Chris Pemberton of Gartner states that ‘the litmus test for a marketing dashboard is the executive who says “I have 5 minutes a day to review dashboards. What are you going to put on it?”’
Let’s consider a couple of example dashboards to help you find the best option for your organization:
The Pros: It’s a great tool for finding insights in large data sets.
The Cons: When looking at so much data, it’s almost impossible to find meaningful insights in only 5 minutes.
The Verdict: Not a valid option for time-poor executives.
The Pros: Metrics are quick to read and interpret where sufficient context is provided alongside them (such as variation, status updates, goals, and/or sparklines showing historical performance). They rapidly answer the questions of how we are doing, and how efficiently we are achieving our goals, making them critical to any strategic dashboard.
The Cons: Long lists of metrics start to appear just as tables with values blurring into one another, and can be hard to comprehend. It may also be difficult to isolate the most important metrics from them.
The Verdict: Scorecards showing metrics only will likely become hard to interpret where more than a handful of Key Performance Indicators are shown.
A combination of different chart types & tables depending on the data presented
The Pros: Charts immediately provide context at an operational or tactical level by allowing you to use dimensional breakdowns or map multiple metrics simultaneously. This enables you to highlight the performance of one data set compared to others in order to isolate strong/poor results.
The Cons: Charts/tables often require significant effort to interpret when the reader is not accustomed to the data presentation, or familiar with the data set being used. Additionally, when there is too much data presented in a chart/table, axes are poorly used, or the chart format selected is misleading, understanding may take considerable time.
The Verdict: Unless the data consumer is well versed in the dashboard presentation and familiar with the data set; – or, where very few charts are shared, it will be impossible to ascertain sufficient valuable insights from the report in 5 minutes.
Textual descriptions of the results of either metrics, charts or tables
The Pros: Automated analysis platforms are able to rapidly scan large data sets to find correlations. Delivery of simple verbal or written descriptions of performance can heighten understanding of what has been happening with little effort required, and normally at low cost.
The Cons: Often, the amount of words required to describe performance, correlations or trends in sufficient context leads to inefficiency in the process – where the ideas could be more quickly understood through the viewing of charts/metrics, why bother reading paragraph after paragraph? Furthermore, and unfortunately for all of us, the word “descriptions” is the operative word in the definition of this option. Most automated insights we receive are simply descriptions of the data presented, with no added value through the analysis of why things have happened.
The Verdict: Where concise verbal (or audio) descriptions can increase the speed of interpretation of results, this option is of value. It may not, however, bring added value through quality analysis.
Textual explanations of the results of either metrics, charts or tables
The Pros: Human subject-matter experts can share invaluable insights on not only what has been happening, but also why.
The Cons: The requirement of manual effort and human intervention means that this process is often slower than the delivery of automated insights. In addition, considerable investment must be made to reach ‘subject matter expert’ status.
The Verdict: Human insights can be of immense value. Not only are those with sufficient analysis skills, knowledge of business problems and objectives, and/or subject-matter expertise, able to isolate patterns in performance, but also to explain contributing factors. Causation, which is often difficult to establish through automated analysis can often be better isolated with the application of human analysis.
While it’s impossible to recommend using pivot tables on executive dashboards, (they’ll never pass the 5 minute test), metrics, visualizations, automated insights and human insights are all potentially valuable components of such a report.
When choosing between data visualizations, metrics and automated insights, make sure that you follow these simple rules to pass the 5 minute test:
In addition to choosing the best, most representative, easiest to interpret, and personalized mix of visualizations, metrics and automated insights, the most effective executive dashboards will also contain constructive human insights and recommendations to prompt action.
Afterall, if dashboards don’t promote debate around the best strategies to implement, valuable tests to run, and incite action, even if they pass the 5 minute test, they’ll be relatively useless!
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