The "Action Dashboard" (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards)

old newKnow the difference between a Reporting Squirrel and a Analysis Ninja?

One is in the business of providing data.

One is in the business of providing, to use a old fashioned word, information.

This one of the core reasons why most dashboards are "crappy", i.e. they are data pukes that provide little in terms of context and even less in terms of actionable value.

Here are some examples of sub optimal dashboards, sub optimal in my mind from a actionable perspective. . . .

sub optimal dashboard 2

Perhaps the most common type is above. Lots of data, even drill downs included, but you can't look at it and go: "Wow we need to do . . . ". No sirrie bob you can't.

sub optimal dashboard 1

I wanted to point the above out purely because of a common feature of 80% of Web Analytics Dashboards, in excel with a billion tabs to look through. This is not a dashboard, it is the result of a massive sum of money paid to a Consultant who is trying to impress you with his / her excel skills – without actually telling you anything.

sub optimal dashboard 3

You are walking down the street. You look at someone from behind and you think "hmmm she's / he's pretty". So you speed up and overtake them and in the process you sneak a glance at them (yes you are married but looking is still ok :), and you are hugely disappointed. Not pretty. That's the dashboard above. Very sexy and Web 2.0'fied and a ton of data there, but a lot less actionable than you might have hoped.

Why is this so? All the above efforts are well intentioned, took lots of honest work and probably took months to put together. So why?

Here are some hidden (corrosive) reasons why most dashboards tend to stink when it comes to helping the Executive make any decisions:

  1. They leave the interpretation to the Executive (/ customer / requestor / other Squirrels). This is a fatal flaw because most dashboards are highly aggregated views of any KPI and are missing all the nuance and analysis (that only you as Ms. Ninja have, and you don't go with dashboard).
  2. Most Executives actually want insights / action recommendations but they don't trust the Squirrels / Ninjas / VP's / Data Providers. So they ask for numbers. We dutifully cram as many of them on to a A4 size paper in 3 size font and send it along with a magnifying glass.
  3. Most Squirrels / Ninjas live in a silo. Going out to collect enough tribal knowledge to actually know what is going on to then make recommendations from the data is not something that we do, nor are we encouraged by our Executives or our organization structures. This incentivizes data pukeing.
  4. Often dashboard creators tend to be "outsiders" (Consultants, Experts etc) and they often don't have deep practitioner experience that would allow them to understand the human / "below the surface" issues like the above three. That leads non-Practitioners to make the common mistakes like creating the above three dashboards.

If you want your Executives / Customers to take action, you have to give them information and not data. It takes effort to get there, it will take all your charms (though no violation of any HR intimacy policies), and it will take some time.

Step one as always is to become aware of the above three problems.

Step two is to get a possible solution from the Occam's Razor blog. :)

My attempt at solving this problem was to try and attack it from a human psychology perspective: How can I create a "dashboard" that will incent the right behavior from the Squirrels / Ninjas while giving Executives the information they need to make decisions (rather than engaging in a bitchfest which is the typical outcome).

Recommendation #1 was to move to a Critical Few philosophy for Executive reporting: Only report the three or five (at most!) metrics that define success for the whole business. Kill all the ancillary metrics that were nice to know (and my kill I mean let lower levels worry about it).

Recommendation #2 was my humble, admittedly ugly, attempt at a "Action Dashboard":

executive management dashboard

4Q. (Sorry Jonathan! :)

Each quadrant representing a solution to a human problem that lead to crappy dashboards.
(Apologies for having to redact some of the data above, to protect the innocent.)

Let me walk you through it.

First very up top a clear identification of what the Critical Few metric was, who was responsible for that metric from a business perspective (translate into "head on the line") and who was responsible for the analysis.

Also note the little red dot. That here indicated trouble. It can have two other colors, yellow for don't fire anyone yet but get ready and green for send someone a big hug and a box of chocolates. Next. . . .

kpi trend

The first quadrant (the graphic) shows the trend for the metric. Ideally segmented (as is the case here, cart abandonment is illustrated for four key customer segments).

This quadrant is to satiate Executive curiosity that you know what you are doing, it will be glossed over (and that's good!).

insights from analysis 1

The second quadrant (Key Trends & Insights) is to add value by interpreting the trends and adding context. It says there that some things are up or down (in english :), and it also warns which data might be bad etc. You are starting to do your job here.

This quadrant is the one that Executives will read a lot initially, over time they will gain confidence in you, they will love that you share context (hello Ninja!), over time they will gloss over it (a good thing).

action

The third quadrant, clockwise, (Actions / Steps To Take) is force the shy Web Analyst to get out and talk to Marketers, Website Owners, VP's, Whomever it takes to get all the tribal knowledge, identify root cause for the trends in the metric and recommend solid action to take. The Analyst will rarely be able to do this by themselves. It will require human contact with others, it will require conversations, it will mean identifying solutions collaboratively. It is a fantastic opportunity to become smart about the business.

