It’s a simple question – Can your business user take managerial action based on your dashboard? Of course, you say “yes” without hesitation, but let’s slow down and examine what makes a business dashboard truly actionable.

Analytics guru and dashboard afficionado, Avinash Kaushik, author of the excellent book, Web Analytics: An Hour a Day had a recent blog posting titled The Action Dashboard: An Alternative to Crappy Dashboards.

Avinash comments that most dashboards are, well, crappy. And the reason why is that they are “data pukes that provide little in terms of context and even less in terms of actionable value”.

What makes a “data puke”?

He shows the following screen as an example:

data puke dashboard

Looking at this dashboard example, one may be tempted to think that we call this particular dashboard a “data puke” because of its content – i.e. lots of data heavy, text-based portlets.

However, Avinash makes the excellent point that slick, eye-candy type dashboards can also be data pukes. It’s not just text-heavy presentations that make for data pukes.

Excel style dashboard

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.

Avinash goes on to say why he thinks most business dashboards “stink”:

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:

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).

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.

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.

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 dashboards.

So does Avinash provide real advice as to how to avoid data pukes and create actionable dashboards? He sure does.

If you are on the front page of the Dashboard Spy blog, you may have to click on the following “Read More” link to see Avinash’s advice for “Action Dashboards”.