3 Rules of Dashboarding

In the past, The Dashboard Spy has reported on various “Rules of Dashboards”. As best practices evolve in this space, we see articles promoting the latest set of rules to follow. We are happy to track and collect them for you. Let’s take a look at the latest such advice.

According to a recent article in CIO Today entitled The End Game for Business Intelligence, dashboards are the ultimate end product for unlocking the decades of Information Technology investments by linking corporate tools such as Enterprise Resource Planning, Business Intelligence and Data Analysis systems to the managers who can act on the information. But, the article goes on to say:

But as the interface between systems and business decisions, dashboards have to accommodate human behavior to add value. Consider a real-world marketing director in Dallas. He has no fewer than six dashboards to help him manage his performance. There’s the CRM dashboard, the financial dashboard, the PR dashboard, the advertising dashboard and so on. Each comes with its own username and password, and to access some he needs to launch a separate application. None of them get his undivided attention, and some of them are rarely used. In the end, the constraints under which the human is operating define the return on the system investment.

The author sketches out three main principles or “Rules” for dashboards:

The Rule of Placement

The concept here is that the ideal dashboard must be placed where it cannot be missed or ignored. While the writer agrees that stand-alone systems and web-applications are good, but the desktop itself is better. Yes, you heard it right, the PC desktop. For the longest time, The Dashboard Spy has been reporting on efforts of the dashboard vendors to work out solutions that allow business intelligence to appear directly on the desktop. Think widgets in Vista, or ribbons that span the top, side or bottoms of your wide screen displays.

See the following Dashboard Spy posts about these efforts:

Business Intelligence Dashboard Widgets from Business Objects (BI Desktop)

Oracle Fusion Desktop Widgets

Here is an excerpt of The Rule of Placement:

Dashboard Rule 1: Placement

The first characteristic most of us share on a computer is laziness. One economist has suggested that the only two traits common to all of us are laziness and greed. But that’s a bit dark for a dashboard article. Let’s call it busyness instead — as in, we’re busy doing other things. It’s safe to assume that the higher up you climb on the corporate ladder, the busier you become. The marketing director mentioned earlier simply does not have the time to launch and login to six different dashboards. This brings us to the first requirement of an ideal dashboard. It must appear where it cannot be missed or ignored. If you need to look for it, you won’t. This is the first rule of dashboards, the rule of placement.

Desktop dashboards are better

To get the most out of your systems and your people, your dashboard has to appear on their desktop. Stand alone applications and Web-based reporting are good but as the marketing director illustrates, once you have too many to manage they’re no good at all. The desktop is better. With the information that matters appearing on your desktop, you can maintain peripheral awareness of the important metrics without interrupting your workflow.

Make room for dashboard widgets

I can hear howls of disagreement from people who say that the first and last time they see their desktop is when they power up their system for the day. I’m one of them. On a regular work day the desktop is quickly buried under umpteen windows of email, spreadsheets, documents and Web pages. But the rule of placement works here too. Today’s flat panels and laptops can easily accommodate a desktop dashboard as a top bar, bottom bar, or side bar while leaving plenty of real estate for your daily applications. Look at a flat panel running a mini-dashboard alongside other applications and you’ll think panels were purpose-built for this arrangement. But the fact that your desktop dashboard must be small to be useful brings us to the second rule of dashboards: the rule of design.

The Rule of Design

The second rule for ensuring that business dashboards really work is the Rule of Design. Conveying information correctly, intuitively, and in a pleasing way is a challenge that even the best designers can struggle with. Partly a matter of deciding on the appropriate content in terms of which metrics and what types of charts, and partly a matter of observing (or trail-blazing) the correct visual design approaches, this skill set is finally developing as it needs to. Resources now exist to help you in this area. Look at the site you are currently on, for example, Dashboards By Example, the collection of business intelligence dashboard screenshots put together by The Dashboard Spy and the book Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data. For an interesting story about the book see this Dashboard Spy post.

The Rule of Accuracy

Finally, the rule of placement and the rule of design point to a necessary third rule called The Rule of Accuracy. We all learn to pay attention to thing that prove to be reliable and ignore things that are just noise. Even if your dashboard is placed in a way such that you simply can’t ignore it, and design such that it is a joy to behold and use, you WILL NOT USE THE DASHBOARD IF IT GIVES YOU WRONG INFORMATION! It’s as simple as that.

Definitely go and read the article.

Tags: Dashboard Design, Principles of Dashboarding, 3 Rules for the Dashboard