The use of dashboards is a topic which we visit and revisit from time to time. As technology changes and new tools become available, dashboards can become more sophisticated and reflect the organisational situation more accurately, and even in real-time.
The full scope
Many people use the words ‘dashboard’ and ‘scorecard’ interchangeably, to mean something that tells you how well you’re doing. A scorecard is simple: a report that displays a collection of indicators or KPIs (key performance indicators) and the related performance targets. A dashboard, however, is a collection of items, which may include both scorecards and reports. Dashboards may be one page or more, and may also be interactive or not. They are linked to the underlying data so that users can dig down and find out more if they want. The elements are often, but not always, linked together. Crucially, a dashboard should provide a picture of current organisational performance.
One of the key words in that last sentence is ‘picture’. Dashboards are highly visual: effectively, they show the organisation at a glance, speaking clearly to everyone. At their best, dashboards take raw data and convert it to reader insight and action.
What’s in your dashboard?
Most companies nowadays have a vast amount of data: customer information, internal operating information, information about competitors and more. So the question for a dashboard is ‘what should be included?’. The answer is three-fold:
- Who is it for? As with all content, it really needs to be tailored to your audience and speak to them.
- What do they need to know in order to function effectively, and how can this information best be provided?
- What action does the dashboard need to generate?
Once you have the answers to those questions, you have your dashboard content. Pare down your content to the bare essentials, and remember that indicators are just that: they point to an issue, and lead to further investigation and action. Even if a trend is interesting and important, it’s not an indicator unless a change will lead to some action.
You will then need to give some thought to how you display it. We’ve all seen the ‘Organisation on a page’ chart that has everything in 8 point font, and tiny little diagrams that nobody can read. That’s no good. Yes, it’s on one page, but it’s not doing its job. It doesn’t matter how pretty something is if nobody can understand it. Go for clarity every time, and keep checking that everything included is essential.
The other thing that is vital is that your dashboard is current, in real time. It is not a static picture of how the situation was at the end of last month, but a vital, living resource that shows the situation now. The data should be absolutely current. Issues should be investigated before they become problems: that’s why you have indicators, and your dashboard needs to highlight where investigation is necessary, pointing to actions required.
It follows that organisational dashboards should be different for different audiences. A team leader needs different information from a Board member in order to do their job well. But this brings a whole new issue to the table: security. Your dashboard needs to keep information secure from those who do not need it, but provide everyone with access to what they need to see.
Although this sounds quite a big ‘ask’, with the sort of interactive tools that are now available such as iDashboards, all this is possible. For example, iDashboards can communicate with and draw on information from a wide range of sources, from databases through spreadsheets and legacy data systems. They also allow users to customise what they see with a selection of chart types and displays. Most importantly, they support transparency: everyone can see the goals and how performance matches up. There are multiple role-types, from Viewer through Business User and Analyst to Admin, so staff can be given the appropriate access. And best of all, they’re in real time, and can even provide instant alerts to users when a problem arises.
It’s always good to revisit topics and tools. Technology being what it is, the potential for new data to be added to reporting systems is ever-present. It’s as well to revisit your organisational dashboards periodically, to make sure that they’re drawing on the best available data to give everyone the clearest possible picture of what they need to know to drive future performance.
Image credit: Jim Howe