How to Unpivot Excel Data

All too often, data gets stored in crosstab format in Excel. Whilst crosstabs can be great for presenting data, they’re pretty poor for storing it, as it makes it tricky to manipulate the data. Therefore we often have a requirement to ‘unpivot’, or normalise the data. This is a quick tutorial of one method to unpivot Excel data.

Here’s an example of what we’re working with. This is some meaningless, imaginary data, showing some values grouped in a crosstab by colour columns, and by date rows:

Unpivot Excel data - raw crosstab data

Whilst this seems like a reasonable way to store the information, it actually makes it pretty difficult to answer questions about this data – for example, what percentage of September values were Red?

What we really want is for each row to contain only one value, and for colour to be a column field. Then we can easily use a pivot table to interrogate this data.

We’re going to use a Multiple Consolidation Range pivot table to do the hard work for us.

1. Start off by pressing keys ALT > D > P to open the Pivot Table Wizard dialog box:

Unpivot Excel data - Pivot Wizard Step 1

Choose the ‘Multiple consolidation ranges’ option, then click ‘Next’

2a. In step 2a of the wizard, choose the ‘I will create the page fields’ option, and click ‘Next’

Unpivot Excel data - Pivot WIzard Step 2a


2b. Now we need to add our crosstab data range as a data source for this pivot table. Enter / select the appropriate range, then click ‘Add’. Then click ‘Next’.

Unpivot Excel data - Pivot Wizard Step 2b


3. Choose a location for the intermediate pivot table (it’s a good idea to use a new worksheet, as we can simply delete the entire worksheet when we’re finished). Then click ‘Finish’.

Unpivot Excel data - Pivot Wizard Step 3


4. We now have an ‘intermediate’ pivot table, which looks very similar to our raw data, but has some grand totals. Now we want to drill into the source data for this pivot table, by double clicking on the overall Grand Total value – the cell intersection of the Grand Total column, and Grand Total row – circled red:

Unpivot Excel data - Intermediate pivot table


5. By double clicking to drill into the grand total data source, another worksheet is created, containing a table with our unpivotted data:

Unpivot Excel data - Unpivotted data

You can see that we now have colour as a column field, rather than four separate column headings – which allows us to use this data as a field in a pivot table report.

So, returning to our original example question – what percentage of September values were red? – it is now easy to put a quick pivot table together to answer this:

Unpivot Excel data - Pivot table report output

This is one method to unpivot Excel Data, which works well for simple crosstabs. It won’t deal with all cases – for example, where you already have multiple row fields in your data – but for simple cases like this example dataset, it’s a really quick and easy way of making your data a bit more accessible.

Download Excel file Download Example Workbook


Reset Application

If you’re anything like me, you often have several workbook projects open at one time, a mix from barely developed to pre-deployment beta.

And again, if you’re as forgetful as I am, you have run into a situation where you’ve entered debug part way through some faulty code, been distracted by something else and forgotten that the code which was running had disabled screenupdating, or events, or similar. Then switched blithely to another workbook, and been puzzled as to why your events aren’t firing, or why nothing is calculating as it should… Then spent ages pondering over perfectly good code, only to eventually remember that your last routine aborted and left events disabled. Or a cryptic progress message in your status bar. Or no error messages displaying ever again…

Well, maybe it’s only me! But, in case you recognise this, here’s a tip:

Sub ResetApplication()
    If Application.Workbooks.Count = 1 Then
        MsgBox "There are no open workbooks." & vbCr & vbCr & "Application cannot be reset.", vbExclamation + vbOKOnly, "XLSM | Invalid Procedure / Call"
        Exit Sub
    End If
    On Error GoTo ErrCatch
    With Application
        .DisplayAlerts = True
        .ScreenUpdating = True
        .EnableEvents = True
        .Calculation = xlCalculationAutomatic
        .StatusBar = False
        .DisplayFullScreen = False
    End With
Exit Sub
    MsgBox "An unknown arror occured while running code in Personal.xlsb." & vbCr & vbCr & _
        "If this problem persists, throw the PC out of the window.", vbCritical + vbOKOnly, "XLSM | Error"
End Sub

A bit of code like this saved to your Personal Workbook, with a nice little icon in the QAT – quick access toolbar – means that when light begins to dawn that you carelessly left the application somewhat undone, you can restore more normal settings with a simple click.