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What is a "what if" analysis?

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A "what if" analysis occurs when a Microsoft Excel user changes the values of cells to see alterations of formulaic outcomes elsewhere on the worksheet. As of November 2014, three different types of "what if" analysis tools come with Excel, including scenarios, data tables and "Goal Seek." This type of programming allows users to budget for future scenarios, determine prices of items to meet financial goals and more.

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The scenarios function saves various substitutions for values of cells already in an Excel worksheet. The Scenario Manager saves different groups of values on worksheets that can switch with the regular values. When substitute values go into the regular worksheet, values for formula outputs change. For instance, someone can switch between a "worst case" budget scenario, a "best case" budget and a middle budget without losing original data.

Data tables divide scenarios into columns and rows in a handy chart. The outputs of original formulas are in one data set, and the "what if" analysis occurs in other columns. A data table can have unlimited scenarios with one or two variables.

Goal Seek starts with a goal and works backward. Users input a desired goal, and Excel calculates input values to give that result. For instance, if a company seeks a profit of $1,000 per month, Excel can determine the requisite price per unit and how many units must sell to meet that goal.

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