With trials for the 2012 Olympic Games in London almost complete, as a diehard trackie, I can't help but reflect on the amazing standards that athletes must meet or exceed in order to qualify for their respective events. For instance, the "A" standard for the men's 100 meter event is 10.18 seconds – that's faster than the time it would take for many of us to boot up our computers. The standard for women's high jump is 1.95 meters or about 6 feet, 4.7 inches – so an "A" standard athlete could easily clear the height of a very tall person. Olympic hopefuls work diligently to meet (or exceed) these high standards. Likewise, in a quest for excellence, we in the business intelligence world should strive to improve the design of our BI dashboards – the ones that guide our daily decision-making. We should be reviewing their effectiveness at least yearly. To that end, we've compiled a simple checklist to guide your dashboards towards the "A" standard.
Whittle them down to only the most relevant and timely information.
With all the excitement around big data and the need to analyze vast amounts of information in order to spot trends, it's easy to be swept away in a deluge of data and be distracted from what really matters. As excited as you (or the users you serve) may be to display all kinds of new information, remember that some data is a distraction rather than relevant to the decision-making process. So be cautious of the information overload that can hinder the effectiveness of your dashboards. Each organization must determine what really matters to decision-makers (this will vary between them) and center dashboards around the metrics most relevant to each department.
Implement appropriate design.
When it comes to dashboards, looks do matter. But dashboards aren't just eye candy. They've become a standard point of reference for business managers and executives who need to monitor company operations – often at a glance – in order to make timely decisions. In a 2011 interview with Dashboard Insight, Stephen Few, author of bestselling books on dashboard design and data visualization best practices (and also inventor of the bullet graph), explains that "dashboards support rapid performance monitoring, and can only do so effectively if they are designed in specific ways to work with human eyes and brains." Few also explained that:
"Dashboard content must be organized in a way that reflects the nature of the information and that supports efficient and meaningful monitoring. Important items should [be] more visually prominent that [sic] less important items…and items that ought to be scanned in a particular order ought to be arranged in a manner that supports that sequence of visual attention."
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