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Which Offers More Business Insight?
Dashboards? Or Normal Excel Reports?
The purpose of any report in business is to give its
readers the most useful information
in the shortest time possible. Which type of report best
achieves this purpose?
Can you find the critical insight about July's data in the figure below?
This figure is from an actual Excel report to the CEO of a
company with annual revenues of about a billion dollars. To protect
confidentiality, I've scaled all numbers by the same random constant and
changed the titles and dates. So all that remains from the original
report are the patterns of performance.
A crucial fact about the North Region's performance is right there in front of you...buried in
all those numbers. Can you find it?
This is from an actual Excel report to the CEO of a company with sales of
about $1 billion.
In the figure above, a reader must study the
numbers to find meaning in them. But even after studying for a long
time -- which few readers would do anyway -- it's easy to miss the
key insight about recent performance.
The dashboard report below also uses only Excel charts and formatting, and it shows the
same data as the figure above. But the data is displayed in one of my
IncSight DB templates.
glance at the charts in this dashboard reveals the critical insight: July's performance was
essentially flat in all cities. This information is critical
because it hints at fundamental problems with sales throughout the
region, or even the entire company. (As it turns out, the month shown
was a turning point that began a significant downturn in sales
throughout the company.)
Which version of the data provides the most insight with the least
reading time? Which version would most of your managers prefer to receive? The one
that readers must study? Or the one that offers immediate insight?
This dashboard uses the Report 2 template from
IncSight DB, and the WSJ color scheme from
The advantage of Excel dashboard reports is not that they're
pretty. To illustrate, the figure below is a pretty version of the
first table. But even with pretty formatting, the key insight isn't any easier to find. Making poorly designed reports pretty doesn't make
Here's a pretty version of the table above,
which I also created in Excel.
The dashboard report
still offers a superior view of the data,
and it can use any version of Excel.
If you and your co-workers are tired of studying reports, and then
missing key patterns of performance, you should display your
performance using many small charts in an Excel report.
The video on this page shows how to create your first Excel dashboard in about