Creating data-driven insights with Power BI

Ending Power BI Report Treasure Hunts

I recently came across a statement that said, “People don’t buy a product; they buy a solution for their problems.” As someone who has worked with many Power BI reports, I have noticed that while these reports provide a wealth of information, users often struggle to find the answers they need. They must sift through tables and visuals and choose the correct filters, bookmarks, and drill-through options to obtain the necessary answers. This can be frustrating and is one of the reasons why many reports are not used frequently or the adoption rate of BI tools within a company remains low. While we all want to work data-driven, this seems harder to implement than expected.

Also, many companies switch BI tools because they feel they are not getting the needed insights and can’t work in a data-driven environment. However, the truth is that no tool can magically provide insights based on a specific situation for a company. To truly benefit from a BI tool, reports need to be designed with the audience in mind and the actions they want to take. Actionable insights can be created and used to drive change based on data.

Power BI Treasure Hunt

It’s essential to consider a few key factors when creating reports. You should clearly understand your audience, the message you want to convey, and the actions your audience wants to take with the insights from the Power BI report. Unfortunately, these factors can often be overlooked due to tight deadlines or assumptions being made. Moreover, some people may lack the skills to ask the right questions or understand their users’ needs.

As a result, reports can end up providing ‘something for everyone’ – if you click often enough, you will find something in there… But that’s not really what we want.

All Information Data driven

How to create data-driven insights with Power BI?

Understanding your audience and their needs is important to present information effectively. These steps can help you to gather the information you need:

    • Research
      1. Get to know your audience.
      2. Understand what they are looking for.
      3. Understand how they make decisions.
    • Design
      1. Design with the audience’s goal in mind.
      2. Make visuals relevant, simple, and easy to understand.
      3. Provide context.
      4. Provide detailed or simplified information (depending on needs).
    • Evaluate
      1. Continuous process of evaluation.
      2. Gather feedback and improve continuously.

Step 1: Research

Who is the audience, what are they looking for, and how do they make decisions?

It is crucial to understand who they are to create a report that will help your audience make data-driven decisions. To get a better idea, you can ask the following questions:

Is it one person, a team, or the entire company?

If the report is for a single individual, it may be easier to meet their specific needs. However, if it is for a larger audience, there will likely be more diverse needs, wishes, and desired actions that need to be considered. Therefore, it is crucial to consider the intended audience and tailor the report accordingly.

  • What is their experience level with Power BI and reports in general?

It’s essential to remember that the best-looking report with stunning data quality might not work for your audience if they are not familiar with navigating through it and interpreting the results. Therefore, it is crucial to determine how much experience they have with Power BI so that you can choose the appropriate visuals and features that will cater to their level of understanding.

What actions do they want to take?

Understanding your audience’s desired actions, decisions, and steps is crucial when creating a report. It is important to identify the essential information that they need. For instance, if you are preparing a report for a sales team responsible for achieving targets, and their monthly salary depends on hitting those targets, they will want to know if they have met their goals. They will also be interested in determining the amount they need to achieve the target and what measures they can take to improve their performance. Therefore, it is crucial to include this information in the report and present it in a way that guides them towards taking the necessary steps.

Understanding the process to work data-driven.

Once you have figured out what your audience intends to do, it is important to understand the next steps. For instance, what actions will the Sales manager take if the target is not met? What information does the manager require to make these decisions?

A visual representation is useless if it does not serve a purpose. You must understand the actions and processes involved to provide the necessary context and supporting information.

No hints Visual clues

Suppose the sales manager wants to identify how often a target was missed quickly. In that case, we can use conditional formatting and a DAX measure in the title to provide relevant context. If the next step is to identify the category that requires quick action, we’ll display the necessary visual representation of that information. Finally, if the sales manager wants to see the worst-performing product, we’ll also provide that option.

It is essential to provide relevant information based on the audience’s needs and processes; the only way to do that properly is to get to know them.

Guiding the audience with examples.

Especially when your audience is unfamiliar with Power BI, providing examples and asking further questions can be beneficial.

