Power BI Best Practices: 10 Guidelines to Always Follow
Written by co-founder Kasper Langmann, Microsoft Office Specialist.
Power BI is one of the best business intelligence and analytics solutions out there.
Whether you’re a new user or an advanced designer, you should always strive to improve the performance and security of your designs.
There are lots of implementations you can do to make your reports and dashboards more secure as well as easier to understand for your users.
In this article, we’ll show you 10 Power BI best practices you should follow.
Let’s go! 👍
*This tutorial is for Power BI Online (also called "Power BI Service").
Table of Content
1. Put first things first
This one is so simple yet always overlooked.
When designing a dashboard or a report, always consider your audience and how they would view the canvas.
In general, people read left to right, top to bottom.
Make use of this by placing your most important data on the top left corner. Then, show visuals that offer more details as the user moves his focus.
2. Accentuate the most important information
Expectedly, you should only pin visuals that contain important data.
However, some of them may be more important than others.
Putting them on the top left corner is a great way to be seen first.
At the same time, you should make them different and noticeable. If your most important visual looks the same, it will take time for your users to focus on what’s important.
Here are ideas to accentuate your most important information:
- Increase the text size
- Make the visual’s color stand out
- Use the “Card” visual
For example, on this dashboard, it’s pretty easy to spot the data about the total number of stores and new stores:
Whatever method you use, the main point is to make the most important data stand-out to your users.
3. Use the right visuals
In general, visuals look pretty and stunning in Power BI.
However, looking good isn’t the same as effective.
Don’t just use a visual just to have different types of visuals. Make sure your visuals tell a story and are easy to read and understand.
Here are some guidelines and ideas in using the right visuals:
- Be wary of circular chart types. If you need to use one, make sure you have 8 or fewer categories.
- 3-D charts look good but they are harder to read than flat visuals.
- Be consistent with your designs — chart scales, dimensions, time frames, measurement scale, and even colors.
- Use only 3-4 numeric values when showing numbers — 1.34 million is better than 1,340,000.
- Use only data labels when necessary.
Remember these guidelines even when using Power BI’s best visuals.
4. Follow the 8-10 rule of reports and dashboards
One potential problem with using Power BI is being overwhelmed with the visuals you can use.
Creating a Power BI report with too many visuals could slow its performance. And that’s inconvenient for both you and your users.
Follow the 8-10 rule:
- When creating reports, use a maximum of 8 visuals per report page.
- For dashboards, use a maximum of 10 tiles.
If you’ve tried using Microsoft’s Power BI free samples, you would notice that they use around 5-7 visuals only per report page. That’s why they look awesome if though they’re barely designed.
5. Enable RLS (Row-Level Security)
In simple terms, RLS restricts data row access of a user based on his role.
One of the benefits of RLS is that it makes the design and coding of your application’s security simpler and easier.
When RLS is enabled, Power BI would only take and import the data the user is authorized to view.
When it comes to RLS, it’s recommended that you:
- Create a separate schema for the objects, predicate functions, and security policy
- Avoid type conversions
- Avoid recursion in predicate functions when possible
- Avoid using excessive table joins in predicate functions
To do this, all you need to do is define the roles and rules of your users.
6. Use filters more and slicers sparingly
Filters and slicers are similar but not exactly the same.
Let’s start with Power BI filters.
Filters help you show selected data to users on different levels — visual, page, or report.
It’s a great feature. But here’s the problem:
The larger the data the visual needs to display, the slow it will take to load it. The more memory Power BI uses, the more the performance declines.
To compress some of this data, filter the visuals shown when possible.
On the other hand, slicers are different.
Though Power BI slicers are visual filters, each use by the user generates 2 queries:
- Get the data
- Get the selection details
Too many slicers could affect performance in a negative way.
The reason is, setting up filters before publishing shows fewer elements and compresses the data for the user. Slicers, on the other hand, are visual filters that the user needs to activate that generate 2 queries.
7. When using custom visuals, select certified visuals when possible
Power BI has lots of visuals — but not everything.
An example of this is a histogram. Power BI doesn’t have a built-in histogram chart.
The good news:
There’s a marketplace that has custom visuals made by 3rd-party individuals and companies.
The bad news:
Uncertified custom visuals may contain risks (data leakage, malicious data injection, etc.) and may not perform that well.
Microsoft performs lots of tests on visuals and makes sure they don’t do anything malicious. That’s why it’s always recommended to only use Microsoft certified custom visuals.
8. Take away unnecessary visual interactions
All the visuals in Power BI are interactive.
If you try to click on an element on a certain chart, the other charts on the report page would respond and highlight data related to that element you just clicked.
However, these interactions have a negative effect on performance.
To optimize your reports’ performance, control and disable unwanted interactions between the visuals.
If you’re not sure how to do it, the simplest way is in Power BI Desktop:
Click the visual, then ‘Format’ on the tab list, and select ‘Edit interactions’.
Taking out the unwanted interactivity between your visuals would help improve your report’s performance.
9. Only import necessary fields and tables
This shouldn’t come as a surprise.
When importing files, especially workbooks, only import fields and tables you will be using.
For example, in Spreadsheeto’s Power BI histogram tutorial, we have prepared a sample Excel workbook to import.
In there, our instruction was to only import the table which contains the data.
The bottom line is, as much as possible, keep your data model as clean, narrow, and lean as you can.
10. Optimize your data model
After importing only the important fields and tables, it’s time to optimize your data model.
Here are some of the things you can do:
- When dealing with numeric data, use integers instead of strings.
- Check your DAX functions. Some of them could increase memory requirements and run-time which in turn, slows your report.
- Be specific as possible in your columns and avoid fields with unnecessary precision and high cardinality.
- Index columns that are usually filtered or sliced when connecting with other data sources using DirectQuery. This improves report responsiveness.
If you’re interested to learn more about the last item above, Microsoft’s Analysis Services Team prepared a nice whitepaper about optimizing data sources for DirectQuery.
Though Power BI helps find insights about data, a lot of users count on Power BI’s ability to tell a story about the data to a non-technical audience.
In anything you do with Power BI, always remember one thing — user experience should be at the top of your mind.