Dashboards and Sparklines

 

Has anyone else been infuriated with the limitations of Excel in dashboard building?  Have you been tempted with solutions like Tableau and Xcelcius?  Well you wouldn’t be alone…  However, as most of my clients already have Microsoft Excel I have found that we have to work with what is available.  Recently, I can across Sparklines and almost feel invigorated with the new graphs and the scalability of said graphs.

A perfect example:

You have 50 product groupings, each with 20 products in them.  That is 1000 products.  Completely incomprehensible graph.  What about looking at 50 graphs?  I can’t see many managers having the time (or inclination) to look at 50 graphs and compare and contrast each item.

However, my new friend Fabrice Rimlinger has developed a fantastic Excel add in that allows you to create in-cell graphs.  So you can have 50 graphs but instead of squeezing 4 per A4 paper.  You can have have many more.  The size of the graphs is only dictacted by the size of the cells.  The bigger the cells (stretched or merged), the bigger the graphs.

Downsides?  

Excel 2010 – already includes Sparklines as standard.  However, they don’t offer the range that Fabrice’s tool does.

Screengrab of the Sparklines Ribbon - Microsoft Excel
Screengrab of the Sparklines Ribbon – Microsoft Excel

Screengrab of Sparklines Ribbon 2 - Microsoft Excel
Screengrab of Sparklines Ribbon 2 – Microsoft Excel

Complexity – well made graphs are never easy and to be honest when I think about it the only reason that Excel graphs ‘appear’ to be so easy to create is that I’ve been using that interface since 1995.  So if you’re a newbie to Fabrice’s Sparklines Add-in don’t be put off immediately.

Upsides?

 Do you want to show your client professional looking dashboards

Sparklines Barline Example

Doesn’t look like much?

Well think of it this way:

    1. Black Line represents current performance e.g. yesterday sales
    2. The red line represents the last month’s daily average e.g. a target
    3. The two different shades of yellow indicate a GOOD|BAD level.  So in the example above anything over 50% is good but, anything under 50% is bad.

Sparklines (currently a free download but, can’t imagine it will remain so) is a tool which I see becoming a necessary tool in any MI Consultant or Dashboard Designers toolbar.  Fabrice requests that you make a donation to his ‘coffee fund’ and I hope that everyone donates a minimum of €50.  And before anyone asks I don’t get a kickback and I paid this €50 myself.

 

How to install it:

 

Well thats the easy part.  You download the .xlam file and run it – it is really that simple.

Sparklines for Excel download 

However, one thing that needs to be done is it needs to be manually put into the “Add-Ins” directory (see image below).  This means that it will load every time that Excel opens and any “Microsoft” issues should be sorted too.

How to:

  1. Click on the Windows Logo in the top left hand corner of Microsoft Excel
  2. Click on Excel Options at the bottom of the next window
  3. Click on Add-Ins (see image below)

Where to "Add In" Sparklines into Excel

4. At the bottom of the screen you’ll see the following – simply select “Add-Ins” from the drop down menu and then click “Go”.

Image for Excel Add In - Go Menu
Screen capture of Microsoft Excel Add In “GO” Menu

5. Next window is even easier – click browse and find the downloaded XLAM file.  It is recommended that this is strored in \program files\ and in Excel Libraries.  Not in “downloads” or “My Documents”

Excel Add In Menu
Screengrab of Microsoft Excel Add In Menu

 

 Supporting URLs:

Sparklines for Excel – Excel Add In Tool from Fabrice Rimlinger

Stephen Few – Perceptual Edge – well known dashboard supremo

Microsoft Office – Add In Help Article

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