Dashboards: Cool Tools or Sensory Overload

Part 2 of 2

Jun 30, 2011 | Skip to comments » | Share | |

This is Part 2 of a 2 Part series on Dashboards.  In Part 1, we discussed what Dashboards are, their importance, and the possible uses.  We are now ready to discuss what type of information you choose for your dashboard and how much information you display.

First, Dashboards are most successful if looked at as a communication tool or as a way to enhance information to make quick, more informed decisions.  These tools should not be seen as a replacement for all levels of communication, but a way to enhance communication.

As we found in Part 1, an average adult brain can only process 5 to 7 pieces of information accurately at one time. So when beginning to think about the design of the dashboard, prioritization is the key; beginning with the mission critical information needed first and then what is needed on-hand and finally what needs to be available.  To go through setting up our Dashboard, let’s put business aside and think of something many of us unconsciously use as a dashboard every day – a car. An average car can be providing us with 60 to 70 pieces of information each time we get in to drive, but we subconsciously focus on only 5 to 7 pieces of information at any given time.

1.    Mission Critical Information: What are the key pieces of information at any given time that are needed to know first?  Every time we are even about to get into our car there is one piece of information that is generally on top of our minds: gas.  How much do we have, if any?  Is it enough?  If not, do we have the resources to replenish our supply with more?  Gas is the Mission Critical information needed to know at every given point of our trip.  If not paid attention to, and there is no more, your car will not run. Period. And this is a potential daily threat.

The same can be applied to our Dashboards. When you are looking for or thinking about what is Mission Critical relative to your business, department or group, ask yourself; “What equates to gas for me?”  Generally, this will be only one or two pieces of information.  Choose thoughtfully.

2.    On-Hand Information: What are those things that I need to be aware of and knowledgeable on a regular basis so that they do not become mission critical?  Let’s look back at our car example.  The On-Hand information we keep in tuned with is generally greater in number than the Mission Critical.  This is because the frequency that this information is looked at varies.  Examples in our car are such things as oil levels, air bags, engine performance, coolant levels and the speedometer.  All these pieces of information are generally set on schedules to be checked, and many cars come equipped with dings, bells, and colored lights that tell us if something needs to happen outside the regularly scheduled appointments.

To apply On-Hand Information to our business Dashboard, identify “What, if not attended to and looked at on a regular basis, could become Mission Critical and cause failure?” On-Hand Information is vital for operations and keeping our doors open, but normally are not the make-it or break-it of day to day operations.

3.    Available Information: What information is needed to be retrieved easily and kept at the ready for efficiency purposes? This generally has to do with comfort.  We look to the dials and LCD screen to see if we have the stereo engaged to play the stereo, cd, or ipod before turning the power on. At any point of driving my Mini, I can press a button and review additional information the computer stores such as the temperature outside, how many more miles until the next service date, and so on.  This information is not critical, nor absolutely necessary, but more of a luxury and “neat” to know. Available information generally requires some type of action before we can retrieve that information.

In a business Dashboard, this is the micro managing information.  It is a luxury to have it in one place, but the information can be retrieved by using other actions such as calling someone, going to a subordinate’s office, or going on-line.  

Now that we have grouped our information into these three categories, how is it most effectively used?  In the diagram example, you can see how this information has been divided and organized.

 In the Western Hemisphere, language is read from left to right and top to bottom.  The Mission Critical information belongs at the start of the reading path: top left.  The more precise and exact the information can be displayed in regards to this information, the better.  The strategy, focus and direction of the day is based off this information so it needs to be easy and clear to interpret.  Many Dashboard software packages actually use the image of a gauge that reflects a gas gauge in a car.

On-Hand Information generally works best if presented in the form of charts and graphs so that at a glance, the information can be seen and processed very quickly, telling a visual story.  These can be drill-down objects in that one can click on them to reveal more information if further investigation is needed to determine the situation. On-Hand information should be narrowed down to no more than 4 to 5 pieces of information.

Lastly, the luxurious Additional Information is better displayed as simple links that require clicking for the information – require action.  This keeps that “neat” to know information available, yet not distracting when driving our business.

When thinking of your dashboard, be picky, scrutinize the information you want to see.  Because Dashboards are for making effective decisions at the most efficient rate possible.  If Dashboards are created for their cool factor, such as available in KITT, then you run the risk of taking your eyes off the road and either getting passed, taking the wrong route, or crashing. Remember: Dashboards do not drive your business, your decisions do.



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