This quadrant is key to driving action. No longer do you leave things to interpretation or let's blame people etc. You are recommending what actually needs to get done. Your Executives will kiss you and over time this is the only quadrant they'll read. It will also mean that monthly meetings will move from bitch fests to deciding who does what. Amen!

impact crater barringer arizona

The fourth quadrant, (Impact on Company/Customer) exists in case it is not clear to the Executives why they need to take action (listen to poor old you the lowly Analyst). I feel it is the key thing missing from any dashboard, they are normally missing the kick in the rear end and this quadrant delivers it. It is the answer to this question: "As a result of this trend (up or down) what was the impact on the company and its customers". It also forces you, Marketer / Analyst, to do hard work to estimate the impact and put it on paper.

This is the killer quadrant, if nothing else drives action this will, knowing exactly how much money was lost, how many customers were pissed, how much opportunity was wasted. Now when they ignore you they do that at their own peril and with their butt on the line. Trust me action you recommend will be taken.

See how simple it is?

You fix the human problems, you address the flaws in the system today and you actually become much smarter about the whole business (thanks to q3 and q4).

Win – win – win.

Over time you'll gain a lot more trust from your Executives and all the crappy dashboards can die and be replaced with one that looks like this one. . . .

executive management dashboard nirvana

Now you are asking your Executives to simply layer their own judgment on the recommendations and help the company take action. Who needs to see the numbers? They pay you and I to deliver actionable insights.

I stress that it won't happen overnight, but shoot for that nirvana state.

May the force be with you.

Ok now your turn. Care to share your own learnings and battle scars? Your success stories? Perhaps critique my "Action Dashboard" (sorry could not think of a better name, do you have suggestions?). Your perspectives are most welcome and would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.

PS:
Couple other related posts you might find interesting:

Comments

  1. 2
    Emily Fazio says:

    I have been a quiet reader of your site for a while now, and I want to let you know how much I appreciate your blog. I am a mechanical engineer who by lucky circumstance has become very involved with analytics over the past few years. Your blog has reaffirmed my intuitive approach to analytics, and that confidence has been very valuable.

    One thing I learned very early on was the value of a single question "What do you want to know?" Simply asking this question to the Powers That Be does a couple of things.

    1. It shows them you are interested in providing relevant data. (team player)

    2. Gives you credibility when you actually give them the data. (valuable team player)

    3. Turns boring reports/presentations into an opportunity for them to learn how to make their business more successful..in areas they already think are mission critical. (What would they do without you on their team)

    This simple approach saved me a lot of time, and earned me a few promotions on the way!

  2. 3

    Good stuff Avinash.

    Dashboard design is a pet subject of mine and I simply don’t think we the vendors (and that goes for basic Web Analytics- but as well for more mature Business Intelligence vendors) has been able to truly create an environment where one can create highly communicative and by that highly effective Dashboards. So I personally applaud any Dashboard debate :-)

    However; I believe that we have to differ between WHAT to communicate (the data part) and HOW to communicate it (the visual part) – as it’s two very separate discussions. The WHAT part is of course very much industry specific and almost certainly company and department specific (e.g. are we talking about executive or merely operational Dashboards).

    The HOW part is where your “Action Dashboard” comes into play and if I may be so rude as to comment on some of your choices. (.. and as always, you are most welcome to shoot me down).

    From a strategic point of view I actually disagree on your point: “Who needs to see the numbers? They pay you and I to deliver actionable insights.” – and that both from executive and also operational dashboards. I as a manager MUST see the numbers as I posses more knowledge about the business strategy, potential reasoning behind metric fluctuation, actual action opportunities etc..

    And in hand with that; I would personally deviate from the high use of “text” (especially when talking about trends) – as it decreases the opportunity to scan the dashboard.

    So to conclude; perhaps I could see me rename your splendid input to “Dashboard Actions” – and provide it as a complimentary report along side a dashboard (or as a drill down) – but not as the dashboard itself./

    I love the RED dot in the top right hand corner! :-)

    Cheers and see you next week at Emetrics.
    dennis

    Dennis R. Mortensen, COO at IndexTools
    My Web Analytics Blog

  3. 4
    Tim Wilson says:

    Avinash, you heretic!!! :-)

    This post reminds me of a round of BI vendor evaluations we went through a while back. One of the questions that tripped up several vendors was, "What are our options for adding text to the dashboards you offer?" All too often, we got a blank stare, then a cough, and then a, "Why would you want to do that?"

    When we responded, "Because we need to be able to add context/interpretation to the data." In a few cases…the vendor could not come up with a single way to do this. In others, we got into discussions of serving up the data through a portal, and then using portlets for that context, which isn't a bad idea, and would make your 4-quadrant framework deliverable.

    Alas…to date…Excel and PowerPoint have generally been our best option. The not-so-surprising surprise? The consumers of the data are happier with less-than-real-time-but-with-contextual-analysis-and-recommendations than they were with the near-real-time-access-to-just-the-charts-and-graphs.

    I'm looking forward to going back through some of my semi-Ninja work to apply another level of de-squirreling! Thanks, Avinash!

