Making Spreadsheets Visual
Company [M] is an agency that uses a financial management application called PM to track the costs and profit from their projects. Our team engaged in a six-week sprint to enhance the app with meaningful visualizations. My role: Project lead, UX designer
PM is an application that manages the costs, revenue, and profit at each stage of a client engagement. The interface consisted primarily of spreadsheets, but after a year of internal strategic discussions, the leadership approached us, hungry to see some visual artifacts.
Rather than spending extended time becoming experts in the financial calculations, I felt it was more appropriate to generate quick understanding and quick ideas. I formulated our project plan, which included a round of user interviews designed to uncover motivations and how they use the app today, followed by a rapid prototyping sprint.
The user interviews showed us that they were primarily concerned with managing costs and comparing actual numbers against what they forecasted. Our three main insights:
The app has significant value as is. “It’s easy to conflate the value of a system with the surface appeal of its visual representation,” (Erika Hall, writer) but despite its low visual appeal, users were proficient and getting the value they needed.
No one explicitly asked for visualizations. We need to be thoughtful about where visualizations would add value.
Visualizations should not replace the spreadsheets. Spreadsheets are great at showing quantity of data, but to find the right visuals, we need to look at what provides meaning and value.
Concept A shows past actuals, current month’s actuals vs. forecast, and future forecasted amounts for costs, revenue, and profit. The Insights panel on the right shows the total health for the entire project.
Option B shows you the current month’s data alongside the overall project health on the right, along with a trends graph showing the your variance (between your actuals and forecasted numbers) over time.