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Big Boo k of

D ash bo ar d s


Big Boo k of

D ash bo ar d s Visualizing Your Data Using Real-World Business Scenarios

Steve Wexler  |  Jeffrey Shaffer  | Andy Cotgreave

Cover image: Course Metrics Dashboard by Jeffrey Shaffer Cover design: Wiley Copyright © 2017 by Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer, and Andy Cotgreave. All rights reserved. Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey. Published simultaneously in Canada. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, scanning, or otherwise, except as permitted under Section 107 or 108 of the 1976 United States Copyright Act, without either the prior written permission of the Publisher, or authorization through payment of the appropriate per-copy fee to the Copyright Clearance Center, Inc., 222 Rosewood Drive, Danvers, MA 01923, (978) 750-8400, fax (978) 646-8600, or on the Web at www.copyright.com. Requests to the Publisher for permission should be addressed to the Permissions Department, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 111 River Street, Hoboken, NJ 07030, (201) 748-6011, fax (201) 748-6008, or online at http://www.wiley.com/go/permissions. Limit of Liability/Disclaimer of Warranty: While the publisher and author have used their best efforts in preparing this book, they make no representations or warranties with respect to the accuracy or completeness of the contents of this book and specifically disclaim any implied warranties of merchantability or fitness for a particular purpose. No warranty may be created or extended by sales representatives or written sales materials. The advice and strategies contained herein may not be suitable for your situation. You should consult with a professional where appropriate. Neither the publisher nor author shall be liable for any loss of profit or any other commercial damages, including but not limited to special, incidental, consequential, or other damages. For general information on our other products and services or for technical support, please contact our Customer Care Department within the United States at (800) 762-2974, outside the United States at (317) 572-3993 or fax (317) 572-4002. Wiley publishes in a variety of print and electronic formats and by print-on-demand. Some material included with standard print versions of this book may not be included in e-books or in print-on-demand. If this book refers to media such as a CD or DVD that is not included in the version you purchased, you may download this material at http://booksupport.wiley.com. For more information about Wiley products, visit www.wiley.com. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Wexler, Steve, author. | Shaffer, Jeffrey, author. | Cotgreave, Andy, author. Title: The big book of dashboards : visualizing your data using real-world business scenarios / Steve Wexler, Jeffrey Shaffer, Andy Cotgreave. Description: Hoboken : Wiley, 2017. | Includes index. Identifiers: LCCN 2016052146| ISBN 9781119282716 (paperback) | ISBN 9781119282785 (Adobe PDF) | ISBN 9781119282730 (epub) Subjects: LCSH: Dashboards (Management information systems) | Organizational effectiveness—Evaluation. | Management—Evaluation. | BISAC: BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Business Communication / Meetings & Presentations. Classification: LCC HD30.213 .W43 2017 | DDC 658.4/038011—dc23 LC record available at http://lccn.loc.gov/2016052146 Printed in the United States of America. 10


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Contents Acknowledgments


About the Authors




Part I A Strong Foundation Chapter 1 Data Visualization: A Primer


Part II The Scenarios

Chapter 2 Course Metrics Dashboard


Chapter 3 Comparing Individual Performance with Peers


Chapter 4 What-If Analysis: Wage Increase Ramifications


Chapter 5 Executive Sales Dashboard


Chapter 6 Ranking by Now, Comparing with Then


Chapter 7 Are We on Pace to Reach Our Goals?