  4. 5
    Neil Mason says:

    Couldn’t agree more Avinash – the world is full of crappy dashboards! It reminded me of an article I wrote a couple of years ago on the subject of overlays and dashboards. Often they are a triumph of technology over insight. The problem is that to achieve your “Action Dashboard” that you need to have an analyst who can add that degree of value and often they are tied up spending all their time producing crappy dashboards! So somehow we they need to break out of the loop; produce less that means more and spend more time generating insight and less time producing fuel gauges!</

  5. 6
    Kanishka says:

    Spot on Avinash!

    This should be a wake up call for Analysts and Practioners. To unlearn the art of seduction by way of graphical dashboards is analogous to re-learing a swim stroke all over again (the right way). It holds true for many a consulting firms and agencies out there and the notion of seperating the weed from the chaff in your post is noteworthy.

    Thanks for the insights and relevant topics you keep publishing.

    Bravo!

  6. 7
    Chuck Ullan says:

    Hey Avinash, love the product here. Let's talk through the means a bit.

    Leading up to this, there are 2 key pieces

    1) Determine those "key few" metrics and segments
    2) Build agreement in the organization to focus on just those things.

    Number 1 isn't that hard for any good ninja

    Number 2 seems to be the trick in an org of any decent size, assuming you are not able to decree this with an iron fist. Ninjas are usually stealth creatures, not autocrats. Would love to hear your thoughts (or see future article) on managing and selling that process.

  7. 8
    Adrien says:

    how true…

    I actually work a lot lately for web analytics and love dashboards as Stephen Few describes them (and he is the best for dashboards)

    combining both your work and his is truly what WA should be.

    Thanks for those nice articles (and your brilliant conference in montreal)

  8. 9
    Angela says:

    Avinash, Your post is right on time for me! I am currently involved in some of the dashboard project. Your deep insights help a lot! You are wonderful as always!!!

  9. 10
    Alice Cooper's Stalker says:

    Avinash,

    Great post. One observation… Your Cart Abandonment dashboard has the big red dot on it which you are using to convey 'trouble' versus a green dot to convey that everything is good. I took a heuristic evaluations class on building usable websites. We learned to NEVER use red and green to convey status because people that are color blind have a hard time differentiating colors…especially red versus green. You should always use some sort of symbol like a thumbs up versus a thumbs down, instead. I know that this is a common practice by consulting companies to use red, yellow and green to convey status, but the color-blind people out there obviously would find this useless.

  10. 11
    nick says:

    Great Post,

    It illustrates how we think of dashboards today (data) isn't what we really need (insight & action). And since data can't do this by itself, it increases my job security :)

    For large companies I've found different people need various levels of data. Execs just want action and impact where as an operations manager might want to validate more of the numbers with other data at their disposal.

    Do you see your dashboard concept changing by job role? Also how do these rollup to the "critical few" across an organization?

  11. 12
    Ned Kumar says:

    Good pointers Avinash!

    One thing I have noticed in my experience is the belief (by some) that a single dashboard can be a panacea to all their reporting. This in part has led to many a crammy looking dashboard with tons of data -with the dashboard ending up looking more like a whiteboard. I believe that in addition to being informative, a dashboard should be 'clean' in terms of viewing and tracking one area of interest or a set of related goals.

    Also, I agree that 'numbers' are the not the stars of any dashboard — however, they do play a supporting role [IMHO] and very much should be in an appendix or a footnote link should someone wants to look deeper.

    And lastly, I have always encouraged the "Ninjas " to have a 1-1 or at least an informal chat with the key viewers/Execs before even sitting down to design the dashboard. This will allow them to incorporate the information in a way that is actionable and also acceptable to the readers. As Emerson says, "People only see what they are prepared to see." :-)

  12. 13
    Lynne says:

    Perfect timing! I've spent the past week pondering and planning the 'perfect' dashboard for our CEO and have been hating the excel barfs I've come up with thus far. Your sample 'dashboard' is awesome, just what I've been wanting to do and not had the guts to put on paper. Thanks Avinash!

  13. 14
    Joe Teixeira says:

    My favorite point that is made here (and also in the "Five Rules…" post) is that your dashboard should fit on one page, and if it doesn't, you don't have a dashboard, you have a report. Very key point here, because it's very easy to get carried away with adding, adding, adding….and before you know it it's a 7 page mega-report with 1,000 different things to look at. Dashboards should DEFINITELY be simple, easy to look at and understand, and fit on one page / one piece of paper (which of course will be recycled or re-used somehow :)

    This should be a rule that everyone lives by, whether you're using Omniture SiteCatalyst, HitBox, or you're creating your own in Excel by hand.

  14. 15
    Judd Exley says:

    Hey Avinash,

    Another great article and insight. Sadly, I've been guilty of throwing too much data at a client initially in the mistaken belief that I could prove my worth by throwing ALL of my wickedsmahts at them. WRONG.

    Almost to the point of losing them as a client, I changed tactics and gave her a call, using plain language and telling her what I thought she should do instead of overwhelming her with data and thinking that she'd prefer to make her own informed decision. Worked a charm, she appreciated my forthrightness (which I THOUGHT I was doing with all that data), and the ideas that I suggested are what have her at #3 for 3 competitive terms, so she's lovin' me now.

