I’m a pilot (well, a student one) and one of the first things you learn in flight school is trust your instruments -- those instruments tell you how things are going. For instance, I can tell how high I am, if I’m going higher still, or if I am descending. Ultimately, I can understand if reality is confirming with my expectations. If so, smooth flying. If not, I know what actions I need to take. Most importantly though, I can quickly scan all the various gauges, indicators, and pretty lights to know if there are problems. A properly configured instrument panel focuses my attention on issues and leads me to a remedying action.
The design ethos of a business dashboard
is the same—to be contemporary, attention focusing, and actionable. Contemporary in the sense that stale information is not useful. A dashboard should illuminate an issue for the reader with sufficient time for action and reconciliation. If I’m flying at 1,000 feet and descending at 1,000 feet per minute, but I don’t find out about it for two minutes, then goodbye world!
Fresh data is actionable data
. Most dashboards fall into daily, weekly, or monthly refresh sequences. Your aim should be to match the data latency to your decision cycle
. If you are monitoring shipment tardiness from suppliers, then publish the dashboard daily. If your team sets pricing on a weekly basis, then publish weekly. Here's an example:
The cadence of dashboard production goes hand-in-hand with the information contained in the dashboard. Dashboard content should be shrewdly selected as to clearly answer the questions of what is the current condition and how is that condition changing. It boils down to a battle with dilution, because what often starts as an exercise in “if you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it,” transforms into including every metric you have available. Just because you can measure it, doesn’t make it important.
Here’s another tip: apply an editor’s lens to any potential dashboard metric and whittle down to those metrics that will magnify business misalignment or problems. When I’m flying a Cessna 172 within the crowded airspace of Northern Virginia, I’ll take between five and ten seconds to scan my dashboard to find out if any action is required. Do the same test to your dashboard—can you quickly scan it to find out what you should focus your day on solving?
The solution to your problem may be self-evident or it may require more information. The dashboard serves as a tool for stimulating those next steps. It speeds the discovery process
, it helps you to engage the right people with the right questions, and it’s a catalyst for action.
Ultimately the best test of a dashboard is a count of unnoticed issues, because unknown unknowns can have large consequences. Whether you are a pilot or a business leader, we have to navigate a turbulent, uneven world. A well designed dashboard will help us stay on-track.
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