Revamping a Tired Data Table: A ‘Before’ and ‘After’ Reveal

May 15th, 2018 / Dashboards, Data Visualization / , , , , , , , , ,

I met Mia Schmid in 2017 when she enrolled in one of my Dashboard Design workshops. Later, she reached out and shared her own before/after makeover based on what she learned in the training. Her makeover was so dramatic that I wanted to share it with you, too. Great work, Mia! –Ann

In my current position, I am responsible for compiling quarterly data across our six programs as part of organization-wide internal reporting. In the past, I populated the tables (below) to report out on progress towards annual goals.

Before

This table did a terrible job of communicating what we needed to know. The multiple columns of numbers didn’t make clear what, if anything, staff should take away from this. And it didn’t effectively communicate progress over time to inform our decision-making.

Mia Schmid's "before" table: This table did a terrible job of communicating what we needed to know. The multiple columns of numbers didn’t make clear what, if anything, staff should take away from this. And it didn’t effectively communicate progress over time to inform our decision-making.

 

After

Last summer I took an online course with Ann on dashboard design in Excel. Using what I learned in the course, I transformed the ugly tables into a dashboard (below). I created data bars to communicate percentage progress towards annual goals and sparklines to show trends over time. I also integrated my organization’s branding using colors for each of the four issue areas we work on.

Mia Schmid's "after" dashboard: with this revised dashboard, we can show change over time much more effectively with sparklines and are able to include data from when the organization started in 2013. 

In the original table, we had included separate columns to compare how each program did in 2016 to 2017. Now, with this revised dashboard, we can show change over time much more effectively with sparklines and are able to include data from when the organization started in 2013.

This is a huge improvement to how we have tracked organization-wide goals! The dashboard is so much easier to read compared to the table format and is a much more engaging way to communicate our progress than merely throwing a bunch of numbers into a table and expecting staff to make sense of it.

This dashboard also communicates more than just progress towards goals. When I first put this dashboard together I was struck by how many of our programs either exceeded or under-achieved on their goals for 2017. Goal setting is one area we have been working on with each program and this dashboard has also enabled us to communicate to leadership why appropriate goal setting is so important—achieving a goal by 349% signals to me that the target set by the program is questionable. Historically, program staff set goals based on anecdotes and chose numbers that “sounded good” rather than targets that were grounded in past performance and conscious of any expected growth in the coming year.

What was an annoying task is now a fun opportunity to create something meaningful for my organization and wow my colleagues—and it’s possible with just Excel.

Mia Schmid's headshotMia Schmid has worked with non-profit organizations for the past seven years. She started working in monitoring and evaluation by accident when she became frustrated by how much data organizations collected and how little they used it to inform decision-making. She’s now on a mission to help non-profits discover how monitoring and evaluation can best fit within their organizational capacity and culture, ideally striking a balance between accountability to donors and learning for program improvement. Mia is passionate about making data useful and actionable and currently resides in Washington, D.C. 

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