    Dashboards, to me, have always been about what who is looking at them wants to see straightaway, not what I think they want to see.

  15. 16
    Ryan Kelly says:

    Avanash – this is a great post. I think the action dashboard is a great way to summarize the key details to my clients, rather than puking data that they won't understand anyway. Thanks!

  16. 17
    Jason Baer says:

    Great post. Something we've been trying to do with varying degrees of success for a long time. My favorite part is the statuses. Even if you make the data simple and actionable, execs often don't have a benchmark or a clear understanding that conversion rate is much more critical than traffic, for example. I'm going to borrow your status color idea. Thanks for the tip.

  17. 18
    Andrew Blank says:

    Avinash,

    Great post. This brings up an issue we seem to have left to the WA and BI companies to sort out.

    I would make one suggestion for your version. Often times there is more than one issue conveyed on a dashboard.

    Separating them between the three different areas (Key Trends, Impact, and Actions) means that your reader might not always understand which items go together through each box (some could even overlap).

    Wouldn't it make more sense to put an issue in each of the three boxes in order of priority and address it with their own Key Trends, Impact, and Actions?

  18. 19
    Dyana says:

    Hey Avinash,

    great blog post and very true. As a former consultant, I must admit that on numerous occasions I have seen clients request these types of 'pretty but not so useful' dashboards which take weeks to produce and hours to update. However, although your suggestion for actionable insight is ideal, in most cases, companies need these dashboards to be set up as some type of automated procedure (a scheduled email, API or some other form of data extraction) so that they don't need to rely on the expensive consultants for too long. Rarely do they have the in-house knowledge or resources to produce the recommendation / outcome model that you propose. And to make matters even worse – those companies that do invest in data analysts, end up using those resources as mass report producing machines resulting in a complete information overload and no actionable insight. Its quite tragic :)

  19. 20

    Dennis: I deliberately left the "what" part out of this post, you are right it is a challenge of its own right. I tackled that subject, how to pick Critical Few KPI's, in this post:

    Web Metrics Demystified

    For the "how" part, I don't think we are as far apart as you might think. It will take quite some time for a Executive to have enough trust to not want to see the trends. For that reason the Action Dashboard has the trends included.

    But once that happens it is all about recommending actions and the Executive applying their business judgment and wisdom on what happens when. I am sure one day as you have trust in your Ninjas (after they evolve from Squirrels) then you would be in the came camp Dennis! :)

    Emily: Fantastic suggestion! Thank you for adding value through your comment!

    Neil: Great link and a lovely story with John there. (And welcome back to blogging.)

    Chuck: I have written a couple articles that touch on how to get buyin from Management or other relevant decision makers:

    Lack Management Support or Buy-in? Embarrass Them!
    and
    Six Rules For Creating A Data Driven Boss!
    and
    Convert Data Skeptics: Document, Educate & Pick Your Poison

    In there some where is the right answer. But I'll consider writing one that focuses specifically on the nuance you have suggested.

    It is very much a cultural challenge, not a metrics challenge.

    AC Stalker: Excellent point about the color blind, I'll consider playing with the thumbs up sign. Thank you.

    Nick: There was a great concept we practiced at Intuit, it was called "line of sight". Put simply it stressed the importance of starting at the top, CEO, and then ensuring that every metric reporting at subsequent layers had a direct "line of sight" to a metric on the CEO dashboard. If it did not you were not focusing on what the company was solving for.

    I would recommend that mindset for ensuring that the "critical few" across the organization rolled up cleanly.

    Andrew: A great suggestion, I think prioritizing will certainly be helpful for our executives and we should strive to do that.

    Dyana: Thanks for sharing your perspective! I can understand the pressures on consultants, having been one myself.

    But I am afraid that I have come to believe that any "automated" dashboard simply becomes one extra thing to delete in the email box, or one more thing to ignore.

    Hence my recommendation to swap those with "words" / "recommendation". Then perhaps we can entice people to read and take action.

    The automation "dashboard" requests, we can call them reports and move on! Atleast there won't be unreasonable expectations that they'll yield insights "automatically"!! :)

    Great point about big companies hiring Analysis Ninjas and then making them into glorified Reporting Squirrels.

    Thanks everyone! Great discussion, I absolutely thrilled.

    -Avinash.

  20. 21
    Ankur Mody says:

    Hi Avinash

    Congrats Sir for your inclusion in the 2008-09 Board of Directors for Web Analytics Association (WAA)

    Great going. Keep it up.
    Ankur Mody

  21. 22
    Florian Pihs says:

    Thanks for making me the data owner & director of insights. Should ask my management to change my title :).

  22. 23

    Hi Avinash,
    Thanks for a very interesting post on web analytics dashboards!! I totally agree that the world is full of dashboards, which include too many unrelated KPIs, turning them into complex data displays rather than actionable information.

    As such the biggest challenge is often to reduce the number of KPIs and to provide “thicker” interpretations.

    Having said that, however, I think we should also avoid the opposite mistake of throwing away too much information. In my view, it is perfectly fine to include several charts/tables in a dashboard as long as they all serve to “explain” your main KPI.

