Creating a Digital Dashboard for your Organization – Part 1

A big problem that has started to occur in many “wired” organizations is data overload.  Every Monday, we are flooded with reports for this financial metric, this workflow performance number, not to mention all the emails we get just regarding general day to day problems.

One way to help with this problem of information overload is by creating a digital dashboard for your organization.  A digital dashboard is a summary view of all of key metrics that are important to the survival of your organization, displayed in a way that allows people to quickly process the data.

There are several key aspects to a digital dashboard that are vital if you want it to have a big impact on your organization:

A Dashboard must Display Actionable Data

What is actionable data?  It’s data that allows people to take a quick glance at the information, and instantly know: 1. If the data represents a problem, 2. what they should do about it.

For instance, on your typical sales volume report, there may be hundreds of lines of sales quotes – but really, the only piece of information on the report that is actionable may be the overall increase or decrease in sales for the week.  So, on your dashboard, you would want to display just this number – “Sales Increase/Decrease” in a dial or simple to understand graph.  That way, the user can quickly glance at the page on their screen (or at the flat screen panel that is hanging at the front of the office) and know instantly that something is wrong, and it needs to be fixed.

It’s a common temptation when creating a dashboard to show information that is interesting but not actionable.  For instance, many dashboards show “Year 2009 Sales” or “Q1 Output”.  Assuming the quarter is Q2 2010, none of this information is truly actionable.  That is, there’s nothing anyone can do to improve the sales or output that occurred in the past.  Let’s dig into the sales figure a little bit to see what you should actually be showing:

  • If you were to change the metric to “Year to Date Sales” – suddenly the information becomes a bit more actionable.  By looking at that number, you could realize that you’re going to be short on the year’s goals, and decide to do something about it.  More realistically though, you probably already know that your YTD sales are down just from comments around the water cooler, and since you may have 9 months to do something about it, perhaps you do nothing.  So, this isn’t a bad metric, but can we do better?
  • If you change the metric to “Last Weeks Sales Variance”, the data becomes actionable in a different way.  If you glance at the digital dashboard and see “20% Decrease Last Week”, you may wonder what exactly is going on – and you will probably want to do something about it quickly.  Was there a technology issue that didn’t get reported that was preventing telesales workers from calling customers?  Did something change in the market?  Is the competition offering a discount we don’t know about in the newspaper that’s killing us out there?  There are a lot of things you might do, but the idea is that the information is up to date, bite-sized, and something you can deal with in the short-term, instead of just saying “Eh, we’ll catch up in yearly sales in the fall.”.

Next time, we’ll cover another aspect that’s key to a dashboard – contextual data.

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