Data Visualisation Tips – Bullet Chart, an alternate to Gauge Chart

Mik Panchal, Managing Consultant – Altis Sydney

Are you working on a dashboard containing Actuals vs. Budget KPIs?

This post will discuss the use of a Bullet chart as an alternative to a Gauge chart by looking at the good and not-so-good aspects of each approach.

Gauge Charts

Gauge charts look great, but how effective are they on a dashboard?

 

 

The table below lists the Top 5 traits of Gauge charts.

Good
Not-so-Good

Universally understood (Car speedometer)

Non-linear – difficult to compare distance on a curve chart

Visually attractive

Takes up valuable space on a dashboard

Easy to implement

Too little information

Works well when comparing 2 data points, Actual vs. Budget

Cannot compare multiple Gauge charts side-by-side

Quickly grabs attention

Cannot display more than 2 values; i.e. actual vs budget vs prior period

Bullet Charts

Bullet charts are the new kids on the block (relatively new); they provide a more effective means of comparing multiple KPI’s on a dashboard. They allow multiple values for comparison on a single KPI (budget, actual, prior period), and take up less real estate. However, being relatively new they require some effort for educating users, and do not immediately stand out on a dashboard compared to a Gauge chart; so why should we use them?

 

Did you spot the DQ issue with the Average KPI in the above chart? Bullet charts make it easy to compare multiple KPIs on a linear scale.

 

The table below lists the Top 5 traits of Bullet charts.

Good
Not-so-Good

Comparison is linear

Difficult to implement at first

Ability to relate multiple charts (KPI’s)

Requires user education – not easily understood without prior knowledge
Takes up less space on a dashboard

Difficult to get user engagement – not always visually attractive

Multiple values for comparison, i.e. actual vs budget vs prior period

Not all BI tools have Bullet charts as a default visualisation

Growing acceptance of best practice for visualisation of Actual vs. Budget on a dashboard

Takes up vertical real estate

Summary

There isn’t a single solution that fits every scenario, sometimes a user’s familiarity and acceptance of visualisation takes precedence over what is best practice for a visualisation. User education can go a long way to getting new ideas accepted, it can lead to deeper insights and a different way of analysing data; I believe the effort is worth the gains.

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