    In your dashboard, for example, one could have shown the total cart abandonment rate in the upper left quadrant and then used the remaining three to provide some explanations. One way of doing so would be to break down the total abandonment rate to your four key customer segments. Another way would be to show which traffic sources or campaigns had contributed most to the positive/negative trend for this overall metric.

    The idea would be to build a single display which shows not only how well the check-out process is performing, but also why this might be the case.

    Thanks again for an interesting post!

  23. 24
    jeff says:

    Having left AOL a few months ago, we built countless iterations of dashboards that failed. I think the bottom line was that there was little to no feedback or direction coupled with short deadlines. We always had it be graph/chart heavy, with a key insights section at the top.

    The problem that I see with it being insight heavy, is how often is that going to change over time? If the meat of the dashboard doesn't change often, how engaged are they going to be in that dashboard as time goes on if those insights change infrequently?

  24. 25
    Aseem Patel says:

    Great post Avinash!

    My 0.015$ (yes less than 2 cents) cents on metrics and dashboards.

    * For the site as a whole a few key metrics do tell the story. The roadblock i hit is when owners of different parts of this site try to align their KPIs to mirror the "strategic" goal. I think it is on your blog or maybe not but i totally agree that not all parts of the site serve the same purpose so trying to align all KPIs is a mistake.

    * To cater to the "i want that too" crowd I end up with multiple charts on the dashboard but highlight and give my perspective on the relevant site section KPI's only – still a one pager. Not ideal, but i at least get a chance to get my point across without having to fight the "align with the strategy" mantra.

    * Also, have taken to removing the scale and just presenting a trend with superimposed Last year trend.

    Just some thoughts.

    Thx for the insights.

  25. 26
    Alice Cooper's Stalker says:

    Avinash,

    I think that the reason that so many organizations build autmated data only dashboards is that it is easier than building the dashboard that you propose. It takes time to absorb the data, analyze it, come to conclusions and then tweak and present them. It's much easier to just pump out the data.

    My 2 cents…

  26. 27
    Randy Ksar says:

    Great post although long!

  27. 28

    What I like about your posts? You illustrate all your ideas with relevant graphics and show that you are not talking off your backside. Love your blog.
    -Des
    http://techwatch.reviewk.com/

  28. 29
    Kyle says:

    Great post! Several of these crappy dashboards are available on the company Intranets and very few coworkers know where to find them or how to use them.

  29. 30
    Kyle says:

    Have to agree with dashboards being crappy. They are built and used only to look busy. Analysis is rarely used.

    HIPPOS usually dont have the time to read more than 3 slides anyway. What I like hear is that you've basically taken 3 slides and combined them with the metric chart to create one all inclusive slide.

    Very good post.

  30. 31

    Very valid comments, Kaushik. The balance between data and information drives the quality of knowledge offered by the dashboard. As a business user, i'd comment you can give more than the key metrics in the top quadrant. You can for example allow some metrics to be drilled down to next level to give better visibility.

    That'd help u have a good look at the person ;) and not be disappointed (yes you are married but looking is still ok :)

  31. 32

    Sathya:

    Typically my experience is that drill downs are an excuse for not actually putting in enough time to dig for the insights and providing answers. So the report writer will take the easy way out, create a wiz bang flash driven excel backend infinite drill down dashboard. The problem is that the Decision Maker will need increasingly ever more context the more they drill down, context that they won't have.

    So my recommendation is that, atleast for Senior Executive dashboards, the Analyst should spend time understanding key trends and developments and include the insights / context in the other quadrant, thus reducing or eliminating the need for drill downs.

    Of course each case is a little unique but I hope the ability to provide drill downs is not a excuse for not doing the hard work up front.

    Would you agree?

    -Avinash.

  32. 33
    Melinda says:

    Know what I love about this post, Avinash?

    It's true for *all* reporting, not just dashboards. When executives get emails with just a report of sales, unrequested, I suspect it goes in the trash.

    I challenge my team to ask the question "So What?" when looking at data, and use the answer(s) to that questions when crafting the narrative.

    Thanks for yet another well structured instruction plan that is enormously useful.

  33. 34
    Zach says:

    I have a question regarding web widgets that I wanted to throw out there.

    I have been looking for helpful examples in web metrics reporting and came across this site…

    http://dashboard.imamuseum.org/

    I was impressed by the style and simplicity of the various reports featured on the site. To get an idea of how the museum displays this data, I took a look at the source html code. My question is this:

    Would anybody be able to shed light on what sort of computer application allows the user to produce web widgets like the ones shown at the website above. I know that Apple allows you to with Dashcode, but I'm interested in learning about others that produce similar results. If anyone can offer any input or suggestions, I'd really appreciate it.

    My company is in the process of revamping our website and I feel that widgets in the style of imamuseum.org would be perfect.

    Thanks!

  34. 35

    As a novice to these models I found both your original post and several of the responses both interesting and thought-provoking.

    My added comments are as follows: swap Quadrants 3 and 4 – the outcomes are usually more powerful on foot of the consequences, so read it last. this is especially true if you feel the following ideas merit inclusion.

