Visio Use at Microsoft: Vaca Bubble Chart for Revenue Reporting

Visio lets people communicate business information in a variety of innovative ways. One example is in use by the Visio team for revenue reporting. The Visio product management team built a dynamic bubble chart diagram to report on Visio sales by national and international subsidiary to Visio senior management.

Product management gets the latest sales data by subsidiary in Excel and uses Excel charts to demonstrate trends, like where current revenue falls along annual projections. One of our product managers, Rodrigo, wanted to graphically display how the various subsidiaries performed along an axis of growth % and revenue %. He also wanted to display customer satisfaction % and the $ value of revenue. Doing all this in an Excel chart for multiple subs resulted in a pretty confusing chart. Rodrigo wanted to use a bubble chart, which conveyed all the different dimensions and measures more clearly. Here’s the diagram Rodrigo wanted to create (all data is fictitious).

This diagram shows that the WA sub has strong growth and revenue, while the CA sub has negative growth with average revenue. Both WA and CA have the same revenue $ range, as  indicated by the size of the bubble itself. The color coding indicates the fourth metric, which is a greater than 55 customer satisfaction %.

Note the stencil on the left contains the custom shapes used by the solution. Really, the bubble size and the bubble color shapes are legend shapes that describe the information on the diagram. The Axis shape helps define the location. The individual bubble shape gets used multiple times as it represents a subsidiary. This bubble chart, which we call the “Vaca Bubble Chart” after the Product Manager who created it, gets rolled out with every business review meeting with Visio senior management.

To generate the bubble chart to use for reports, the product manager goes into Visio and selects a custom diagram type that is installed as part of the Vaca Bubble Chart solution.

When the user clicks the Vaca Bubble Chart option, the solution asks the user to import data from Excel, and uses the standard Excel dialogs through the Excel API.

In this example, the data looks something like this (the numbers are made up and not reflective of anything):

To build the diagram, the solution uses the data to determine the size, text, location, and color of the bubble representing the sub. The values in Region column are used for Shape Text. The values in the Revenue $ column determine the size of the bubble shape itself. Sales Target and Growth percentage columns are used to determine the shapes’ PIN (X,Y) co-ordinates. The bubble’s color depends on the Customer Satisfaction column.

If the data changes, you can re-run the solution to get a diagram like this:

Pretty neat, huh? As I mentioned, our Product Management team uses this report for every revenue reporting meeting with senior management. Chris Castillo, who wrote the solution, is going to talk about the code that drives the diagram creation – I’ll post a link when his blog entry is up.

-- Mai-lan

Comments (6)
  1. Uwe Keim says:

    Hey, I do like those bubble charts :-). They look really fresh!

  2. Jon Peltier says:

    The charts look good, but there are some issues. First, I’d take out the floor grid from the bottom, which adds nothing but the false impression of a third dimension reaching into the page.

    Second, I’d do something about the heavy bold lines used for the axes. They should not be so dark, because they take attention away from the data.

    More important, the position of these axes should be reconsidered. The vertical axis spans negative to positive numbers, while the horizontal axis represents only positive values. The Vertical axis should then cross at either Sales Target = 0% or 100%, not at 70% as in the top chart. The horizontal axis should cross at growth = 0%, not at the convenient but meaningless levels of 3.5% or 4%. Where axes cross provides unstated information to the viewer, and falsely dividing the chartspace into arbitrary quadrants misleads the user.

    It even misled you in the top chart:

    "This diagram shows that the WA sub has strong growth and revenue, while the CA sub has negative growth with average revenue."

    The California growth was below the horizontal axis, but it was not negative; it was slightly positive at 1%.

    – Jon


    Jon Peltier, Microsoft Excel MVP

    Peltier Technical Services

  3. bensmith says:

    This is fantasticly useful – many thanks! It gave me the start I needed to prototype a similar diagram for our business I’ve had ‘on hold’ for way to long. Having got this working I would be very keen to see any further solution details available so my implementation could be as slick as this one 🙂

    BTW – Is the contact form broken? I just get a blank page.

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