How Much Can You Learn in 30 Seconds?

I love when clients ask us to build new reports from scratch. There’s something about taking a bunch of jumbled data and turning it into beautiful visuals that they can show to their CEO with instant impact. But during that process you have to watch out for a few pitfalls that sooner or later every report builder will end up doing.

Power BI is an amazing tool. You can quickly create so many different visuals and organize them in so many different ways. Sometimes to a fault. As the person building the report you know everything about the data, everything you’re trying to show and everything the visuals represent. As for the end user viewing it for the first time, they know none of that.

Here are a few things to keep in mind when first planning your report:

  • What is Most Important? – If there’s one takeaway, what should it be?

  • Usability – Can someone customize their view without instructions?

  • What Does This Represent? – Clearly show dates, refresh times & any other filters

  • Information Overload – Know when it gets to be too much

  • Beautify – Design plays a big part. Draw out your report on paper before building it

Put check marks next to these and you’re on the right track. Next we’ll look at some of the other commonly asked questions like how many visuals should I have per page, how many tabs per report, as well as how to build your reports for data on the go.

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How Much is Too Much.

When an analyst has a lot of data, often times they try to fit it all in to one page. The result is a visual that is impossible to read. My general rule of thumb is no more than 4 visuals per page, and that number is only valid if each visual is incredibly easy to read. If you need to shrink the axis or label text down to 8 then just move a visual or two to the next tab. Remember, we’re trying to build this for users taking a quick glimpse. If they’re overwhelmed from the time they open the report, they’re not going to find it as useful as they should.

Along the same lines, having too many tabs can be an issue. Our theme should always be speed. How quickly can I get the most important data to the decision makers. If you ever have to say “Go to tab 7” that means you’re trying to show too much. Instead break these into different reports, or better yet, build apps that are specific to the group that needs them. Telling someone that all their visuals are on tab 7 could make them feel less of a priority versus showing them their own personal app with just the information they need.

Data On the Go.

One of my favorite tools is the Power BI app. Being able to pull out your phone or tablet in a meeting and showing people important stats is a game changer. Even cooler is setting up alerts on your dashboard so you get notified on your phone when you hit specific low or high numbers.

Power BI Desktop does have the functionality to allow you to build a mobile version of your page and I do recommend it. Having that for each report makes things much easier, especially when users need to view data on the road. However, the setup I’ve found most effective is using the Dashboards area in the web service as your mobile hub. When someone’s on their phone I’m not expecting them to did deep into the report data. So what we usually do is take the key visuals from our desktop version and pin that to a dashboard. The dashboard has a great look on mobile and is easy for users to consume the data. A quick 5 minute instruction session saying go to dashboards for mobile viewing and reports for desktop viewing will make things super easy. Give it a try and let us know what you think.