I am a moderately advanced Excel user. This means “a dangerous person” for the IT department, but I like this daily fight, and Excel dashboards are among my preferred weapons. Let’s see how they can be used.

Excel is the best tool for executive dashboard prototyping, because of its flexibility and development costs. Creating a fully functional prototype is not hard and it should be available for user feedback in a matter days. So, make sure that, every time you spot a dashboard project, a prototype in Excel is included.

Since most business intelligence applications are notorious for their lack of basic chart formatting options, it shouldn’t be hard for you to create a simply set of charts that the IT is unable to implement. If needed, use some advanced Excel charting techniques (including dummy series), but make sure they add real value to the user experience. Interactive features like visual what-if analysis are always cool and the users love them.

When presenting your project, do your best to convince your audience that you are technology-agnostic and all you care about is to create the best answer to users needs.

IT will try to change your project, naturally. Try to avoid the “security bomb” (their favorite). You know how poor their expensive BI toys are, and you should know what they can and can’t do with them. Minor concessions can earn you some points. When they tell you they can’t implement your core ideas be prepared to fake genuine surprise, compare costs (again) and emphatically say that their options clearly don’t meet the organization’s needs.

Pissing off the IT department is one of the most enjoyable games in corporate life, but be a gentleman and don’t make them look stupid. They don’t usually have a good sense of humour and take their quest to conquer the world very seriously. If you really want to implement the dashboard, don’t make it an island if you can avoid it (connect it to the tables in the IT infrastructure, instead of copy/pasting data). 

Seriously: Excel is a great tool for dashboard prototyping. You can easily create multiple alternative user interfaces, get feedback from users or find design flaws. The end result should be much better than trying to capture some ill-defined requirements and send them to the IT, where user interface design usually ranks very low in their priorities list.