Why you should (probably) build your 1st dashboard in Excel

When I tell people that I build specialize in building Excel dashboards they ask me the same question over and over again…

Why would you use Excel when there are so many specialty dashboard tools? Aren’t those other dashboard tools better/faster/easier?

And my answer is always the same. Those dashboard tools are better some of the time but there’s only one tool that can be used all of the time…

That’s right, it’s Excel.

“But Josh”, you say, “Excel is for spreadsheets and not for building beautiful dashboards.”

And I’ll tell you what, Excel is a surprisingly powerful dashboard tool, but people just don’t realize the features are available to them.

A bunch of Excel dashboard elements from the Excel Dashboard Toolkit

I’ve written extensively about these features and if you want to learn more you can check out either of these posts:
https://bootcamp.uxdesign.cc/excel-is-your-most-overlooked-design-tool-d5bbae988c92
https://datastudio.medium.com/how-to-make-excel-look-less-like-excel-8eb91b75ab8f

But there’s another huge factor, and it’s one that everyone seems to overlook.

Excel is integrated into almost every organization on earth and almost everyone has a basic understanding of how to use it.

There are very few tools that can make that claim.

You can make Excel look as customized as you want. This little infographic is built entirely in Excel.

Why is that so important? Because people do not want to learn a new software tool and because many organizations have tons of compliance requirements to use new data visualization software.

Some of the popular tools like Tableau, Looker and Qlik are more effective tools for building dashboards but they have a steep learning curve, high price tag and they will be accessing your organization’s most sensitive data.

That means using them requires a substantial investment of your time and money.

This ties into the nature of dashboard projects — they are unpredictable. Sometimes you think you have data available that turns to be unavailable. Sometimes you find out data is delayed, messy, or manually entered. Sometimes a feature you want simply isn’t viable with your current data.

In case you were wondering, you can add 3D dinosaurs to your Excel sheets. It’s a built-in Excel feature.

Building a prototype in Excel lets you surface all those problems early on before you’ve invested too much time and money into your project.

That prototype will also force you to be realistic about what data is available and what visualizations can be built. You can verify what’s possible from the start and surface any big hurdles.

There’s also an interesting phenomenon that I see on many of these Excel prototype projects — people find out that their Excel dashboard works so well that they don’t need to build a new version in another dashboard tool. The prototype is so good that it becomes the final product.

When you can build something in Excel that looks like this ↑ you might decide to just stick with it.

So explore some of Excel’s dashboard features and see if it will work for your project. If you want some help along the way, I teach people about Excel dashboard principles in my free newsletter: https://exceldashboardtemplate.com/newsletter

Here are a few of the templates we’ve sent out in editions of the newsletter:

https://exceldashboardtemplate.com/newsletter

Oh and if you want to buy all the previous templates from the newsletter along with my extensive dashboard toolkit, you can get it here: https://exceldashboardtemplate.com/

All the goodies in the Excel Dashboard Toolkit

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Josh Cottrell-Schloemer

Josh Cottrell-Schloemer

Building data-focused products. Startups acquired=1. Hobby = making Google Data Studio & Excel beautiful.