In this article we will learn what a Panel Chart is and how you can construct a panel chart in Excel.
What is a Panel Chart?
A panel chart is a set of similar charts neatly aligned in panels to help us understand some data which has multiple variables in it.
Here is an example panel chart showing the total defects per module over the last 4 weeks.
Panel charts are also called by names “trellis displays” or “small multiples”. They are an effective way to display multi-variable data.
Why use Panel Charts?
Excel has several built-in chart types like stacked column chart, clustered column chart that can help you visualize same data. I have shown 2 alternatives below. First observe them,
As you can see these charts communicate the data very poorly (despite using same colors and other chart elements as the panel chart). This is where a panel chart shines.
How to make a Panel Chart in Excel?
There are 2 approaches to make panel charts in excel.
1. Making one complex chart that internally has panels containing individual charts (requires lots of calculations and chart formatting.)
2. Making different charts and aligning them on excel sheet.
There are merits and de-merits both approaches, but I personally prefer #2, since it is very easy to make panel charts with that approach.
Step 1: Make different charts
Very simple. Make different charts, one for each panel in your panel chart.
Trick: Make the first chart. Format it completely. Now select the chart and press CTRL+D to duplicate it. Now, using the mouse adjust the source data ranges of this new chart. That is all.
Step 2: Adjust Axis Formatting of the charts
You should set the axis minimum and maximum values for all charts at the same level. This will ensure that users can compare values from multiple panels without worrying about axis scale.
Also consider setting the axis labels of subsequent panels (other than first) to white color (or background color). Since axis has same scale and limits, there is no point in showing that in every panel.
Step 3: Align the charts
There are various alignment options possible for panel charts. I have shown a few samples below:
Depending on the number of panels, choose an alignment that works best for you. Keep in mind that when you align vertically, horizontal axis comparison is easier and when you align horizontally, vertical comparison is easier.
So align the charts in a logical order that works for you. And that is all. Your panel chart is ready to roll.
Panel Charts – Things to keep in mind:
- Make sure all panels have similar axis ranges. Otherwise your audience cannot compare panels and the chart becomes useless.
- Select the alignment that is both aesthetic and comparable
- Panel charts usually contain multi-variable data. You must figure out what is the best panel arrangement (in our case, other alternative is, Weekly panels with Defects by Modules) for your audience.
Download Excel Panel Chart Template & Example Workbook:
Panel Charts – More Resources & Help:
- Jon Peltier has written at length about Panel Charts in Excel. Here is a beautiful article showing vertical panel chart example. Here is an article on Panel Charts with Different Scale.
- Kelly O’ Day has coined the term Panel Charts and he has several useful examples of panel charts in his site Process Trends.
- Juice Analytics beautifully explains what panel charts are.
- I have written about panel charts before. Learn more from incell panel chart, Incell dot plot panel chart, and see some example panel charts in visualizing market share changes.
Have you ever used panel charts? What is your opinion?
I find panel charts very powerful and insightful. However, I hate the fact that making them in Excel is so cumbersome. (but the effort is totally worth it.) I have used panel charts in various consulting and work assignments and wowed my audience.
What about you? Have you ever used panel charts? How do you make them? What is your experience like? Please share using comments.