Gauges – You Don’t Have to Choose between Snapshot and Trend

Last Updated: Thursday, May 30, 2013 by Sofi Hjalmarsson

The saying goes that you can’t keep your cake and eat it too, but with Target Dashboard that’s not strictly true. I’m talking specifically about the gauge. Experts generally agree that the gauge is not an effective way of displaying KPI data, specifically because it lacks capabilities to show trend, so if you want to use great looking gauges in your dashboards, you have to forego the trend visibility of a more traditional chart.

You can think of a gauge as an old fashioned barometer. It will show you what the air pressure is right now, and possibly what an ideal range might be, but not what it was yesterday, or the day before that, and it certainly couldn’t show you an overview of the whole year and compare that to a target specified by your good self. No, that’s normally what you would use a chart like the one below for.

But that just doesn’t have the visual impact that a gauge does, and visual impact is important in many of the situations where you want to produce a management report, or a sales report from one of your dashboards. The problem with gauges is that they are snapshots. They may serve as motivators at a specific moment in time, but a week, or even a day along the line, the visually stunning gauge that you put in that report, printed off or put in a PDF and handed to management won’t tell anyone anything useful. It will just serve as a reminder that last Tuesday, Bob’s sales figures were 95% to target.

Of course, if your stakeholders are viewing the report directly in your dashboard, the gauge is live and will be changing when your figures do, but it’s still only a snapshot, and the main things that it is lacking are context and trend. It doesn't really mean anything that Bob’s 95% to target on the 28 th of the month when we can’t see where he is coming from, where his figures were at the same time in previous months, and where they then ended up. That is why we need trend.


Consider the two gauges above. They both look great, they give you that snapshot that a regular gauge would, but right below, in a clear and concise manner, they also give you context and trend. As well as seeing that Bob is very close to hitting his target right now, we can see that three months ago, he was consistently exceeding his target and because of that, presumably, it was raised. He has continued achieving on the same level, but raising the target didn't seem to have impacted his performance. Maybe we need to have another look at what makes Bob tick, and see if we can motivate him to overachieve again in some other way.

Whatever we do with Bob and his performance, the point I want to make is that a gauge only comes into its full potential when you are able to give it context and trend analysis.

Now look back at the first gauge I showed you.

Which one would you choose?