You don't have to look at the expiration on your milk carton to know that it has soured – it usually gives you some pretty strong clues, like smell, discoloration, or a strange consistency. In the same way, you probably have an idea that your BI dashboard has gone bad – clutter and unreadable graphs are sure signs that it's time for a refresh. Other clues are less obvious, like maybe your role has changed but your dashboard hasn't changed along with it. Let's dive into these clues and see if you can relate to any of them:
1. Your dashboard is too busy. The biggest limitation of dashboards is the physical size of your screen. When your dashboard was created, did it take this into account? Are all of your metrics on one screen, which forces you to do a whole lot of scrolling? A dashboard should not require the user to scroll left, right, up or down to see the entire screen. Try a creative way of accessing additional information, like implementing tabs or hierarchies to drill down into more detailed information.
2. Flashing lights and pretty pictures. Does your dashboard look like a fireworks display on the 4th of July? Certainly your dashboard needs to be attractive, but you can display a whole lot of nothing through the inappropriate use of graphs and graphics. Dashboards should be analytical tools, not just pretty pictures. They need to provide business value, which can be achieved through simple charts (read: not 3D) and appropriate animation, keeping the flash to a minimum. Here's a tip: if you're using stoplight indicators, think about making stoplight symbols a standard in your organization. That way, employees who are colorblind can still get value from your indicators.
3. Lack of a role-based view. Is your dashboard simply too broad? It would be wonderful if the same dashboard could be used by everyone in your organization, but likely, each role has different metrics that are most valuable. And that's the point of a dashboard – to provide an appropriate snapshot of performance to users. What's relevant to your CFO is not relevant to your CMO, and even the metrics your CFO wants to see every day may not be the same as your VP of Finance. As your role changes, different metrics become more or less important and your dashboard needs to change with you.
4. Inappropriate use of graphs. Is your dashboard stuck in a time when graphs were "da bomb"? Just because you can put data in graphical format doesn’t mean it's a good idea. In a previous post on BI dashboard charts and graphs, we talked about how to select the right graphs for your data. Depending on the type of data you’d like to show, some graphs are more appropriate than others, while in other cases a simple table will do. Are you trying to perform trend analysis for more than 12 data points with a bar graph? Try a line or point graph and see how much more readable your data is. This is a simple fix!
Great dashboards have longevity – we've said before on this blog that some of our clients have been using their arcplan dashboards for 5 years or more because they simply works for them. But even great dashboards sometimes need a refresh when data gets stale or graphs become too complex or are no longer useful.
Check out this PDF on 10 Keys to Successful BI Dashboards for even more information on how to build great dashboards for your users.