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8 Steps to Creating an Efficient Variance Report

By Ziga Milek • Last updated

Every company uses a variance report to compare the budgeted (also called baseline) amount of expenses and/or revenue with the actual amount.

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The problem with variance reports

The internet is full of different variations of variance reports. The issue with these examples is that they're poorly designed and as a result, can be difficult to read. This can severely reduce a manager's efficiency as they do not have the time to read through all the numbers row by row and column by column in order to figure all those tables out.

Here are just some examples:

Variance reports, bad examples

Instead of so many different types of designs, colors and formatting, is it possible to create a standardized form of variance reports?

While variance reports do contain a lot of information, there needs to be an optimal way of displaying this information so that managers can quickly and efficiently get the information that they need.

How can we do this? By using Zebra BI, we can take one of these examples and turn it into a clean, easy-to-read report that a manager can efficiently get their data from. All it takes are these 8 easy steps.

Here's the report we're going to start with in order to improve it:

Table PY vs Actual vs Budget wrong way

Step 1: Remove background colors of your variance report

Remove the background colors as this can create more of a distraction and is no longer necessary when using Zebra BI.

Remove the background colors in excel spreadsheets

Step 2: Remove the borders

Remove the "jail bars" (black grid) as this makes the report look too busy and can be confusing.

Remove the borders in excel spreadsheets

Step 3: Align values properly

Align everything correctly for a more uniform look. This will help a manager to easily identify data and find the information that they need quickly.

Align values properly in Excel columns

Step 4: Prepare the formatting

Remove unnecessary text, add some essential formatting (light borders - where necessary, the title area, "scenario markers" at the top of the columns for PY, AC, BU).

Prepare columns for formatting

Step 5: Insert absolute variance charts

Insert variance charts to properly highlight the two differences ΔPY=AC-PY (actual minus previous year) and ΔBU=AC-BU (actual minus budget).

Insert absolute variance charts

Step 6: Insert relative variance charts

Insert lollipop variance charts to your variance report to highlight the relative changes from PY and BU.

Step 7: Write the key message

Write your key message to help easily identify the main findings of your variance report.

Write the key message

Step 8: Add comments to the variance report

Add comments to support your key message for quick reference for a manager to easily find the information that they need. The final result now looks like this:

Variance report

As you can see, Zebra BI enables you to present your data to managers in a clean and efficient way so that they can easily identify important data and make quick decisions.

Interested? Try it yourself!

Would you like to take your variance reports to the next level? Make sure you give Zebra BI a try here:


  1. Good night, thank you for yours.
    I will start performing for Reporting and Analysis Variance, Actual vs Budget, do you recommend any template format chart or table ? also to write feedback or comments ?
    Best regards

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