Published Now and Again for Business Users of Microsoft Excel.
Sparkcharts + Should You
Upgrade to Excel 2007?
Wednesday, September 20, 2006
If you like this newsletter, please forward it to
other Excel users.
I've just posted an article about a new Excel add-in that every business user
of Excel should take a close look at. It's an amazing product, and I want to tell you more about
The product is SparkMaker Basic. It provides a selection of Excel
spreadsheet functions that return sparkcharts rather than numbers.
So what's a sparkchart, and why are the functions so amazing?
begins with Edward Tufte. He's Professor Emeritus of Political Science, Statistics,
and Computer Science at Yale University. He's spent much
of his professional life finding and explaining ways to present data more
Several years ago, Tufte invented the idea of "sparklines", which are
word-sized line charts. Then, less than two years ago, Bissantz introduced
SparkMaker Pro for Microsoft Office. This product included many features and
priced it at $200.
Last week, the company introduced the $60 SparkMaker Basic,
which includes only Excel functions. From an Excel user's point of view,
SparkMaker Basic has the best of Pro's features, for one-third of the price.
Bissantz includes a variety of chart types in addition to lines, their product generates sparkcharts, not merely sparklines.
For many people in business,
however, a sparkchart is an idea that makes
no sense at all. Many people in business create charts that fill a computer screen, or a
printed page. What possible use is a chart about the size of one of the words in
When you think about it, however, you probably could use
word-sized charts in most of your Excel reports:
- In addition to showing Month and YTD results, you could include tiny
charts that show how each line item has trended over the past year.
- When you have any data in rows or columns, you could use sparkcharts to
quickly display patterns in those numbers.
- You could show the relative measures of performance for each item in a
table in a report.
- You could set up a traffic light or an exception indicator that helps to
explain why the exception has appeared.
Considering the little amount of spreadsheet real estate they take up, the
little effort they require to learn and use, and their low cost, sparkcharts offer
an impressive return on investment.
Check them out.
A Table With Pizzazz
I don't know whether the other new article is a waste of time or not. In
Add Class to Your
Reports With Excel Drawing Objects, I explain how to set up a table that
looks really classy. But I'm not sure that it will ever be used on the job.
On the other hand, by learning to create a table like this you do learn some
Excel techniques that you'll probably find useful in the future. So take a look
at the tutorial and see what you think.
Besides, the table does look classy!
Should You Upgrade to Excel 2007?
Earlier this week I gave an interview to the Editor of the
Financial & Accounting Executive
Alert, which is written for CFOs and Controllers. He was working on an article about Excel 2007, and wanted to know
whether his readers should upgrade Excel.
As Mark Twain once wrote, I was pleased that I could answer his question; I told
him I didn't know.
On the one hand, I said, Excel 2007 has added more new features than has any
other Excel upgrade. I took nearly five minutes to describe those new features,
and I probably could have taken longer.
On the other hand, the new user interface will be slow for Excel users to learn,
and it probably will be slow for us to use after we learn it well. These are two
different considerations that those who manage Excel users need to keep in mind.
What I did advise was for every company to proceed carefully with the new
upgrade. Thinking about my comments later, here is some more specific advice:
Install Excel 2007 on one or two computers. Train several key employees on Excel
2007 and then force them to work only with the new product. Your goal is not to
see what new stuff they can create; your goal is to see how successfully they
can do their normal Excel work in Excel 2007.
Based on that experience, you probably will have a much better idea of whether
Excel 2007 will improve the efficiency of your Excel users, or destroy it.
In the July article, An Introduction to Excel's Normal Distribution Functions,
I promised to explain how I created the figures in Excel. I still owe you that
article and I'll try to get it posted over the next several weeks.
I'll also be working on examples and instruction about how businesses can get
the most out of sparkcharts in Excel. Look for more about that material this
Finally, I'm developing several major new features for ExcelUser, at least one
of which I hope I'll be prepared to talk about next month.
Please pass the
word to other Excel users in business about ExcelUser.com. There'll be a lot
happening over the next several months, and they'll need to be informed.