Dashboard Confessional

On deleting your KPI dashboard

I have a confession to make.

Here at CIFL, we’ve built dozens of Google Sheets + Data Studio dashboards.

Dashboards for startups.  For digital agencies.  For nonprofits.

For practically everyone but your Mom.

But we *have not* built one for ourselves.

Yes, that’s right - this data and analytics business operates completely by feel.

Yet, as I write that sentence, I feel not one pang of hypocrisy, regret, or impostor syndrome.


Before we talk about CIFL, let’s talk about you.

You probably have some kind of dashboard or reporting at work.

It probably looks pretty, with some really nicely-designed charts and tables.

Someone spent a lot of time making those charts and tables look sexy enough to share with your boss.

And those beautiful, radiant reports get ignored by everyone on your team.

I’m guessing people fly by the seat of their pants, plucking out data that supports their latest idea.

If nobody on your team flies by the seat of their pants, feel free to stop reading.

Have you ever heard the universal axiom of article sharing on the web?

It’s one of my favorite pieces of data about web usage.

It goes:

If you share an article via Twitter, Facebook or Email, it is scientific proof that you have not read that article.

There’s a similar axiom that I’ve heard for business dashboards:

If you have constructed a business intelligence dashboard, that dashboard accumulates dust and is ignored by everyone.

The act of building the dashboard fulfills your appetite for dashboards, so you don’t have to bother looking at it.

How does this happen?

How have millions of dollars of time been wasted building dashboards that nobody uses?

I think it runs deep.

I think it’s because dashboards aren’t built for *humans*.

They’re built in service of the business, not the people running the business.

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If you have pages and pages of reports on your dashboard, it’s not built for a human.

Let’s take a look at a dashboard that *is* built for a human.

The dashboard of my Subaru.

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It’s a kickass, human-centered dashboard for a few reasons:

1. It’s completely standardized

Anyone who’s ever driven a car could read it without much stress.

When you get promoted, could you hand off your dashboard to your replacement without much stress?

As humans, we long for consistency and shared understanding.

2. Every gauge has one specific action to take.

Your current MPH tells you whether to slow down or speed up.  Your gas gauge tells you when to start looking for gas.  And on and on.

As humans, we’re really good at making binary, forward-looking decisions like that.  But only when those decisions aren’t heavily interrelated - that involves too much math to do in your head.

3.  There’s a clear information hierarchy.

Your current speed is more important than current MPG.

One will get you a $400 ticket, one will cause you to get gas 20 minutes sooner.  No contest.

Most dashboards I’ve seen lately (not dashboards CIFL has built, of course 🙂 look like a Twitter feed.  They weigh every single chart, table and scorecard equally in an infinite scroll.

Defining what’s *most* important is, er, very important when building a dashboard.  Imagine if the largest gauge on your car’s dashboard showed the current radio station?

As humans, we react to what’s on fire.

Human-scale dashboards are standardized, actionable and have information weighted by importance.

How does that translate from a Subaru to a business?

At CIFL, we shrink it down.

What we ended up with looks more like a compass than a dashboard.

Because we’re people.

When we do our jobs, we’re not driving 60 MPH.

We’re walking, and making decisions at a human pace.

It’s actually much simpler than driving: there’s no such thing as missing an exit.  We always have time to course-correct.

So we rely on a very small number of simple scorecards: one.

Our current month’s cashflow.

It rises, it falls, but it pays the bills and mostly grows.

If it wasn’t, a quick peek at a Google Analytics source / medium report would tell us all we need to know.

Why you likely can’t do this

Most managers are scared to admit that things will not be perfect.

That perfect access to information *does not* necessarily lead to perfect decision-making.

That execution of work will be sloppy at times, and results lumpy and difficult to attribute.

That business results are *human* results.

So they demand fully-transparent and instantly-accessible information, to cover their asses.

At CIFL, we’re way too lazy for any type of ass-covering, so we just build dashboards for humans.

That’s why we don’t have a dashboard at CIFL, and are proud of it.

Putting this into action for yourself

Whether you agree or disagree with that premise, here’s what I recommend you do now:

If you have a dashboard

Open it up, and ask yourself: do I use this every day to take action?  If it does, awesome!  You’re in the 1% of happy dashboard users.

If it doesn’t, navigate to the top menu for the tool you use - it’s probably titled ‘File’ or ‘Settings’.

Find a button that says something like ‘Delete’ (it might be labeled in red).

Press it.  Don’t look back.

When your boss asks you what happened to the dashboard, tell them you deleted it, because you weren’t using it.

If you don’t have a dashboard, and you’re happy

Congratulations!  You’ve somehow found a way to live without an excessive amount of data crowding your headspace.  Keep going.

If you don’t have a dashboard, but feel the creeping need to have one

First, I beg you to reconsider.

But, after reconsidering…

If you want to build human-scale dashboards that are standardized and actionable, there’s a couple ways we at CIFL can help.

For the lazy folks, there’s a number of Data Studio dashboard templates in the Template Vault below, just drop your email and you’ll get an invite to our private Trello board.

If you’re feeling frisky and looking to customize your human-scale dashboard, check out our dashboard-construction course, Data Studio the Lazy Way (super-secret discount available from our Trello board).


With love,
Commissioner, CodingIsForLosers