is an incredibly powerful tool that makes it easy to tabulate and summarize data in your spreadsheets, particularly if your data changes a lot. If you are finding yourself writing lots of formulas to summarize data in Excel (using functions such as SUMIF and COUNTIF) then PivotTables can save you a lot of time and work and give you insights into your data that are otherwise too hard to discover. Not only that, but they also allow you to quickly change how your data is summarized with almost no effort at all. This lesson will show you how to create a simple PivotTable in Excel to summarize a set of daily sales data for a team of several sales people.
What you'll learn in this lesson
This lesson takes you through the following steps to build an Excel Pivot Table"
Set up your data in Excel so it is in a format that is compatible with creating a PivotTable.
Insert a PivotTable using that data into a new worksheet inside your workbook
Add fields from your data to your PivotTable layout so you can see that data in summary form.
Change the layout of your PivotTable report to reflect different views on the same data.
The data we'll work with in this example is an Excel table that has two months of daily sales data for a team of four sales people, broken down by product. The first few rows are shown below:
In fact, this spreadsheet extends down for 688 rows of sales data, for all of January and February (you can download a copy of the spreadsheet here). So while you might look at the data in the table above and think "I could summarize that quickly by hand or with a few clever formulas", the likelihood is that it would all get too much - and would certainly take too long to do by hand. That's where PivotTables are by far the best solution - you'll be able to convert this data in under a minute, and be able to get different summaries with a few clicks of the mouse.
Getting started with PivotTables - make sure your data is ready
There are some important rules you need to follow if you want to create a PivotTable from your data:
Your data should be organized in columns with headings. These headings will be used when you create the PivotTable, and things will get very confusing without headings.
Make sure there are no empty columns or rows in your data. Excel is good at sensing the start and end of a data table by looking for empty rows and columns. If it finds an empty row or column, it assumes your data stops at that point.
A quick way to check if your data is ready to be used in a PivotTableis to click a single cell anywhere in the data table, then press SHIFT+* (or CTRL+SHIFT+8). This automatically selects the whole table. If any data remains unselected, you need to check for empty columns or rows within the data table.
Note that empty cells within your table are OK. What isn't OK is a whole row or a whole column of empty cells.
Consistent data in all cells.
If you have a date column, make sure all the values in that column are dates (or blank).
If you have a quantity column, make sure all the values are numbers (or blank) and not words.
At this point, if everything is looking OK, you're ready to move on to the next step.
Create a blank PivotTable
To start your PivotTable, follow these steps:
Click on a cell in the data table. Any cell will do, provided your data meets the rules outlined above. In fact, at this point it's all or nothing - select the whole table or just one cell in the table. Don't select a few cells, because Excel may think you are trying to create a PivotTable from just those cells.
Click on the Insert menu and click the PivotTable button, as shown below.
Note the feature to see Recommended PivotTables. This is the fastest way to create a PivotTable, although you may still need to modify it to match your requirements. In this lesson, we'll choose the PivotTable button so you can learn how to build a PivotTable from scratch:
The following dialog box will appear. You'll use this to specify where the data for your pivot table lives (in an Excel table or range, or an external data source, such as a database) and where the pivot table you are creating will be placed.
Note that the Table/Range value will automatically reflect the data in your table. You can click the icon on the right side of this field to change the Table/Range value if Excel guessed wrong. Alternatively, you can choose an external data source such as a database (this is an advanced topic and is outside the scope of this lesson).
Also notice that you can choose where the new PivotTable should go. By default, Excel will suggest a New Worksheet, which I think is the best choice unless you already know you want it on an existing worksheet.
Be aware that if your data changes a lot, or you find yourself changing the PivotTable layout, then refreshing the data in your PivotTable can result in the PivotTable changing shape and covering a larger area of the worksheet where you place it. When this happens, any data in that part of the spreadsheet will be overwritten and lost.
In other words, putting a PivotTable on the same page as your data or other information can cause you real headaches later on, which is why I recommend New Worksheet as the preferred option.
Once you've completed your selections, click OK. Assuming you chose the New Worksheet option, Excel will create a new worksheet in the current workbook, and place the blank PivotTable in the worksheet for you. You are now ready to design your PivotTable.
Designing your PivotTable layout.
You should now be looking at a new worksheet that is ready for you to set up your PivotTable.
You'll notice see three separate elements of the PivotTable on the screen:
First is the PivotTable itself, which is on the left. This will be blank to start with.
On the right you'll see the PivotTable Fields section which contains the Field Name section and the field layout area.
The Field Name section should show the column headings from your data table. If not, you may need to check that you selected the whole data table before starting.
If you don't see this section, make sure to click inside the PivotTable on the left. If you click on any cell that is outside the PivotTable on the left, the PivotTable Fields box will disappear. You can make it reappear simply by clicking inside the PivotTable report again.
Below the fields are four separate boxes. You'll create your pivot table layout by dragging fields into those boxes. You can drag multiple fields into each box, although this may make your pivot table large and complicated.
Filters: this allows you to put a field outside the table itself and use it to filter the data in the table. In our case, you could drag the Item field in here. The filter will then contain a dropdown of all the different item listed in that column in our data.
Rows: This will be used to show the data you have in rows. You could drag Salesperson into the Rows box - all the sales people will then be listed down the site.
Columns: This is similar to the Rows box. If you drag an item in here, the values will be listed along the top of the table. In our example, we will put Items here (rather than in the Filters box).
Values: Finally, the Values box is where your data will be collated into the actual report. You should drag items with numeric values into this box. Excel will try to calculate them. In our example we'll use Quantity but we could also use Sales.
Tip: You can let Excel decide where to put your fields by simply checking each field you want to include. Excel will do its best to decide where to place them. However, Excel sometimes guesses wrong, so manual selection is likely to be faster.
Here's how I configured the fields for the example above:
The PivotTable report that is generated from these selections looks like this:
At this point, the PivotTable has created a table that shows the number of each product sold by each sales person on each day.
Changing your PivotTable
So far, we've seen how quickly a PivotTable can create a report that would have taken hours to produce by hand. Now, let's try changing the PivotTable to show the report another way, i.e. show Products down the side, and Sales people across the top.
Click inside your PivotTable report (i.e. the report shown above). The PivotTable Field List should reappear.
Change the layout of your PivotTable to look like this:
When you make this change, you'll see your PivotTable change instantly to reflect the new layout (unless you chose Defer Layout Update - this feature is useful if you have a lot of data, and changing the layout of your PivotTable takes a long time to recalculate)
The speed with which you were able to make this change demonstrates the real power of PivotTables - the ability they give you to tabulate data quickly, and then rearrange your data into different reports almost instantaneously.
Hopefully this lesson has given you what you need to get started with PivotTables. If you have any questions or comments about this lesson, or specific scenarios you need help with, you can either leave a comment using the form below, visit our PivotTable page here for more lessons.
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