These are tough times for many Excel users, and their managers. What about you?
Excel users all over the world are facing similar problems today. But problems like these aren’t new. I first experienced them in the 1980s.
Spreadsheets were new back then. But I worked long hours with them to report and analyze my company’s performance. First using VisiCalc, and then Lotus 1‑2‑3, I created hundreds of reports and analyses.
Even with those primitive tools, I gave my managers some great reports -- many tall stacks of them. My managers hated to get those reports, for a very good reason...
To get much value from my reports the managers needed to study them carefully, like homework. So, like homework, my managers often set those pages aside until later. And then I would add another set of reports to the stack.
We were trapped. My managers needed the information desperately, but they had no time to study it.
Then I noticed a short article in an old copy of the Harvard Business Review, an article that showed me how to escape that trap. It completely changed my ideas about management reporting.
Here’s how it began:
This guy had the same problem my managers had, but
solved it with just one sheet paper. What a concept!
His example report was amazing. In just a few seconds, a page like the examples above helped him and other managers to get a true picture of performance. My mountain of paper never could have provided that insight, even if managers had studied the reports for hours.
Today, we would call Blake’s report a dashboard report.
How Science Supports Chart-Rich Dashboard Reports
In recent years, scientists have learned a lot about the way humans absorb visual information. Their findings support my enthusiasm for using small, simple charts for management reporting.
Specifically, the psychologists have explained why people can read
dashboard charts quickly, find their meaning automatically, and remember
many charts easily:
1. People Can Read Small Charts More Quickly Than Numbers
Research shows that as you read this sentence, your eye is making between two and five snapshots -- called saccades -- per second. At a typical reading distance, each saccade has a diameter about the size of the word "snapshot".
Each time you read a number in a report, your eye takes at least one snapshot. Reading many numbers requires many snapshots. Searching for trends and other patterns in all those numbers requires not only mental gymnastics, but many more snapshots.
Searching for patterns in numeric data is hard work!
In contrast, your managers and other readers can see the meaning of small, simple charts with one saccade, in less than a second. Readers can see trends, seasonalities, variances, correlations, and other patterns at a glance.
Searching for patterns in charted data is a breeze!
2. People Can Find Meaning In Charts Automatically
When humans see images, we automatically find connections with information in our long-term memory. Scientists call this “gist”.
When we look at an image, including charts, gist memory processes the information immediately and determines how it fits into our existing storehouse of knowledge. Before we even have time to think about it, our brain looks for patterns in the visual data.
Research shows that our brains can find the gist of an image as quickly as one-tenth of a second!
So when we use charts, we automatically give our brains a quick and easy way to
find meaning in our data.
3. People Can Remember a Massive Amount of Chart Content
“Visual long-term memory has a massive storage capacity for object details.”
This intriguing statement is also the title of an article published in the September, 2008, edition of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
“We found that observers could successfully remember details about thousands of images after only a single viewing,” the four authors from MIT wrote. “The present results demonstrate visual memory is a massive store that is not exhausted by a set of 2,500 detailed representations of objects.”
There are at least two practical reasons this discovery is important for management reporting.
First, it’s difficult for humans to remember numbers long enough to compare one set of them to others. But it’s easy for us to remember and compare one chart to others.
Therefore, simple, chart-rich reports give managers the ability to discover patterns of performance among other charts, patterns that lead to business insight.
Second, the easier it is for managers to remember the contents of their reports, the more valuable the reports become. This research shows that by converting numeric data to charts, we make it MUCH easier for managers to remember performance results.
When I first saw Blake’s dashboard, I didn’t know that scientists
eventually would support my enthusiasm for his use of small, simple charts. I
just knew that I really wanted to give my managers a similar report!
Six Major Changes to Version 2
I've made six major changes to Version 2 of my dashboard templates, changes that make them even easier to set up and use:
1. Identical Plumbing: Both the data worksheets and the ones that support each figure now use the same design for IncSight DB and IncSight QnE. Therefore, because there's now only one design for the data "plumbing" the templates are easier to learn. And because they both use the same data worksheets, you now can use the templates interchangeably.
2. Simplified Design: The worksheets that support the figures have been simplified. There are fewer formulas, and they're easier to use.
3. More Powerful: In QnE, for example, you now can calculate ratios and perform other calculations for charting. (This is a feature that DB has always had.) And in both products, you now can display any date period that Excel can support.4. Optional Single-Workbook Design. By default, the report workbooks get their data from data worksheets in separate workbooks. This allows any number of reports to report the same data.
But now, if you want to do so, you can move your data worksheets into your report workbook to create one package with both your data and your report. Among other reasons for doing this, you now can save the single report workbook to SharePoint Excel Services
5. Complete Documentation. The templates now come with a 30-page manual that begins with a two-page Quick Start section. Other sections in the manual include:
6. Standardized Color Themes. The IncSight templates, Version 1, used theme colors that were designed specifically for IncSight DB and QnE. This limited their ability to be used other types of dashboards or for other Excel reports, PowerPoint slides, Word documents, and so on.
"standardized" the colors for Version 2 so they can be used in any
Office product that uses color themes, including Excel dashboards,
Three Big Reasons
You Should Try IncSight® QnE
Resume and Excel Dashboards
If you give potential employers a copy of an Excel dashboard, you could achieve at least three objectives:
1. You could get their attention, and help them to remember you.
2. You could demonstrate your Excel skills in ways that few other Excel users could.
3. You could give them a list of measures of interest to their organizations, measures that you’re prepared to discuss in detail.
The final item probably is key. Your sample dashboard should contain performance measures, economic indicators, or other public data that would interest a potential employer in your industry. By choosing the measures carefully, you can discuss how your professional experience and capabilities are closely matched with the employer's needs.
We know of Excel users in several industries who use a similar approach
in meetings with prospective clients.
Excel users all over the world are using my dashboard products...
Simple formulas are the magic ingredient. They turn a mere page of charts into a powerful dashboard system.
The formulas pull the data you specify from the Excel database. They scale the data. They add units of measure. They convert date serial numbers into the date labels you specify. They synchronize target and actual data.
Those simple formulas are the hidden power of my Excel dashboard reports.
FREE! Included with today's order...
1. IncSight Colors, Set 1b. Get 30 custom Office color themes designed for Excel dashboards. A $29 value.
2. Charley's Swipe Files. Get chart figures 1-4 -- with instructions -- that begin the Charley's Swipe Files subscription. This is a $41.80 value if you were to order the charts individually, or $25.90 value if you were to subscribe to Charley's Swipe Files.
|Help your marketing department track important trends.|
|Track measures that show the production and market prices of commodities that affect your company.|
|Track measures of financial performance.|
|Monitor sales channels, web traffic, trends in your industry, and other measures that could affect performance.|