Years ago, the President of the 200th largest company in the US at that time
pointed to a tall stack of papers in the corner of his office.
"When I got this job," he said, "I was amazed at the amount of reports that I
was expected to read. So I started stacking them in the corner. That stack grows
by about a foot a month."
These days, many reports are online; but the problem remains. Excel users and
others work long hours to prepare long reports for managers...who must work long
hours to find meaning in all that data.
Technology is not the answer. To some degree, in fact, technology makes the
problem worse. Today, unlike times past, many managers now can drill through
their online reports, drill down into the underlying summary data, and drill
through the summaries to view the underlying transactions themselves. While that
technology is impressive, such data exploration can consume many hours of
This is progress?
If technology isn't the answer, what is? Perhaps the answer is to improve the
design of our management
During the past several weeks I've had the pleasure of reading three recent
books about reporting with graphs and tables. The books don't explain how to
create these figures; they explain how to design them to be read and understood
You'll find reviews of these books at Learn to Show Business Data That Readers Can Understand.
Introducing Dot Plots
One of the books I reviewed was by Naomi Robbins, who developed her reporting
methodologies while working at Bell Labs. Naomi introduced me to dot plots.
To some degree, dot plots replace bar charts. They are more
readable and more flexible than bar charts.
My article, Compare Metrics by Category Using Excel Dot Plot Charts,
explains how to create dot plots in Excel.
To learn more about dot plots, you might want to read these articles by Naomi
Dot Plots: A Useful Alternative to Bar Charts
Quantitative Information Effectively
3. Creating More Effective Graphs: Trellis Display
The third link discusses a useful way to structure graphical reports.
Unfortunately, "Trellis" is trademarked by the
Insightful Corp. Because this trademark
can interfere with general usage, I started to use the term "checkerboard
chart". Once you read about Trellis displays, you'll understand why "checkerboard
chart" makes sense.
A Plug for Stephen Few's New Blog
About two months ago I received an email from Stephen Few. He wrote that he
had discovered my ebook, wanted to read it, and asked if I wanted to trade my
book for his new book about dashboards. I agreed. Soon after I started to read
it, I rushed to Amazon and bought his first book.
Steve has a new blog that you might want to check out. He doesn't write about
Excel, but he does write about Business Intelligence. BI, Steve writes, is "all
about collecting, storing, accessing, analyzing, and reporting business
information in an attempt to make sense out of it and communicate its meaning to
support informed business decisions."
That sounds a lot like what Excel users do.
When you look at his blog, you'll notice that he wrote about ExcelUser and my
Dashboard Reporting With Excel. After you read his short entry, it's
reasonable to assume that we're also trading compliments. But that's not the way
it happened. Honest. I wrote the reviews of Steve's books over the weekend and didn't
see his blog entry until Tuesday.
Oh...One quick indication about how quickly software is
changing. I'm using Microsoft FrontPage 2003 -- which is the current version -- to create this newsletter and web
page. I see that FrontPage's spelling checker doesn't recognize "blog".