Difference highlight: the fastest way to improve your reports and dashboards

The goal of visualizing data with charts instead of plain tables is to bring clarity to the readers and decrease the time it takes them to get the key piece of information from the data.

This is usually achieved by removing all unnecessary items from your visualizations and emphasizing the important values. One of the best tools for this is a difference highlight. Here's how it looks like:

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Sales by salesmen YTD FY - AC BU FC

Top 3 Ways to Report your Variance Analysis in Excel

Most companies create plans and budgets to establish benchmarks for future performance in sales, production, operations, labor, etc. The starting point of these plans and budget are usually estimated cost and revenue figures. The goal is to meet these budgets, but as with all goals - they are not always met. Managers use variance analysis to track the actual performance against these goals. If this analysis is not performed afterwards, then setting budgets is useless.

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Struggling to visualize your data? Zebra BI’s got you covered!

Whether it’s waterfall charts, variance charts, or lollipop charts, Zebra BI has everything you need to visualize your data for all to understand.

Picture this: you’re about to present your company’s quarterly earnings to its top executives. You’ve spent countless hours gathering the needed information and placing it into a chart in Excel. You’ve even tried your hardest to make the chart look as appealing as possible. (Unfortunately, you thought this entailed simply adding different colors to different columns.) Upon beginning your presentation, however, you notice that your report looks similar to the one shown below and might be difficult for people not familiar with the information to properly analyze or understand.

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The fastest way to insert lollipop charts in Excel

Lollipop charts are a great data visualization technique. Data visualization professionals and business analysts like them for a good reason. They can be used in similar situations as bar charts and column charts, but they have the advantage of producing a cleaner-looking picture.

The sticks of the lollipops are thinner than the bars/columns, which allows the chart to "breathe", while the lollipops force the reader to focus on the most important part of the chart - the values.

Jon Peltier, Stephanie Evergreen and Jon Schwabish all wrote their own guides on how to produce lollipop charts in Microsoft Excel - "the primary data visualization tool for most of the world", according to Schwabish. These kinds of guides are necessary because lollipop charts are not included in the default set of charts found in Excel.

All of these guides work well for producing lollipop charts in Excel, but they all have one flaw: they take time to complete.

Ideally, you wouldn't need a guide to produce a lollipop chart in Excel...

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Designing Financial Statements for Non-Profits & Foundations – The Gates Foundation example

This time we'll take a deep dive into the 2014 annual report of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to find out if data visualization can help explain their consolidated financial statements. As Stephanie Evergreen pointed out in her intriguing article, there's a lot of room for improvement in annual reports of non-profits and foundations (to put it mildly). Data visualization in annual reports is far from being efficient and clear. Many times it's just non-existent. 

Stephanie's got an excellent point. However, when observing her proposed visuals and especially when faced with the extreme ranges of values in the financial statement of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I thought it's time to add some more 'meat' to this topic.

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How to visualize trends for multiple markets, products, etc.

Recently, my attention was drawn to an interesting analysis of The Hottest Startup Sectors In 2016, written by Tomasz Tunguz. It shows the trend of investments into 16 major startup markets and tries to expose the gap between seed and Series A investment dollars.

The arrangement of charts into a "small multiples" chart matrix is an excellent idea. However, when you start drawing conclusions from the visual representation, you may arrive at some seriously false conclusions. Let's take a closer look:

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Making small multiples in Excel

Have you ever tried making small multiples in Excel? I have. Several times. It's possible. Everything is possible in Excel, but some things just take forever. And when you're done and realize you'd like to change it just slightly, it takes forever again.

Countless times I was in a situation where small multiples of, say, 12 waterfall charts would be perfect for my customer's dataset and intended message, but I dismissed the thought in a split of a second. Imagining I have to produce a bunch of Excel formulas for dummy chart series, apply all those hacks and tricks to make the charts effective and visually correct, adjust the labels, apply the design, etc. And do all that 12 times for 12 charts, take care of proper scaling, solve the labelling of categories based on the position of charts within the matrix, ... Huh, just forget about it. It's frustrating.

This time I stumbled upon a twit by Jorge Camoes from ExcelCharts:

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IBCS Compliant Profit & Loss Report

Designing financial reports, dashboards and business presentations

How do your financial reports look? All too often, they fall somewhere between messy spreadsheets and dashboards, full of poorly labelled and inappropriate charts, that simply do not get the message across to the decision-makers.

Messy spreadsheet, inappropriate dashboard

Countless reports and presentations are created throughout organizations on a daily basis, all in different formats, lengths, shapes and colors, depending on preferences of the person who prepares them. The end results are often managers not making their way through the data presented, time being wasted, and important decisions failing to be made.

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How to Choose the Right Business Chart – A 3-step Tutorial

In this article we will explain how to choose the right chart for your data. Or more precisely, for your message.

There are 3 fundamental rules that you should always follow when deciding which chart to use. If you learn these 3 rules, there is a good chance that you will get it right no matter what the context of your data is.


  • #1 Orientation

    Will I display time-related data?

  • #2 Task

    What message do I want to deliver?

  • #3 Shape

    What type of data am I trying to visualize?

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Population pyramids of world's 10 most populated countries created in Excel

On using Butterfly (aka Tornado) charts [video]

A butterfly chart is a special type of bar chart, often used to represent two data series side by side, such as comparing male vs. female, displaying positive vs. negative opinions, presenting election results (e.g. republicans vs. democrats), etc. In general, you may use it as an alternative to a regular bar chart or a stacked bar chart, whenever you're presenting two (or more) opposing data sets.

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Zebra BI Hichert Interview - Video Screenshot

Exclusive interview with Dr. Rolf Hichert, part 1 of 3

This is the first video of a three-part interview series with Dr. Rolf Hichert.

Dr. Rolf Hichert is the president of International Business Communication Standards (IBCS) Association. On his recent visit to Ljubljana, our CEO Andrej Lapajne did an interview with him.

In this video, you'll learn why it's important to introduce standardization in business communication, how a monthly sales report should look like and what are the most important concepts in IBCS.

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Management report Hemofarm 2

The 3 steps to implementing management reports in a pharmaceutical company

Marko Devrnja

Mr. Marko Devrnja, Hemofarm

This is a guest post by Darko Vlajković, a consultant at MCB. See more about MCB at the end of the post.

We had an opportunity to work with Sales & Marketing team in Serbian pharmaceutical company Hemofarm, that operates in more than 30 countries on 3 continents and has approximately 2.500 employees. The goal of the project was to make management reports more transparent, visual and automated. The end result was reports that top management could analyze quickly and easily and make the right decisions based on them.

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How to choose the right chart - Zebra BI Infographic

Infographic: How to Choose the Right Chart

This infographic will teach you everything you need to know to always select the perfect chart.

Your "perfect" chart has two key tasks to perform. It has to:

  1. optimally display the message you want to deliver and
  2. shorten the time it takes your audience to understand that message.

Luckily, here are the 3 fundamental rules that you should always follow when deciding which chart to use. If you learn these 3 rules, there is a good chance that you will get it right no matter what the context of your data is.
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Small Multiples – 16 are better than one

In his “serial art” Andy Warhol was using image repetition (multiplication) as a means to achieve the feeling of detachment and to play with the notions of originality, simulacra, etc. However it is interesting that image multiplication is in fact one of the most effective methods for solving information design problems.

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