Power BI Productivity Features – Build your reports amazingly FAST! [Webinar]

Building and maintaining Power BI reports and dashboards can be extremely time-consuming, not to mention stressful. This is especially the case when you have to do this over and over again.

Luckily it doesn't have to be that way! Our founder Andrej Lapajne figured out an easier and faster way of doing it. We will show you best practices and explain step-by-step productivity features in Power BI that work like magic.

Dashboard structure in Power BI

Every dashboard and every report in Power BI can get quite exhaustive, quite complex, with many pages and features. This immediately brings you to two challenges.

First, how to design for the navigation between the pages?
One option is to enable drill through when people click on a certain category.

In our example, the mobile business unit is not performing very well. So, if you hover over it with your mouse, you then see the report page tooltip. Moreover, once you click on the table, you can also see the drill-through button, which will take you to a more detailed page.

But now the second challenge is, of course, that you have many detailed pages like this and each of these pages has multiple different elements like buttons, text boxes, images, slicers, visuals, etc. Between different categories and report types, you can easily have 30 pages in one single Power BI file. It is then crucial to make it as easy as possible to build, and to make building them faster by, for example, reusing certain elements on a page.

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty details of Power BI its features hands-on, we'll share with you the dashboard design pattern that we're using at Zebra BI. This is a two-level design pattern, where you have the first overview on a homepage with all of the bells and whistles like help overlays and nice visuals arranged around it.

A page would usually take quite some time, because you need to think a lot about the structure. You should take into consideration who is the user that is going to see this, what are the key KPIs that they need to see first, what are the elements that will explain his performance in the best way possible, what are the data categories that he must see on the first page, etc.

This landing page will probably take quite some time, but it's only one page, right? So it makes sense to spend some more time on it and make sure you have prepared a nice set of features here and a good overview, right? But now you may have 30 other, detailed (report) pages, where you land once you click somewhere through buttons, drill through, or other types of navigation. And this can be a lot of pages. So you need to make sure that you have building blocks of these pages ready, so you are easily able to copy and paste them. Or even if you start to design from a completely blank page, that you can really quickly put the elements on, and do not waste time with the design and with setting every little element of these report pages.

So what should a report page include? To start, one really easy way how to go about this is to imagine that a page has a page header - the top section of the report. This contains elements like a title, logotype, a back button and, optionally, you can also place page tabs here. These tabs or buttons would be the navigation between pages that are somewhat related to the same topic. Then you also have the slicers, along with everything else that is the content, visuals, comments and more.

Keep this picture in mind as we go forward. Now let's go back to our dashboard.

Check what is behind the page

While you're building and once you've finished making your report, make sure to check what is behind it. What does that mean? It means you should always be in control of what and how many elements are present within your report. More, you should pay attention to what kind of relationship they are with one another. The best way to keep track of this, is to enable the Selection to check how your page looks like behind the scenes. Just keeping the Selection pane open while working in Power BI will make your life so much easier in Power BI.

Taking a closer look to our particular case, it doesn't look so bad: We only have five parts that can be made up of smaller elements. The important thing is that we then group all the elements together into the page header group. Do this for all (or most) elements and it will always look nice and clean, enabling you to easily manage all parts of your dashboard.


Keyboard shortcuts

When you start building a new page, you just start from a blank page and then immediately start adding all the necessary elements, like page tab buttons. And since we usually need multiple buttons (four on our example page), we will simply copy and paste the first one we create. After all, it takes less time to change one or two properties of a button (or any other element), than to create a new one every single time. Using keyboard shortcuts, like Ctrl+C (copy) and Ctrl+V (paste), will also make you more productive in Power BI.

Unfortunately, Power BI at the moment is still not at the level of Excel or PowerPoint, in terms of keyboard shortcuts. So there are not really a lot of keyboard shortcuts to help you navigate through the selections and settings compared to those other programs. So it's helpful, but it's not a true productivity feature at the moment. But Microsoft is definitely developing those, so more keyboard shortcuts are coming in with time.

All right, now the buttons. The design of the buttons by default does not really respond to user action. So this is problem number one: Power BI default settings. If you would like to make this better, you would need to actually start to design this, like with enabling the fill and changing color on hover. Be careful to not overdo with all design options, if you want to keep your report minimal and clean.

