I want to revisit here part of the “D list” that I prepared for the hands-on Dashboard Design Iron Chef Bootcamp which Roxanne and I co-taught at IBIS 2013.
In a D is for Dashboards blog post published prior to IBIS, I revealed five of them (Data, Design, Device, Delivery, Dollar), which we described in detail with very interesting examples from a wide variety of project experiences and how the presence and/or absence of them changed the fate of a project.
So here are the remaining “D’s” …
After their conception, Dashboard projects soon become the lone step-sister of business: it is assumed that they will somehow survive on their own. Focus moves to issues closer to business and suddenly one fine morning, you will find a project either abandoned or suffering major obstacles that are beyond recovery and eventually it is scrapped! Once in a while they will get lucky and have attention shifted back to them, allowing them to survive with budget and/or schedule slippage. The issue is a lack of management involvement and it often comes down to whether the project was initiated by business or by IT? And who is the sponsor? If the answer is business and the project has senior management’s blessing, then it will most likely survive. For example, often in the tug-of-war between multiple projects for the same resources, it helps to have upper management on your side pulling key people into your dashboard project’s favor. For a business driven project, business analysts and users are more likely to devote their time to it, which is extremely critical during the requirements gathering, iteration and testing phases. On the other hand, if the project is IT’s brainchild, the project may languish with little support. However, there is hope. All this is needed is a way to get the business interested and paying attention. Once business and management are involved throughout the project cycle the project has a much better chance of heading towards a happy ending.
Draw & Discuss
This is something you will find mentioned again and again in many of our Xcelsius best practices lists. Before you actually start working using the software, it is absolutely important that you put your design on white-board or paper. In simple terms, draw the graphs, tables and any potential visual components, no matter how bad at drawing you may think you are. This will help you think through and compare the various options and visualize how individual components will work according to the user’s requirement. This will also get you through building a rapid prototype to get business buy-in.
What is the dashboard meant to help decide and take action on? The designer needs to consider the category of the dashboard and what kind of inference the user expects to make from it. Long-term or near-term? Strategic planning or Operational? Analytical or Summarized? The answer to all of these must direct overall layout, data aggregation, mobility and many other design considerations. It is without a doubt very important to find out these details before planning the visual design.
Disparity / Distinct
In the interest of real estate, complexity, size and more importantly, users’ attention, you need not (probably should not) display all possible information on the dashboard. Exceptions and Outliers should get privilege over things going well with the business. You definitely want your users to know very quickly what’s going on, so that they can take necessary action.
Depending on how fresh the data ought to be on the dashboards, a number of design variations can arise. The choice of real-time data vs. cached data may change the data source, database & universe design, and of course performance optimization. Therefore, it is of utmost important to know the answer from the beginning. As-of yesterday data may suffice an executive summary dashboard, but the one for a floor manager in a plant needs to provide a lot more current data than that.
Alright, we are at the final D of the list, but don’t be mistaken, it is in no way less important than any of the above Ds! To what level of detail is the dashboard going to render? This will be derived from some of the D’s above – that is why this D follows the rest. But the answer to this not only will determine how complex the dynamic visibility logic will get, but also, how parameterized your dashboards will be – do you bring all of the data in the dashboard at once, or do you need to design a connected model to effectively provide huge amounts of data and deep drill down.
With dashboards becoming more popular than ever, their complexity is increasing way beyond single screen summary or a couple simple tabs with a few charts. It is extremely important for dashboard projects to mature with the same pace in order to anticipate the demanding requirements, be ready to tackle any complexity and provide innovative solutions. The D list is to keep you on track during the entire project cycle and make sure you cover the critical areas, plan for problems and above all, design and deliver a useful visualization that increases IT’s credibility and utilizes information to gain intelligence about the business and benefit it.
Looking back at IBIS 2013
That’s what we taught in the Dashboard Design Iron Chef course at IBIS 2013. Besides the modules, there were several creative tricks and tips demonstrated in the example dashboards; people really appreciated that we came up with a lot of unplanned hands-on exercises to teach outside-the-box functionalities as per their requests. They loved the fact that in this track or in the pre-seminar on “What’s new in Dashboards 4.0”, we just didn’t teach them basic features of the tool, but provided detailed examples of potential issues they will run into in real scenarios and how to solve them or prepare for them.
We also discussed the methods to successfully implement these principles. AND, the best part was when many attendees could relate to them either by having followed some of them or by realizing how these practices would have helped avoid a project failure or delay. There were a lot of great stories!
That’s what I love about IBIS. The courses focus on topics closely connected to real requirements and the instructors are always going beyond limits to make everyone’s trip as useful as possible.
As for me, I will remember how it was cloudy and then sunny. The chaos and the calm. The vast, deep, blue, elegant beauty of the ocean and just the right amount of sunshine. It was insanely hectic for a few days and then it was over. Yes, IBIS is over, at least for 2013. Now it is time to reminisce and analyze what was planned, what was achieved, what worked, what didn’t, what can be done better, what the trends are and more analysis. What else can you expect from a bunch of folks living BI every day, right? Plus, IBIS 2014 is right around the corner.