    Also, in the Actions/Steps Quadrant, it is frequently useful to include the specific intended end-result from the action/step. Often, the end-result is unclear or unspoken and this alone can result in wasted effort and misdirected steps. So, the guiding question is: "What specific results are we after?" and hold the actions/steps being considered up against it. This also allows for a more creative approach and the mining of less obvious but better-formed action choices. After all, the outcomes should dictate the actions/next steps.

    Finally, you may want to include a brief Cost Benefit Analysis of the proposed actions – this is where you can heavily (and professionally) score on getting the right "influencers" to put their weight behind your recommendations.

  35. 36
    Bansi Patel says:

    Still the best post I've come across on dashboards. I've referred to it several times since your original post. Thanks for all your great work!

  36. 37
    sfo says:

    from a CRM analytics guy :

    the original post is quite vicious and biased :D i love it,
    it also give good reflexion, as proven by quite many good comments : life is not that simple/black&white ^^

    my funny comment about it is i always ask first my business user what he want and what for (even which numbers he look for, aka which version of the truth!)

    on the more serious part, "action dashboard" is in my mind not about making studies&recommandations, but rather allow Business Users to make choices in a specific context based on fact(ie re-allocate ressource arbitrary stuff) –> in this case, i rather push alternative scenario (win/lost ratio) and my value-added stop with color coding warning on few KPI, then it is the business to make his job (at least, let them believe they do choice) dont forget it : efficient conseiller stay hidden (like a ninja!!)

    -sfo
    the answer is 42

  37. 38
    Marco says:

    I do not understand so well when I must use this dashboard. Is it intended to send a weekly round? Or if the weekly dashboard shows that something is not going well, and then use it to zoom in on the problem?

  38. 39

    Marco: The Action Dashboard can't be for daily tactical things. It is for strategic purposes. In as much think of its optimal use as monthly, or if you are really really good at finding insights then twice a month. But it can't be weekly, because it is really hard to find Impact on Customers and Actions / Steps to be taken any faster.

    The longer the time period the more optimal the Action Dashboard is – you can truly do real analysis and fill out quadrants three and four.

    It is also more optimal for serious metrics (the ones I call Critical Few in the blog post). The big important KPI's that might not change daily but nonetheless measure health, well being and success of the business (and those you would not want to know daily, that is not how it works! :)).

    Hope this helps a bit.

    -Avinash.

  39. 40
    Marco says:

    Am I certainly helped, thank you!!!

    Another question, what elements of trinity is the best to show at the management and the marketeer?

  40. 41
    Daniel Hall says:

    Great post, this is exactly the mistake I have been making ;-(

    Making some changes to the presentation of my analytics dashboard will definitely save me work by concentrating on a few metrics that important to communicate well.
    After all the objective is to get recommendations/insights agreed and implemented before the data becomes stale!

    I'm interested how you get the dashboard looking so good with dials etc, is this a google gadget or an analytics package ?

  41. 42

    The most difficult thing about all this great advice is the charming bit.

    The company and its directors that I work for have not succumbed to any of my charms as yet

  42. 43
    JL says:

    I'm not new to analysis, but will be to whatever dashboard I create or software I purchase to help me collate and acquire quick insight into the information I've gathered. And so your site has helped me to remember that after the pretty dashboard analytics, I need to stay on track by providing "analysis" at the end. If I could just find a relatively easy-to-configure, multi data source, individual dashboard that could assist me in "quickly" providing the ninja reporting, I'd be a happy ninja!

  43. 44
    T.X says:

    This is dangerous! A true actionable dashboard can looked like it’s pointing fingers at people or department that might not be doing a good job. It’s great if everything is a happy story, but if not…… can be bad.

  44. 45
    Steve Wages says:

    The US Marines commissioned a psychologist, Gary Klein (who went on to write several books on intuition and decision making), to do studies on leadership during stress (battle). He found that a human under duress can only manage three complex tasks at any one time. Since then the Marines have adapted that insight into many facets of their "organization". Regarding this discussion, every Marine briefing contains three statements- objective, current situation, next course of action. And this has to be given in 40 seconds or less. As a business executive, I have used this framework successfully for a number of years and think I would provide a great succinct dashboard for executive oversight.

    The next question is what kinds of information or insights should be stated. At the top, the leader of an organization is tasked with defining organizational strategy and the metrics to tell him/her if they are on track towards success. Generally, the metrics in any dashboard for top level executives should always be aligned with strategic objectives, not tactical efforts. For a campaign manager, they will of course need tactical information to assess success. It's about filtering the right information for the right people.

    Great blog by the way- Thanks

  45. 46
    Jane says:

    Dashboards are a must have for any serious business!

    We use Cyfe.com for our dashboard needs. Great tool!

Trackbacks

  1. [...] In his post, Avinash takes a look at existing dashboards, available in web analytics tools or from web analytics consultants. The great point he makes, is that most dashboards are not actionable. I’d say that accounts for most reports in most web analytics systems, as well as most other systems with reports. So how do you create actionable dashboards? Read further on The “Action Dashboard” (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards) [...]

