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Dashboard Trifecta: Death of a Dashboard through Poor Usability — 3 Examples

February 27, 2011

Usability is a key indicator of your dashboard’s sustainability and effectiveness.  It is the outcome of two factors:

  • The relevance of the information captured.  Relevance can refer to the quality of data captured or its timeliness.
  • How easy or difficult it is to generate the dashboard on a regular basis.

Quadrant 4 is where we want our dashboards to fall – super helpful to the audience and a breeze to pull together.  But, it’s somewhat of a holy grail.  And in the quest to get to quadrant 4 with the best of intentions, we often end up with a dashboard that is somewhere in Quadrant 1, 2 or 3.  I want to share a few examples and fixes.

Quadrant 1:  Not Relevant, Easy to Compile

This is the classic case of what can happen when we select data based on what’s readily available as opposed to what’s important.  To the extent the two are not the same, we end up missing key analysis to present in the dashboard.  The end result is a dashboard that’s relatively straightforward to compile but doesn’t provide very good insight.  And without good insight, the dashboard is not usable.

The Fix:  Rethink the data to move up on the Relevance scale into Quadrant 2 or 4.

Quadrant 2: Highly Relevant, Difficult to Compile

In the effort to produce more meaningful and more insightful dashboards, we often end up here – a dashboard with great insight that takes days or weeks to produce (or is exceedingly complicated to produce).  Unfortunately, a dashboard typically lives for months and even years, and activities that require lots of effort or manpower to execute, such as a high maintenance dashboard, are difficult to sustain month after month.

The Fix:  Looking on the bright side, this is the second best place to be in the matrix.  Automate where you can to move down on the Ease of Compilation scale into Quadrant 4.

Quadrant 3: Not Relevant, Difficult to Compile

Does anyone choose to produce a dashboard that is both difficult to create and irrelevant?  Well, no.  But it happens, mostly when we set our sights on a Highly Relevant, Difficult to Compile dashboard but do not commit the resources.  Once the initial excitement dies down, the result is a great dashboard that comes a month late every month.  Also, you’ll find yourself doing all kinds of ad hoc analysis and extra work in the meantime to satisfy your executives’ need for insight.  At this point, the dashboard loses usability because most of decision-making now occurs through ad hoc analysis.

The Fix:  This is the most difficult quadrant to exit, because the dashboard often “drifts” here through time.  And by then, there is expectation to produce it every period as the “official” version to validate the ad hoc analysis.  It is imperative to automate where you can to move down on the Ease of Compilation scale into Quadrant 4, because realistically, neither the dashboard nor the extra work will go away soon.

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