Chapter 8 Multiple Key Performance Metrics


Chapter 9 Power Plant Operations Monitoring


Chapter 10 Showing Year-to-Date and Year-over-Year at the Same Time 


Chapter 11 Premier League Player Performance Metrics


Chapter 12 RBS 6 Nations Championship Match Performance Analysis


Chapter 13 Web Analytics


Chapter 14 Patient History Analysis of Recent Hospital Admissions

156 v

vi Contents

Chapter 15 Hospitality Dashboard for Hotel Management


Chapter 16 Sentiment Analysis: Showing Overall Distribution


Chapter 17 Showing Sentiment with Net Promoter Score


Chapter 18 Server Process Monitoring


Chapter 19 Big Mac Index


Chapter 20 Complaints Dashboard


Chapter 21 Hospital Operating Room Utilization


Chapter 22 Showing Rank and Magnitude


Chapter 23 Measuring Claims across Multiple Measures and Dimensions


Chapter 24 Showing Churn or Turnover


Chapter 25 Showing Actual versus Potential Utilization


Chapter 26 Health Care Provider Productivity Monitoring


Chapter 27 Telecom Operator Executive Dashboard


Chapter 28 Economy at a Glance


Chapter 29 Call Center


Part III Succeeding in the Real World

Chapter 30 Want to Engage People? Make Your Dashboards Personal


Chapter 31 Visualizing Time


Chapter 32 Beware the Dead-End Dashboard


Chapter 33 The Allure of Red and Green


Chapter 34 The Allure of Pies and Donuts


Chapter 35 Clouds and Bubbles


Chapter 36 A Journey into the Unknown


Glossary419 Bibliography423 Index425

Acknowledgments From the three of us Stephen Few, whose books have made a profound and lasting impression on us. Alberto Cairo for his invaluable feedback and for his leadership in the data visualization community.

Hartley for overseeing the daunting process of making this book a beautiful, tangible thing; copy editor Debra Manette for such detailed editing and insights; proofreader Hope Breeman for her meticulous proof check; the team at WordCo for a comprehensive index and marketing manager Heather Dunphy for her exceptional expertise in connecting author with audience.

Our technical reviewers greatly improved our first drafts. Thanks to Troy Magennis, Andy Kirk, Jon Schwabish, Ariel Pohoryles, Trudy Weiss Craig, Michael Fry, Andy Kriebel, and a special thanks to Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic for introducing us to the Wiley team and who went far beyond our expectations with her detailed edits and comments.

From Steve

All the contributors to this book gave significant time to tweak their dashboards according to our requests. We thank you for allowing us to include your work in the book.  

Joe Mako, who has always been willing to help me with “the difficult stuff” and p ­ rovided much needed encouragement when I was starting out.

Thanks, also, to Mark Boone, KK Molugu, Eric Duell, Chris DeMartini, and Bob Filbin for their efforts. Our stellar team at Wiley: acquisitions editor Bill Falloon for fighting so hard on our behalf; editor Christina Verigan for her deft reworking and invaluable help optimizing flow; senior production editor Samantha

My wife, Laura, and my daughters, Janine and Diana, for the never-ending support and love. Ira Handler and Brad Epstein, whose friendship, encouragement, and example have been a godsend for the past dozen years.

The Princeton University Triangle Club, where I learned how to bring talented ­people together to make wonderful things. Without my experiences there I don’t know if I would have had the insight and ability to recruit my fellow authors. Jeff and Andy, who not only made the book way better than it would have been had I tackled it on


viii Acknowledgments

my own, but for providing me with one of the most rewarding and enriching experiences of my career. Your abilities, candor, humor, grit, patience, impatience, thoughtfulness, and leadership made for a remarkable ride.

Finally, to Liz, my wife, and my daughters, Beatrice and Lucy. Thank you for your support and the freedom to abandon you all on weekends, mornings, and evenings in order to compete this project. I could not have done it without you.

From Andy

From Jeff

I would like to thank Steve and Jeff for approaching me to join this project. I’d been procrastinating on writing a book for many years, and the opportunity to work with two passionate, skilled leaders was the trigger I needed to get going. I would like to thank them both for many hours of constructive debate (argument?) over the rights and wrongs of all aspects of dashboards and data visualization. It has been an enriching experience.

Thank you, Steve and Andy. It was a pleasure working with you guys. I will miss the collaboration, especially our many hours of discussion about data visualization and dashboard design.   A special thank you to Mary, my wife, and to Nina and Elle, my twin daughters, for sacrificing lots of family time over many long nights and weekends. I would not have been able to complete this project without your support.

About the Authors Steve Wexler has worked with ADP, Gallup, Deloitte, Convergys, Consumer Reports, The Economist, ConEd, D&B, Marist, Tradeweb, Tiffany, McKinsey & Company, and many other organizations to help them understand and visualize their data. Steve is a Tableau Zen Master, Iron Viz Champion, and Tableau Training Partner. His presentations and training classes combine an extraordinary level of product mastery with the realworld experience gained through developing thousands of visualizations for dozens of clients. In addition to his recognized expertise in data visualization and Tableau, Steve has decades of experience as a successful instructor in all areas of computer-based technology. Steve has taught thousands of people in both large and small organizations and is known for conducting his seminars with clarity, patience, and humor. Website: DataRevelations.com Jeffrey A. Shaffer is Vice President of Information Technology and Analytics at Recovery Decision Science and Unifund. He is also Adjunct Professor at the University of Cincinnati, where he teaches Data Visualization and was named the 2016 Outstanding Adjunct Professor of the Year.