  2. [...] Avinash Kaushik (aka, My Analytics Hero) has a great post today on The “Action Dashboard” (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards). In his typically tangible, engaging way, Avinash has mounted one of my all-time favorite soapboxes — it is a grand misconception to see “using data” as primarily an exercise of capturing data and then making that data accessible. We have a lot of internal debates on this — on a broad scale when it comes to what the “right” dashboard is for managing our own operations, as well as what the best way is to provide actionable data to our clients. From Day One, we’ve captured data phenomenally well. And, that’s a great thing — GIGO applies when it comes to the data, in that no amount of analysis is going to provide actionable insights if the data is dirty or wildly incomplete. [...]

  3. [...] The "Action Dashboard" (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards) | Occam's Razor by Av… Fantastic read. While this post refers to analytics, the fundamental truth of the post is that we want actionable information – not just stats. Stats don't mean anything without analysis and action. (tags: analytics, dashboards) [...]

  4. [...] The “Action Dashboard” (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards) (Avinash Kaushik) [...]

  5. [...] The Action Dashboard (An Alternative to Crappy Dashboards) I couldn't agree more with Avinash's viewpoint on creating insightful dashboards – there are way too many 'reporting squirrels' out there! [...]

  6. [...] Write report scripts that generate the graphs and data you need on a regular basis. Eventually you want to move away from displaying the same dashboard data every month and move to a more issue focused reporting scheme. This will take time however so it is good to get a baseline to work from. Again shared across many companies/departments these report scripts should be reusable. [...]

  7. [...]
    Presenting your company’s metrics

    For those of you charged with presenting your company’s metrics, this is a must read. Kushik’s article recommends a better way of presenting numbers (financial, sales, web or otherwise) through the use of an “action dashboard” that provides meaning to the reader.
    [...]

  8. [...]
    There is a tendency with reporting, and dashboards in particular, to cram as much information on the page as possible. It is a problem that Avinash describes with typical candor:

    “This one of the core reasons why most dashboards are ‘crappy’, i.e. they are data pukes that provide little in terms of context and even less in terms of actionable value.”

    In the past, we have offered tools to make data presentation as clear as possible (chart chooser, Excel chart cleaner). Sometimes clean isn’t enough; a more dramatic approach is needed.
    [...]

  9. [...] on Investment of our activities? Where do we need to improve? Example Activities Online Dashboard(article) Where do people drop out? What does your conversion funnel look like? "Buzz"/Online [...]

  10. [...] The “Action Dashboard” (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards) [...]

  11. [...] 本文翻译自Avinash Kaushik的最新博文:The “Action Dashboard” (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards),请点击链接查看原文。感谢Avinash慷慨的同意我翻译他的文章,要知道,他可是网站分析世界里的大师啊!下面是这篇文章的全文译文: [...]

  12. [...] What other sites do this site's visitors visit? You can see other sites Kinda like making a good analytics dashboard for your executives to take action [...]

  13. [...] I hesitate to say that any one of these keys is more powerful than the other because I’m a big believer in all of these. However, I will say that if you can master your analytics platform, your job will be much easier. Too often for beginner and intermediate Web Analysts they spend hours figuring out what data they should use to analyze their site. Instead you should be able to quickly capture the data that you need and spend a good amount of time analyzing it and a large amount of time figuring out what it means. Mastering your analytics platform will allow you to spend more time analyzing and making recommendations and not just reporting data like the squirrel (love this metaphor from Avinash Kaushik). http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/2008/04/the-action-dashboard-an-alternative-to-crappy-dashboards.html [...]

  14. [...]
    If you are in hurry, you can find some more tips on Panorama’s blog here. But if you are someone who does dashboard/reports/data visualization for living, I highly recommend that that you read works of the two prominent experts in the field.

    Avinash Kaushik

    Action Dashboard (An Alternative to Crappy Dashboards
    Five Rules for High Impact Web Analytics Dashboards
    [...]

  15. [...]
    The Sinobuzz dashboard is well designed and provides a good overview of brand performance. Like most dashboards (see Avinash’s Action Dashboard post), it suffers from the lack of analysis and actionable insights.

    FP: A good rule of thumb for any Dashboard: Handle with care. Dashboards without analytics and recommendations usually end up as pretty charts without impact. The key resource is not the dashboard, but an analyst who understands these numbers and your business and can provide actionable insights and recommendations based on that data. John mentioned that there are more reports to dig deeper and it would be great to understand what these reports can do. The critical queastion remains: How does the tool enable brands to take action?
    [...]

  16. [...]
    Web analytics master Avinash Kaushik suggests that 80% of Web Analytics dashboards are these excessive excel sheets that really do not tell us anything. They are not actionable.
    [...]

  17. [...]
    Leitura interessante também encontra-se no Dashboard Spy. Embora tenha muitos posts sobre “variedades”, pode-se extrair informações úteis em boa parte do material deles. Encontrei, por exemplo, o tutorial do anychart mencionado acima e o blog do autor do livro Web Analytics.

