Preventing dashboard lust

Many IT projects place too much emphasis on tools and technology rather than meeting user needs. Excessive dashboard lust offers a concrete example of this common situation.

Many IT projects place too much emphasis on tools and technology rather than meeting user needs. When ROI and business case take a backseat to blind technology love, problems are bound to arise. Excessive dashboard lust offers a concrete example of this common situation.

JP Seabury's Force Monkey blog describes what happened in his company after downloading Salesforce.com's AppExchange Dashboard Pack 1.0. Although these comments refer specifically to Salesforce, the issue is not vendor specific:

Soon after [downloading the tool],...[m]anagers and executives looked forward to their daily, weekly and/or monthly Dashboard emails, and talked animatedly about them in the halls or at company meetings.

Yet something was wrong. I couldn’t quite place my finger on what it was, but the monster was there, elusive. The users asked for more dashboards, more pretty graphs, charts, tables, and I appeased them. Today, we have more than 50 different dashboards and hundreds of reports feeding those dashboards. It's an absolute glut of information. And this monster I created now has a name: Data Admiration.

They come to the CRM tool, very excited about the volumes of data and information captured in our Salesforce Dashboards. They drink deep from the kool-aid. But none of these dashboards seem to drive any real change in the organization.

One commenter to that blog post put JP's dashboard numbers into context:

Before our large cleanup project started 6 months ago we had roughly 6000 reports feeding little over 1000 dashboards, all thrown out in folders without any naming convention of any kind.

To create useful dashboards, technologists must understand the information users need to do their jobs, which can be tricky. Gaining that information requires talking with users to learn about their information needs, decision-making processes, and the actionable results they hope to achieve. In organizations where developers don't have sufficient access to end users, this problem can be almost insurmountable.

Making matters worse, tools vendors sometimes focus on simple-minded deployment without even mentioning business context. For example, the messaging on Salesforce's AppExchange Dashboard Pack download page suggests a kitchen-sink approach without reference to underlying business need:

Meaningful dashboards go beyond prettiness into the far more valuable, and difficult to achieve, realm of usefulness. Don't get caught up in dashboard lust, forgetting that tools provide benefit only to the extent they offer true business value.

[Via Dashboards By Example. Cockpit dashboard image via Airbus.]

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