He is a regular speaker on the topic of data ­visualization, data mining, and Tableau training at conferences, symposiums, workshops, universities, and corporate training programs. He is a Tableau Zen Master, and was the winner of the 2014 Tableau Quantified Self ­Visualization Contest, which led him to compete in the 2014 Tableau Iron Viz Contest. His data visualization blog was on the shortlist for the 2016 Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards for Data Visualization Websites. Website: DataPlusScience.com Andy Cotgreave is Technical Evangelist at Tableau Software. He has over 10 years’ experience in data visualization and business intelligence, first honing his skills as an analyst at the University of Oxford. Since joining Tableau in 2011, he has helped and inspired thousands of people with technical advice and ideas on how to build a data-driven culture in a business. In 2016 he ran the MakeoverMonday (http://www .makeovermonday.co.uk/) project with Andy Kriebel, a social data project which saw over 500 people make 3,000 visualizations in one year. The project received an honourable mention in the Dataviz



About the Authors

Project category of the 2016 Kantar Information is Beautiful Awards. Andy has spoken at conferences around the world, including SXSW, Visualized, and Tableau’s customer conferences. He writes a column for Computerworld,

Living with Data (http://www.computerworld.com/ blog/living-data/), as well as maintaining his own blog, GravyAnecdote.com. Website: GravyAnecdote.com

Introduction We wrote The Big Book of Dashboards for anyone tasked with building or overseeing the development of business dashboards. Over the past decade, countless people have approached us after training sessions, seminars, or consultations, shown us their data, and asked: “What would be a really good way to show this?” These people faced a specific business predicament (what we call a “scenario”) and wanted guidance on how to best address it with a dashboard. In reviewing dozens of books about data visualization, we were surprised that, while they contained wonderful examples showing why a line chart often works best for timeseries data and why a bar chart is almost always better than a pie chart, none of them matched great dashboards with real-world business cases. After pooling our experience and enormous collection of dashboards, we decided to write our own book.

How This Book Is Different This book is not about the fundamentals of data visualization. That has been done in depth by many amazing authors. We want to focus on proven, real-world examples and why they succeed. However, if this is your first book about the topic of data visualization, we do provide a primer in

Part I with everything you need to know to understand how the charts in the scenarios work. We also dearly hope it whets your appetite for more, which is why this section finishes with our recommended further reading.

How This Book Is Organized The book is organized into three parts. Part I: A Strong Foundation. This part covers the fundamentals of data visualization and provides our crash course on the foundational elements that give you the vocabulary you need to explore and understand the scenarios. Part II: The Scenarios. This is the heart of the book, where we describe dozens of different b ­ usiness scenarios and then present a dashboard that “solves” the challenges presented in those scenarios. Part III: Succeeding in the Real World. The ­chapters in this part address problems we’ve encountered and anticipate you may ­encounter as well. With these chapters—distilled from decades of ­real-world experience—we hope to make your journey quite a bit easier and a lot more enjoyable. xi

xii Introduction

How to Use This Book We encourage you to look through the book to find a scenario that most closely matches what you are tasked with visualizing. Although there might not be an exact match, our goal is to present enough scenarios that you can find something that will address your needs. The internal conversation in your head might go like this: “Although my data isn’t exactly the same as what’s in this scenario, it’s close enough, and this dashboard really does a great job of helping me and others see and understand that data. I think we should use this approach for our project as well.” For each scenario we present the entire dashboard at the beginning of the chapter, then explore how individual components work and contribute to the whole. By organizing the book based on these scenarios and offering practical and effective visualization examples, we hope to make The Big Book of Dashboards a trusted resource that you open when you need to build an effective business dashboard. To ensure you get the most out of these examples, we have included a visual glossary at the back of this book. If you come across an unfamiliar term, such as “sparkline,” you can look it up and see an illustration. We also encourage you to spend time with all the scenarios and the proposed solutions as there may be some elements of a seemingly irrelevant scenario that may apply to your own needs. For example, Chapter 11 shows a dashboard used by a team in the English Premier League to help p ­ layers understand their performance. Your data might have

nothing to do with sports, but the dashboard is a great example of showing current and historical performance. (See Figure I.1.) That might be something you have to do with your data. Plus, if you skip one scenario, you might miss a great example of the exact chart you need for your own solution. We also encourage you to browse the book for motivation. Although a scenario may not be a perfect match, the thought process and chart choices may inspire you.