Questions you can ask:

  • What daily decisions do you need to make, and how could data support it?  
  • What is the most critical information you base your decisions on?
  • When you open a report in the morning, what is the first thing you look at?
  • Looking at these four examples of visualizations, which one is the easiest for you to interpret?
Data-driven Power BI matrix visual - different ways to visualize the same information
Matrix visualizations in Power BI, 4 different ways to show the same data.

Step 2: Data-driven Design

Design with the audience's goal in mind.

The purpose of a Power BI report determines its design, including the amount of information and level of detail needed. The report should highlight the information on which decisions are based. Power BI offers many options, but the abundance of choices can sometimes lead to indecision or sticking with familiar ones. Remembering that the same information can be displayed in various ways is essential.

Tip: If you’re working with an existing report that lacks actionable insights, review each visual to ensure it conveys the intended message effectively. By reviewing each visual individually, you can avoid feeling overwhelmed and address the issues one by one instead of trying to fix the entire report at once.

The purpose of a Power BI report determines its design
Providing examples can help your audience to understand the options.

Get inspired!

Examples can help make decisions and see possibilities. For instance, Data Goblins offers two informative articles about bar and line charts.



Make visuals relevant, simple, and easy to understand

The fastest way to lose your audience is to create visuals and tables they don’t understand. Sometimes, report developers overestimate the time and effort the end user will spend to find relevant information. This happens because developers know precisely what they are looking for, and it may be easy for them to find, but not for the actual user.
Not finding the relevant information will prevent the user from making data-driven decisions and will decrease the adoption rate for the Power BI report.

Provide context

Each visual may be easy to interpret, but when combined in a Power BI report with other visuals, KPIs, some text, and filters, it can become challenging to locate the information the audience seeks. Providing context can be helpful, such as putting the “answer” already in the title of the visual. For instance, instead of “Sales quota by month with target,” you could choose to have a title like “Sales target hit four times in 2023” above a visual.

Using DAX and conditional formatting can make this easy, and it also responds to the filters you choose in the report. 

Data -driven context provided in Power BI
Providing context in the title helps the audience to understand the information shown in the visual.

Simplify or add more detail

When creating visuals, it’s essential to consider the audience’s needs and the specific question they want to answer. Sometimes, a simpler visual is better. For example, if we only need to know whether a target was hit and in which month it was achieved, we don’t need any extra information.
This could be the case when we use an infographic solely for providing high-level information to the audience.

Sometimes, it’s not enough to provide an overview of the data. Your audience may require more detailed information to make data-driven decisions. For instance, if they want to see which day had the most significant impact on hitting or missing the target, you must provide additional information. Only by knowing the level of detail the audience needs can you deliver the visuals to help them make the best decisions possible.

Data-Driven design in Power BI - Simplify Target Visualization with a matrix tabel and conditional formatting
Simple target visualization with matrix visual in Power BI
Power BI Simplify Target Visualization with a matrix tabel and conditional formatting, more detail
Power BI target visualization with a matrix visual

Step 3: Evaluation

Evaluation is a necessary process that should be carried out continuously throughout a project and not just at the end. To ensure that the audience can make data-driven decisions in the Power BI report, it is essential to discuss this with them.

Get your audience involved as soon as possible.

The earlier you involve your audience, the better. This allows you to get feedback on the Power BI report as it progresses, rather than waiting until the end to determine if it meets their needs.

  • Test different versions of Power BI visuals.

Visuals can be a powerful tool in communicating your message, but they must be effective. By testing different versions of visuals, you can see what works and what doesn’t and make changes accordingly.

Data-driven Power BI matrix visual - different ways to visualize the same information
Different options for target visualization with matrix visual in Power BI

Don’t make assumptions.

It’s important to avoid assuming you know exactly what your audience wants or needs. Different individuals and companies have their unique characteristics despite any outward similarities. Two companies may share the same overarching objective but may have different approaches and specific targets to achieve that objective.

Gather feedback

Gathering feedback from your users who will be using the Power BI report is crucial. Listening to their input and considering it is essential to ensure the report’s usefulness for its intended audience. Although it may seem daunting, remember that it’s not about you but improving the report. The only way to enhance the report is by considering their feedback.

Key takeaways - Data-driven Power BI Report Design

  • Get to know your audience.
  • Understand the processes.
  • What is the real question?
  • No one size fits all!
  • Evaluate continuously!
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