But now the problem is we've only done this for the first button what about the other three? And if you have 30 pages from before, of course, this way will not work well.


Format painter

So this brings us to two options: The first option would be to delete the buttons and then, again, copy and paste the first one. But if you already had actions and text and everything else set on this button, you don't want to delete it and do this over and over again. One way how to do this is to use the format painter.

So for example, if you want to format the design of one button to another, you can just select the button you want to copy properties from, go to the home tab and click on the format painter icon. Then go over the button to which you want to apply copied properties and click on it. This now makes the new button behave the same as the one from before. In short, this will paint the style from an element to another element, while keeping text and links the same.

Designing a page

Now we can go and create some content, like charts and slicers.

When it comes to changing calendar dimensions, you should consider whether you actually need the label "year" on the slicer, as the numbered years are already very self-explanatory. As such, you won't really need such a title in most cases. This will allow you to gain more space on the page, which you can then use to add more data or to increase the size of the visuals. You can even use the format painter to copy the style from one slicer to another (just like with buttons), so you won't have to manually remove the title on each one.

First of all, design one page really well. You can then use it as a template for the upcoming pages.

Now, if you start building a second page, you can copy multiple elements at the same time by holding the Ctrl key, clicking on the elements you want to select and then just copy and paste them to a new page. This, however, can lead to a lot of copy-pasting. And we don't want to do that.

One solution is to just copy the entire page. You can do this in the pages tabs below, right-clicking on the desired page and select Duplicate the page. It's much easier if you have one page already set and most elements are already in place.

Now, however, while you have two pages, if you change something on one page, you'll still need to manually apply the same change to the other page. And if you have multiple pages already made, it gets really tedious to copy and paste a recent change to all other pages. So how do you deal with this?


Grouping elements together

First of all, in the Selection pane, name all elements. Give them a good name, so that you will understand them and if somebody else will work on this report at some later point, they will also understand what are the actual elements. You can easily rename an element by double-clicking it in the selection pane.

Second, to further clear the Selection pane, you can also Group elements together. For example, you can group all page tabs into one group, which you can then also rename. You can select multiple elements by holding Ctrl button on your keyboard and clicking the desired elements. Then right-click onto them and select Group. We recommend doing this with all elements that have a common function. Now, instead of copying every element by itself, you can easily copy groups of them at once.

Grouping also helps if you have many elements layered on top of each other, which makes it very difficult if you want to select a specific element below others. With the Selection pane, you can easily highlight the specific element you want to manage, without needing to move other elements above it away and then back again once you're finished.


Keep it simple

We would definitely recommend you to first shape one page really well. Start on page number one, and create as many properties as you can. Once you have everything ready, you can then use this page as a template. Because if you have one page already done, then within the same file, you will simply duplicate the page and just remove or change the few elements you want to make different.

It's easier to adapt an already-existing page and just change the content, than to build page after page from scratch.

You don't necessarily need to have each page completely different. Actually, it's much easier for you to stick with a few different report page types, because it will be easier for you to reuse them, but at the same time, it will also be easier for the end-user. Because they will quickly come to understand it, they'll get more or less the same organization of information, with a similar layout. So, standardization is really key.

Themes and Styles

While the tips so far should already help you a lot, you can still move a level ahead from this baseline of work.
How? By using styles and themes in Power BI.

For example, the way how any button in the report currently behaves is only applicable in this report and in the pages where you actually copied and designated one style to a particular button.

But a theme in Power BI will help you to just do this once for every button, everywhere, in all of your reports at once.

You can edit a theme by going to the View tab, open the themes menu and selecting Customize current theme. This feature allows you to edit colors for a lot of elements on multiple levels, along with text styles, font families, visuals, background, borders and the page and wallpaper as well. The page background and wallpaper.

For example, if you want to set a different default wallpaper, click on the Page category and then set the color and the transparency of your wallpaper. After you're done, simply click Apply.

Now if you add a new page, this change will already be applied and it'll even work for all of your previous pages, unless you already clicked and customized it yourself in the visuals. The way how the themes work in Power BI is they will change the default colors and all settings that you did not explicitly change before.

