‘Dashboard’ is not a dirty word: Napkyn’s defense of an overused term

by Jim Cain

There are a lot of terms that get badly abused – to the point where they are annoying to hear. A few personal examples would be the words ‘cloud’, ‘big data’, ‘guru’ and using the label “2.0” for anything other than a software release. The word “social” is border-line with me right now as well.

The word “dashboard” is not on my hate list, but it seems to be on a lot of other people’s. Everything has a dashboard now, from software products, to consulting deliverables (we do them weekly for our clients), even video games and LinkedIn have dashboards in them.

So, I get why the thought of another dashboard would make many people want to barf, but it doesn’t make me think they are any less vital to being successful with data.

A few points below that you should consider before you give up on dashboards (I had a great Karate Kid reference I was going to make, but I have been informed that I need to dial back on the 80s film references…).

The obvious point:

A dashboard you don’t love wasn’t built properly: A good dashboard is supposed to provide ‘at a glance’ understanding of something you care about, giving you the ability to have increased understanding you wouldn’t have achieved any other way. If you are indifferent to a dashboard, it sucks. Get rid of it and have one crafted to your exact needs.

Less obvious but critical points:

1) Dashboards create commonality of language and goals: Ever notice that sales and marketing people use different words to describe the same thing? Ever notice that they don’t tend to get along? A well crafted (and agreed on) dashboard has the ability to create significant alignment in an organization, not just between different departments, but between different levels of the org chart. In helping a senior stakeholder build an exciting and relevant performance dashboard, we are very educated on where to focus our analysis on their behalf.

2) Dashboards decrease “weaponized” analysis: In organizations without proper executive dashboarding (so most of them…), the lack of common language, goals and structure creates “analysis anarchy”. This means that execs often ask the analysis to provide reports and data to support an idea or initiative. We call these reports ‘weaponized’ because they are only being created to provide data support to help win an argument, i.e., “Build me a report that shows how marketing has been wasting money on leads for the last 6 months”. Competing on analytics is supposed to be an external activity, not an internal one. It’s very hard to weaponize your reports when the whole team ultimately works again an agreed on performance framework.

3) Good Dashboards maximize analyst value and contribution: the lack of structure around data consumption is the Petri dish that dumb questions grow in (would that mean ‘bad culture’?). Many of the ad-hoc questions that web analysts get are based on a lack of overall understanding about digital. We find that instituting an appropriate and valuable weekly performance dashboard cuts down on ad-hoc requests significantly, and increases the quality of the questions being asked. Good questions tend to be harder to answer; your analyst will still be 100% utilized, but purely on creating insights of high business value.

If you are making plans for 2012, and someone comes out against using a dashboard, realize that they are tired of the abuse of the term, not the value proposition.

Just call it something cooler, like a ‘executive performance visualization’. At the end of the day, a well executed dashboard can have both corporate and competitive effects that are far reaching.



Jim Cain

Founder and CEO, Napkyn Analytics

See more posts from Jim