Minitab and Excel: Which Should I Use, and When?

Minitab Blog Editor 12 September, 2012

Have you ever found yourself switching back and forth between a Microsoft Excel file and Minitab Statistical Software just to complete a single analysis? Which software will give me the accurate results I need quickly?

I decided to put a few important factors to the test—workflow, organization, quality focus, and help. The review below provides my own two cents on which software seems to work best in a different situations.

Creating Graphs with Raw Data Easily

Microsoft Excel is a general spreadsheet software program. It is great for compiling, sorting, and highlighting large amounts of data. However, since Excel’s focus is on providing a flexible interface for any data analysis scenario, it does not do as well when zeroing in on specific mathematical functions—such as statistics. In addition to Excel’s known rounding errors, I find that the work flow for creating graphs and advanced statistical calculations can be cumbersome. 

For example, let’s say we are a pizza shop trying to determine how good we are at meeting our promise of delivering pizzas in 30 minutes or less, and comparing the results during peak and off-peak hours. In Excel, we must first summarize the data we have for Peak and Off-peak delivery times before we can create the graph.
In Minitab, we can create a Bar Chart directly from the raw data in the worksheet.  Just a couple of clicks, and Minitab has the results. No need to take the added step of summing the count data ourselves. These common calculations are embedded in Minitab’s statistical and graphical analysis tools. Just try creating a Pareto Chart in Excel…I dare you!

Managing and Organizing Multiple Graphs

When we begin working with a new dataset, we often need to create several different types of graphs and statistical output to get a sense of the shape and distribution of the data. Excel stores all graphs and formula results directly in the worksheet, and reflects exactly the data in the worksheet at the moment. 

However, suppose you need to take a deep dive into the data and end up creating 20, 30, or 100 graphs. How can you easily sort through them all? Or change some of the data in the worksheet to compare results? How would you create a snapshot of the original graph without overwriting with the new data?

Just like Excel, Minitab allows you to tile or cascade different worksheets and graphs but the window can get pretty cluttered when you have a lot of reports. The solution in Minitab is to use the Project Manager. The Project Manager Toolbar allows you to toggle between worksheets, graphs, and statistical output. Individual reports are displayed in a list so that you can easily select the one you want to bring to the front.
Additionally, when data in a Minitab worksheet is changed or added, the graphs and statistical output do not automatically update, thereby preserving your analysis history.  Check out Minitab’s options for setting graphs to Automatically Update.

Statistical Methods for Quality Improvement

As mentioned previously, Microsoft Excel is a general spreadsheet, made to be flexible for a wide variety of applications. So while you can create pivot tables and highlight cells in Excel, Minitab’s focus is on statistics with an emphasis on quality improvement tools. This is most evident in Minitab’s Assistant menu.  The Assistant menu pulls out the six main tools used in quality improvement projects: Measurement Systems Analysis (which includes Gage R&R and Attribute Agreement Analysis), Capability Analysis (including Cpk and Ppk), Graphing, Hypothesis Tests, Regression, and Control Charting. Once a menu category is chosen, the Assistant walks you through the analysis using decision trees, guidelines, and easy to understand diagnostics and reports.

In addition to the Assistant menu, Minitab also leverages common industry standards such as the AIAG standards for SPC in manufacturing and validation for pharmaceutical and medical device companies.      

But I'm Not a Statistician!

The help options in Excel are useful for understanding the necessary steps to complete a particular task. Unfortunately, Excel does not answer the question “Why?” 

Why would I choose a particular statistical analysis over another?   Why am I receiving this error message?  What do the results of my analysis tell me?  There are a myriad of Excel help forums online due to ubiquity of Office on PCs.  However, there are also a lot of people contributing “answers.”  How can you be sure the information you are getting is valid?

Minitab has been generating statistical output for quality professionals for over 40 years (we're older than Microsoft!). Our developers and statisticians are experts in making sure Minitab provides the right answer every time and in such a way that non-statisticians can understand it.  Within Minitab, the Help and StatGuideTM are available for pre- and post-analysis interpretation. The Tutorials and Assistant menu give you confidence that the statistical tool you are using is the right one for the job. 

Minitab offers many additional resources, including trained statisticians on our Technical Support team, instructor-led training and e-learning to name a few. And if you just want to “talk shop” with fellow quality professionals, Minitab has a robust online community on sites such as LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter.  Be sure to check them out!

If you have both Excel and Minitab on your computer, which do you use, and when?