    Em um post, Avinash, o autor do livro – e do blog, fala sobre dashboards poluídos, cuja única serventia é mostrar que o desenvolvedor (normalmente um consultor) é mestre “nono dan” da arte dos gráficos em Excel. Afinal, para que um dashboard se o usuário não pode extrair facilmente algo útil?
    [...]

  18. [...]
    Dashboard approach: if a brief seems too long winded you can also take a dashboard approach. Avinash Kaushik provides a great example of how to create a dashboard. The essence of it is: graph; summary of metrics; impacts/areas for improvement; and next steps I find this to be best for recurring data such as a weekly, monthly or quarterly review of KPI’s but you can definitely tailor this to specific projects if you so choose.
    [...]

  19. [...]
    That’s an interesting pattern, but it’s up to you to decide if it relates to your web site goals and what you want to do about it. Remember, analysis without consequences is a waste of time. Maybe you should use all that white space in the lower right corner of the worksheet to list your observations, gauge the business impact, and propose an action plan (gee, where did that idea come from?).
    [...]

  20. [...]
    In summary, reporting shows you what is happening while analysis focuses on explaining why it is happening and what you can do about it.

    Both are very important to the success of any business.

    But when it comes to Data Robot vs. Analytics Ninja…my money is always on the ninja.
    [...]

  21. [...]
    Of course, if all this dashboard talk bores you because you have a penchant for true ninja analysis, you can read Google Analytics evangelist Avinash Kaushik’s post on action dashboards. But that’s the deep end of the pool. Bring water wings. :)
    [...]

  22. [...]
    But I believe there is a gap between these reports filled with data and the minimalistic Actionable Dashboards created by Avinash, a gap that can be filled by useful performance dashboards. Business owners need information to make decisions. Some of them want to view data, not just be told what the data means and what their decision should be. But web analytics tools contain too much data and end up being useless to the business owner as they can’t get the information they need.
    [...]

  23. [...]
    I have to say that whenever I do a prototype for a new function I am haunted by the voice of Avinash Kaushik in “don’t just Puke Data – offer Actionable Insights” – based on his “Actionable Dashboards” presentations. This was no different. How can someone process 101 results? We are still working on ways to just mine the uber nuggets of data – see “Crowdsourcing Questions” below.
    In our tool we can sort these by Google Search Demand, Revenue Per Visit, or Conversion Rate or any other number to identify which of the 101 that we want to fix first. Typically the user is choosing those that have the highest demand and the lowest click rate. The typical user of the tool is trying to identify 5 or 10 keywords a week to try to improve.
    [...]

  24. [...]
    An interactive dashboard is most useful only when the underlying drivers are not known and exploratory analysis is required. A good article that kinda supports my view can be seen on Avinash’s blog.
    [...]

  25. [...]
    Recently I was looking for something [do you ever google so much that you forget what you are googling for?] and I ran across his post The “Action Dashboard” (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards). If you have the time, it’s a short but very worthwhile read. His point is that the “core reasons why most dashboards are ‘crappy’” is that “they are data pukes that provide little in terms of context and even less in terms of actionable value.”
    [...]

  26. [...]
    Have you done an image search for business dashboardlately? They remind me of what computer generated maps were like before we had GPS devices. It appears that the great majority of them are completely devoid of any insightful text. Of course, I've touched on this in an earlier post where I highlighted Avinash Kaushid's The "Action Dashboard" (An Alternative To Crappy Dashboards).
    [...]

  27. [...]
    As Avinash says in more than one place about but clearly in this Occam’s Razor article on the difference between reporting and analysis, “Notice the overwhelming existence of words. That’s not always sufficient, but I humbly believe always necessary. When you look to check if you are looking at analysis or reporting look for Insights, Actions, Impact on Company. All good signs of analysis.” We have visited topic this several times in talking about his Action Dashboards and how to create them.
    [...]

  28. [...]
    Si por alguna razón no queremos que el rango de datos sea una tabla (las tablas tienen propiedades específicas muy interesantes, pero no dejan, por ejemplo, combinar celdas), siempre podemos volver a convertirla en un rango… pero los colores de las celdas se mantienen. La utilización conjunta de estos sencillos trucos, puede dar como resultado CMs realmente atractivos. Para saber más sobre la confección de cuadros de mando, se recomienda la lectura de los siguientes post:http://www.kaushik.net/avinash/the-action-dashboard-an-alternative-to-crappy-dashboards/
    [...]

  29. […]
    Finally, marketers are required to present the data and provide recommendations to their client or their CEO who will have the final word in making the decision. However, giving the dashboard itself is not enough for making decisions. According to Avinash Kaushik, there are four required elements in presenting “the action dashboard”.
    […]

  30. […]
    當然~ “寫報告“有各種"需求“和"目的“,這邊一定要提一下由網站分析大師 Avinash Kaushik 提出過的 The “Action Dashboard” 可執行的網站分析報告精要 這篇文章,特別在讀書會中 網站分析實戰 這本書作者也特別提到,這一篇文章對我的啟發很大,我也特別花了好久去"讀通“、並且"實做“他!
    […]

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