In this guest post, Maxime Villeger from Genius Project gives some smart advice on what to consider when it comes to dashboard reporting in your project organisation.
You’re driving. The dashboard shows your speed, fuel level, oil. Everything is under control. Suddenly, a red light comes on. Panic. What’s going on? Should we stop? This is the story of the dashboard.
Since the 2000s, we’ve been talking about mega-data, or more specifically, big data. With the snowball effect, this explosion of data has led to a proliferation of information and analyses. All this information, if they become part of our daily lives, can complicate the course of synthesis. However, well analyzed, this information can be useful and help us to improve the decision-making process and to make business operations more effective. Unfortunately, in many cases, it’s difficult to analyze the numbers, focus and stay consistent with strategic objectives.
In a car, the dashboard informs the driver about the vehicle. Indicator lights provide information on the general functioning of the car, warning lights come on to signal a low-level of fuel, and worn brake pads can anticipate incidents. Finally, certain warning alarms, such as failure of brakes, require the driver to stop immediately. In project management, the concept is the same.
To improve the efficiency of decision-making, we can’t say it enough, you have to set up a dashboard. Easier said than done!
In the book, Information Dashboard Design published in 2006, Stephen Few states:
“A dashboard is a visual representation of the most important information needed to achieve one or more objectives; grouped and arranged in one screen for quick reference. “
Clearly, this is to set up a global control system. Indicators should be evocative and allow users to run a business or project.
If we take the definition of Stephen Few, initially, we can stop on the visual aspect of the dashboard. Indeed, a dashboard summarizes the situation at a glance.
The page should be visual and attract the reader’s attention on the key points that reflect the success of the project. It’s recommended to use colors, percentages, diagrams and icons. The page should be pleasant to the eye to facilitate user adoption. Genius Project offers a dial with symbols and colors to immediately see the progress and statutes of a project. The user can also see if the budget is under control or if deadlines are met.
The definition of Stephen Few also discusses the importance of information.
That’s a sensitive subject, because so many dashboards present figures and results next to each other, and are very obscure to the user. The first trap when creating a dashboard is to offer too many indicators. Two specific and concrete indicators are more valuable than 10 complex numbers, which we’re not able to draw conclusions from. To create an effective and useful dashboard, we must search for relevant indicators. These should be few, so that they can be quickly understood and digested. It’s often recommended not to have more than 10 indicators, because anything more makes the table too complex. The selection of these indicators is important. It’s essential to make the right decisions and reduce the time to decision. Well-chosen indicators help to know exactly what we’re talking about and to identify potential problems quickly.
The objective of a dashboard is to show the current situation in relation to strategic objectives. The information must therefore be up to date. The percentages clearly show the tasks or steps that remain to be done to achieve the goals. The colors can quickly differentiate the areas in “red” or problem areas in “green.”
The more personalized, intuitive and easy to read the dashboard, the more it will be used. A user-friendly table motivates users and improves productivity. For more detailed information on a project, employees can click a parameter and dig for information. The dashboard remains global, shows trends and aims to keep the strategic objectives in view.
One last tip for your dashboard. Avoid changing it all the time. This will prevent users from verifying the contents of the dashboards and the meaning of indicators, too often. So don’t focus on changing it, just be sure to regularly update it!