Succeeding in the Real World In addition to the scenarios, an entire section of the book is devoted to addressing many practical and psychological factors you will encounter in your work. It’s great to have theory- and evidencedbased research at your disposal, but what will you do when somebody asks you to make your dashboard “cooler” by adding packed bubbles and donut charts? The three of us have a combined 30-plus years of handson experience helping people in hundreds of organizations build effective visualizations. We have fought (and sometimes lost) many “best practices” battles. But by having endured these struggles, we bring an uncommon empathy to the readers of this book. We recognize that at times readers will be asked to create dashboards and charts that exemplify bad practice. For example, a client or a department head may stipulate using a particular combination of colors or demand a chart type that is against evidencebased data visualization best practices. We hear you. We’ve been there.

Succeeding in the Real World


Total Distance





95 mins






HI Run Distance




Num HI Runs




HS Run Distance




Num HS Runs




Sprint Distance




Num Sprints




High Accels.




High Decels.




Top Speed




Recovery Time




Figure I.1  A player summary from an English Premier

League Club (Note: Fake data is used.)



lthough the dashboard in Figure I.1 pertains to sports, the techniques are universal. Here the latest event is in yellow, the five most recent events are in red, and older events are in a muted gray. Brilliant.

xiv Introduction

We’ve faced many of the hurdles you will encounter and the concepts you will grapple with in your attempt to build dashboards that are informative, enlightening, and engaging. The essays in this section will help smooth the way for you by offering suggestions and alternatives for these issues.

10 ­different definitions. For the purpose of this book, our definition is as follows:


dashboard is a visual display of data used to monitor conditions and/or facilitate understanding.

What to Do and What Not to Do Although the book is an attempt to celebrate good examples, we’ll also show plenty of bad examples. We guarantee you will see this kind of work out in the wild, and you may even be asked to emulate it. We mark these “bad” examples with the cat icon shown in Figure I.2 so that you don’t have to read the surrounding text to determine if the chart is something you should emulate or something you should avoid.

This is a broad definition, and it means that we would consider all of the examples listed below to be dashboards: • An interactive display that allows people to explore

worker compensation claims by region, industry, and body part • A PDF showing key measures that gets e-mailed

to an executive every Monday morning • A large wall-mounted screen that shows support

center statistics in real time • A mobile application that allows sales managers to

review performance across different regions and compare year-to-date sales for the current year with the previous year

Figure I.2  If you see this icon, it means don’t make a

chart like this one. Illustration by Eric Kim

What Is a Dashboard? Ask 10 people who build business dashboards to define a dashboard and you will probably get

Even if you don’t consider every example in this book a true dashboard, we think you will find the discussion and analysis around each of the scenarios helpful in b ­ uilding your solutions. Indeed, we can debate the definition until we are blue in the face, but that would be a h ­ orrible waste of effort as it simply isn’t that important. What is important—make that essential— is ­understanding how to combine different elements (e.g., charts, text, legends, filters, etc.) into a cohesive and coordinated whole that allows people to see and understand their data.

Final Thought: There Are No Perfect Dashboards 

Final Thought: There Are No Perfect Dashboards You will not find any perfect dashboards in this book. In our opinion, there is no such thing as a perfect dashboard. You will never find one perfect ­collection of charts that ideally suits every person who may ­encounter it. But, although they may not be perfect, the dashboards we showcase in the book ­successfully help people see and understand data in the real world. The dashboards we chose all have this in common: Each one demonstrates some great ideas in a way that is relevant to the people who need to understand them. In short, they all serve the end users. Would we change some of the dashboards? Of course we would, and we weigh in on what we would change in


the author commentary at the end of each scenario. Sometimes we think a chart choice isn’t ideal; other times, the layout isn’t quite right; and in some cases, the interactivity is clunky or difficult. What we recognize is that every set of eyes on a dashboard will judge the work differently, which is something you also should keep in mind. Where you see perfection, others might see room for improvement. The challenge all the dashboard designers in this book have faced is balancing a dashboard’s presentation and objectives with time and efficiency. It’s not an easy spot to hit, but with this book we hope to make it easier for you. Steve Wexler Jeffrey Shaffer Andy Cotgreave


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