A Beautiful Dashboard Journey

Business dashboard projects are often journeys rather than simple implementations. It’s a journey through a world of choices between the right metrics, the technologies, the data collection challenges and data visualization techniques. Sometimes it feels to us dashboard designers that BI is an exotic land in which our challenge is to find (or create) the right path for our users.

Enjoy the journey of exploration of your business intelligence choices, because, as I hope you agree, it’s the most rewarding part. As Don Williams Jr (American novelist and poet) said, “The road of life twists and turns and no two directions are ever the same. Yet our lessons come from the journey, not the destination.”

You don’t have to take the journey alone. There are plenty of us out in the world of business intelligence visualization that can help guide you. Maybe our advice can smooth your way. The gems that we share perhaps can save you fruitless trips down the wrong paths and steer you away from problem areas. This has been the goal of The Dashboard Spy’s efforts to document business dashboards as I come across them out in the wild. I hope my efforts have helped.

Sometimes we meet fellow travellers on our journeys of discovery that act so graciously and share information of such value that we should stop everyone else and tell them at once about what we’ve found. The purpose of today’s post is to do exactly that.

Tim Wilson, aka Gilligan, has put together a series of three wonderful posts that detail his year-long journey of envisioning, researching, designing and building a corporate dashboard for his company to use in performance management. Everyone involved in business intelligence dashboards must read this tale of a beautiful dashboard journey in which Tim so carefully details his discoveries and shares the struggles and rewards of his dashboard design efforts.

  1. Dashboard Design: An Iterative Tale Part 1
  2. Dashboard Design: An Iterative Tale Part 2
  3. Dashboard Design: An Iterative Tale Part 3

Of course, I said earlier that the journey and not the destination should be the focus, but let me jump right to the destination and show you the screenshot of where Tim ended up. It’s an Excel Dashboard created with Excel 2003 without any addons.

Excel 2003 Dashboard

Here are a couple of observations from Tim:

Some of the keys that make this work:

  • Heavy focus on Few’s Tufte-derived “data-pixel ratio” –- asking the question for everything on the dashboard: “If it’s not white space, does it have a real purpose for being on the dashboard?” And, only including elements where the answer is, “Yes.”
  • Recognition that all metrics aren’t equal –- I seriously beefed up the most critical, end-of-the-day metrics (almost too much – there’s a plan for the one bar chart to be scaled down in the future once a couple other metrics are available)
  • The exact number of what we did six months ago isn’t important -– I added sparklines (with targets when available) so that the only specific number shown is the month-to-date value for the metric; the sparkline shows how the metric has been trending relative to target
  • Pro-rating the targets -– it made for formulas that were a bit hairier, but each target line now assumes a linear growth over the course of the month; the target on Day 5 of a 30-day month is 1/6 of the total target for the month
  • Simplification of alerts -– instead of red/yellow/green…we went to red/not red; this really makes the trouble spots jump out.

Be sure to spend some time with each of Tim’s 3 posts. They contain lots of lessons learned.

Tim – thanks for the great effort. This is a wonderful tale of a beautiful dashboard journey. I’m adding you to top of The Dashboard Spy’s Big List of Dashboard Experts.

Tags: Excel Dashboard, Sparklines, Excel Dashboard Design, Data Visualization, Corporate Dashboards