I need to display top-down hierarchical data in a web browser that represents the geography of a large organisation. The data looks like this (except the actual list is enormous with 8000 staff across 47 sites with nearly 700 departments):

        Credit Approval

Within the web site, a user needs to select members of staff by either clicking All next to a specific level, or by interrogating the structure and choosing Specific/All User(s) from each layer.

Can anyone offer any advice or inspiration on the best way to achieve this in an intuitive fashion? How do the 'big boys' like SAP and Oracle achieve a solution? Can anyone share any screen grabs to show this?

I thought of using nested drop down lists, like this:

  1. User selects a layer
  2. Drop down list appears underneath with all child layers
  3. Select list appears to one side containing users from selected layer (with Add All / Add Selected links

It still feels a bit clumsy though, especially if someone needed a more complex selection, such as:

All users from West, plus
No users from Billing, plus 
Selected users from Credit Approval

I've done research but not turned up much. Jeff Atwood suggests tags instead of hierarchies (flat lists), but I don't think that would work in this instance as the hierarchy itself is important. Treeviews as an alternative don't seem to geared toward effective real estate, and there's the old favourite of chained select lists...

  • Why not just have two simple independant pulldown selections: Location and Department? Do users really need a query like Finance in London South plus Directors in Leeds Corporate?
    – paparazzo
    Dec 4, 2014 at 18:19
  • Because the structure of the organisation is not two tier, and users want that respecting. And yes, some of the queries are quite magnificent (/sarcasm)
    – EvilDr
    Dec 4, 2014 at 18:25
  • 1
    Then why not just let them click on the treeview to define the query. Clicking directly up the hierarchy selects everything under. Like how you can select a whole folder or individual files in the folder in Windows Explorer?
    – paparazzo
    Dec 4, 2014 at 18:30
  • 1
    But EvilDr Windows Explorer deals with that in very nice way. You can click the folder and get all or click individual files / folders in the folder. Setting user security on a file / folder works the same way.
    – paparazzo
    Dec 4, 2014 at 18:43
  • 1
    Hmm, I'm thinking maybe teaching users how to create db queries, or some GUI abstraction of that. As opposed to coming up with some relational scheme that makes sense only to humans (like the idea of "folders" in Explorer). I don't know what that would look like, but I think I'd go that direction. If users are smart enough to look for complex staffing reports, they're likely to be able to learn a simplified form of SQL querying.
    – Phil Tune
    Dec 8, 2014 at 21:49

1 Answer 1


I have worked a little on SAP, sap does not have a graphical representation for such a thing, it usually deals with C.C. numbers or departments.

I would go with a TreeView titled "Filter" and a ListView titled "Selected", the tree view has the locations and departments. Users can select a department/location and then simply click on an arrow or a plus sign to add the selected group/location to the "Selected" list.

For the selected users part, I think this is not a very common selection, hence add that option to a context menu when clicked on a department, a window with employees in that department will show, once done it

BTW, we have an internal system that does exactly this, and I have never heard a complaint from any user regarding any confusion.

  • Very helpful thank you, especially for a slight insight into SAP. Would it be possible to provide a screen grab of each software, as it's hard to visualise mentally from the description? I appreciate that some identifiers might need blurring out for data protection reasons, but I'd be very grateful
    – EvilDr
    Dec 27, 2014 at 21:31
  • I too would very much welcome a screenshot, even with data obfuscated. Would that be possible? Jan 8, 2015 at 21:28

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.