If you are really satisfied with your current theme and would like to apply it to other reports, past and future, you can save the current theme, and then import it into your other reports. Exporting a theme will create a JSON file, which you can further customize outside of Power BI. However, we don't recommend this if you don't already have any previous experience with coding or similar projects.

It's a very technical thing; you need a code viewer so you can effectively display the JSON file, and you need to be quite careful with the commas and curly brackets and other parts. If you're a developer or working in the IT field, it should be completely fine. But for business users, while you can still play around, it's not very user friendly.

To open the JSON file, we recommend using the Visual Studio Code program, that you can download for free. With it, you can now manually change any kind of setting.

Editing a JSON file

Once you open your JSON file into Visual Studio Code, it should look something like the image below. Like we said, it can be intimidating at the start, but if you know what you are looking for and what do you want to change, it then becomes a very powerful tool.

Now you can change almost any kind of setting you want.

For example, using Zebra BI visuals in the report below, you can notice some business units with a lot of sales, along with some really, really small ones. Such examples are very common in financial reports and can often happen with your data as well.

To tackle this issue, you can enable  Zebra BI Top N setting, which shows only the categories that are most impactful on your business. You can select, under the Visualizations pane, the small multiples category and enable the Top N feature. This way you can select to filter out a certain number of items and change the layout of small multiples.

While this is a great feature, the trouble arises when you want to enable this setting by default, with each of your reports. And when you have numerous charts, on numerous pages where you want to display the Top N, that takes a lot of time. Now, however, you enable this feature for every chart, from one place: Your theme.

Of course, you need to know the exact name of the property to manage the small multiples, and that can be a challenge. The documentation can be quite difficult, especially if you hadn't done something like this before.

For this specific example, find the "multipleLayout", from where you can edit things like the layout type, whether to show Top N charts and exactly how many.

Hint: Just like in your browser or other programs, you can search for a specific text within the document or a page by clicking Ctrl+f and typing the text.

For another example, you can set that charts are by default always showing the Grand total. So if you, or your company, just prefer to always display the Grand total, you can also set this in the theme, instead of changing it for every visual separately. Again, just find the proper setting within the JSON file and change it according to your personal preferences. In this particular case, the setting is designated as "showGrandTotal", which you can find under "chartSettings".

If you want to learn more about editing your JSON files and customizing your report styles, we have prepared another webinar specifically about creating your custom themes, which you can find here.

After you finish with all specifications, save the JSON file and go back to Power BI. Now you can finally, instead of going through all of the settings with your mouse, just bring in the theme that you created for yourself. Go back to the Themes menu and click Browse for themes. Find the JSON file you have just edited and open it in Power BI. This will now apply all the modifications you have made in the theme, to your report.

Even more important than changing the colors, you can use this to easily control any kind of chart properties, default names, and many other functionalities.

Even better, once you style all your elements and are satisfied with your settings and design, you can now go and save this file as a Power BI template. So instead of saving it as a PBIX file, a Power BI file, you can set the file type to be Power BI template file (PBIT). Power BI will export this as a template, which means all of your styles, all of your elements, all of your charts, even the custom visuals like Zebra BI, will all be stored in this file, as well as your customized theme.

With Power BI template, you can now also decide whether to allow the data connection or not. As you'll see, all of the tables and everything else is here, because we just saved everything together as a template, including our data. If you just want to save a design template, without your data or charts, just delete the visuals and your data and keep only the buttons and headers, page layouts, colors, themes, etc.

Zebra BI Style Editor

For the subscribers of Zebra BI, if you have the pro license, you can also access our own Style Editor when you log into your Member Portal. Scroll down and check the Use company style option. You can use this to determine even more properties of visuals, without the need to drown yourself in a JSON file.

You can now change colors, lines, markers, font family, and many other elements of the Zebra BI visuals. After you've finished customizing it, you can simply click Download Theme as a JSON file that you can then import into your Power BI report.

Try it yourself

Now that you got through all of the productivity features, you can go and explore them yourself. Don’t forget to download our PBIX example below and you can watch the full webinar for even more details.

The last thing is, of course, try the Zebra BI visuals. They will help you create better reports in Power BI dashboards. You can download them from the Appsource, so just simply import them. And then if you need the Pro version, you can get it on our website.