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Pivot Tables from large data-sets – 5 examples



Let’s say you are starting at a large data-set with multiple columns. You need to make a pivot report from it for a client or manager. How would you go about it?

pivot tables from large datasets

This is the exact problem Jo, my wife faced the other day. She came home and after catching up on each other’s day, she asked me how I would do it. That got me thinking. This blog post is born out of that rumination.

Large data-set? Tell me more:

Imagine you have sales data which customer bought products in each city of operation. Say, you have 100s of customers, operate in 50 major cities and sell 16 different products. If you try to make a pivot table with all these fields, you will end up with a monstrosity of 5000 rows. Nobody can read that pivot and make any sense.

example large data set

What now?

Ideas for creating pivot tables from large data-sets

Here is a list of five ideas to use when you need to create pivot tables from large data-sets.

Idea #1 – Add slicer to one of the fields

Even though you have many fields, chances are the report user wants to focus on one of the elements to start conversation. Add it a slicer. (Related: Introduction to Excel Slicers)

slicer driven pivot - example

Idea #2 – Show just top values

You can apply value filtering on pivot tables to show just the top performing customer (or product, city etc.). This will greatly reduce the size of your pivot table. You can also collapse a sub-level detail so that user can press + if they want to see details.

pivot table showing just top value per city

To set top 1 filter, simply click on the filter icon on field you want to set it, go to value filters > top 10 and then set it to top 1.

how to apply top 1 value filter in pivot tables

Idea #3 – Individual pivots with drill down option

You can double click on any number in pivot tables to see detail rows that add-up to that number. We can show summary pivot tables from large data-sets instead of full-blown ones. Here is an example.

individual pivots with drill-down option

Idea #4 – Set up support table to show top 3 vs. other view

You can categorize fields like products, customers etc. by introducing an extra table that splits them in to groups. For example, we can categorize products to two types:

  • Top 3 products: Most selling products across all our data
  • Other products
Product types table by ranking products based on sales volume

Once you have such a table, you can connect this product.types table to original data using relationships and then build a multi-table pivot.

Related: How to use relationships to build multi-table pivots in Excel

City level sales by product type

Idea #5 – Add two-level filtering by alphabets

When using fields like customers or products, you cannot easily apply slicer or report filter on them. This is because such fields have 100s of values usually. One way to reduce the clutter is by introducing two-level filtering.

We can easily do this by adding an extra column to our data to calculate the first letter of customer name. (something like =LEFT([@customer],1) will do.

Once you have such new field, you can set up a multi-level filtered pivot report like below.

Two level filtering with customer name first letter

Video Tutorial – How to pivot large data sets?

Here is a quick video explaining the problem, 5 pivot tables from large data-set and how to set up extra bits like conditional formatting in detail. Watch it below or view it on Chandoo.org YouTube Channel.

Download Workbook – Large data set pivot table ideas

Click here to download the sample workbook for this tip. You can examine all the pivots in there. Feel free to create something on your own and share it in the comments section.

How do you make pivot tables from large data sets?

I try to avoid large pivot tables. But if I must (either because a customer wanted them or they are part of a larger report), I follow the ideas presented in this post.

What about you? How do you create pivot tables from large data sets? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

More pivot table tips

Distinct count in Excel pivot tables - tip


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8 Responses to “Pivot Tables from large data-sets – 5 examples”

  1. Ron S says:

    Do you have links to any sites that can provide free, large, test data sets. Both large in diversity and large in total number of rows.

    • Chandoo says:

      Good question Ron. I suggest checking out kaggle.com, data.world or create your own with randbetween(). You can also get a complex business data-set from Microsoft Power BI website. It is contoso retail data.

  2. Steve J says:

    Hi Chandoo,
    I work with large data sets all the time (80-200MB files with 100Ks of rows and 20-40 columns) and I've taken a few steps to reduce the size (20-60MB) so they can better shared and work more quickly. These steps include: creating custom calculations in the pivot instead of having additional data columns, deleting the data tab and saving as an xlsb. I've even tried indexmatch instead of vlookup--although I'm not sure that saved much. Are there any other tricks to further reduce the file size? thanks, Steve

    • Chandoo says:

      Hi Steve,

      Good tips on how to reduce the file size and / or process time. Another thing I would definitely try is to use Data Model to load the data rather than keep it in the file. You would be,
      1. connect to source data file thru Power Query
      2. filter away any columns / rows that are not needed
      3. load the data to model
      4. make pivots from it

      This would reduce the file size while providing all the answers you need.

      Give it a try. See this video for some help - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5u7bpysO3FQ

  3. John Price says:

    Normally when Excel processes data it utilizes all four cores on a processor. Is it true that Excel reduces to only using two cores When calculating tables? Same issue if there were two cores present, it would reduce to one in a table?
    I ask because, I have personally noticed when i use tables the data is much slower than if I would have filtered it. I like tables for obvious reasons when working with datasets. Is this true.

    • Ron MVP says:

      I don't know if it is true that Excel Table processing only uses 2 threads/cores, but it is entirely possible. The program has to be enabled to handle multiple parallel threads. Excel Lists/Tables were added long ago, at a time when 2 processes was a reasonable upper limit. And, it could be that there simply is no way to program table processing to use more than 2 threads at a time...

  4. Jen says:

    When I've got a large data set, I will set my Excel priority to High thru Task Manager to allow it to use more available processing. Never use RealTime priority or you're completely locked up until Excel finishes.

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