Upcoming book:
Beyond Dashboards

Border - Beyond Dashboards TEMPORARY book cover - small.png

I’ve seen a lot of dashboards fail

Or watch a video overview of Beyond Dashboards

90-minute talk delivered at SAS in September 2019

90-minute talk delivered at SAS in September 2019

Despite the fact that books and courses on information dashboard design have been available for years, many dashboards still fail to meet users' and organizations' expectations. Users have trouble finding answers to basic data-related questions and fail to notice urgent problems because they’re hidden behind clicks, hard to notice, or possibly not even on the dashboard. Because of these and other problems, many dashboards still end up under-used or even abandoned.

Based on Nick Desbarats’ experiences designing dashboards for over 50 large organizations and teaching dashboard design to thousands of professionals, Beyond Dashboards uncovers the real reasons why so many dashboards fail to satisfy users and organizations; reasons that go far deeper than the visual design on which most dashboard books and courses focus. Readers will learn a practical, actionable framework for creating a system of purpose-specific displays (Monitoring Displays, Performance Displays, Item Displays, etc.) that enables users to get answers to their data-related questions far more quickly and easily, including basic ones such as, “Is everything O.K. at the moment?”, often for the first time.

Who should read this book

Beyond Dashboards provides specific strategies, frameworks and best practices for those who are directly responsible for designing or developing information dashboards for employees, partners, stakeholders, and/or customers of their organization. Target readers include business intelligence professionals, data analysts, reporting managers, software developers, user interface designers, and similar roles. The strategies and frameworks in the book are sector-agnostic and are applicable to organizations in the finance, manufacturing, technology, health care, banking, insurance, government, military, non-profit, education, and most other sectors. Senior managers and other decision-makers who consume dashboards will also find the book to be of value since it enables them to ask for dashboard designs that help them to be more effective at their jobs. The book does not assume any specific prior technical knowledge.

Major topics include:

  • Untangling the term “dashboard”

    • The 13 fundamentally different types of information displays that are, unfortunately, all called “dashboards”

    • The two high-level groupings in which the 13 types of “dashboards” fall:

      • Dynamic Data Displays that feature data that’s refreshed regularly, and that enable an organization’s employees, partners, customers and other stakeholders to interact with the organization’s data (ten display types)

      • Static Data Displays for engaging, persuading, and educating audiences based on a static snapshot of data that’s rarely or never updated (three display types)

    • Note that only Dynamic Data Displays are discussed in detail in the book.

  • The ten types of Dynamic Data Displays, which fall into four categories:

    • Monitoring Displays for enabling users to quickly spot metrics that require attention and to maintain general awareness of current conditions.

      • Monitoring challenges: 24 causes of hidden gotchas, false alarms, haystacks and decoys

      • Determining which metrics to include and exclude on Monitoring Displays

      • Segmenting Monitoring Displays by user role and review frequency (daily, weekly, monthly, etc.)

      • Why conventional ways of determining which metrics to flag on dashboards are surprisingly problematic:

        • “% change since previous period”

        • “% deviation from target”

        • “Threshold alerts”

        • “Good/satisfactory/poor ranges”

      • The “four-threshold” method for flagging metrics that require attention

      • Using simple statistics to detect and flag problems among thousands or even millions of metrics and metric values

      • Monitoring on mobile

      • The four types of Monitoring Displays:

        • Status Displays for displaying all of the metrics that could potentially require action by a given user role

        • Metric Diagnostic Displays for enabling users to quickly understand why a single metric is underperforming, over-performing, or behaving abnormally

        • Alert Displays for enabling users to quickly spot metrics that require attention from among potentially hundreds of thousands of metrics in just a few seconds

        • Metric Introduction Displays for training new users on metrics so that they can interpret them correctly in the future

    • Performance displays for assessing and improving organizational performance in light of strategic goals

      • The crucial differences between status monitoring and performance analysis

      • Common pitfalls when selecting performance measures (KPIs) and analyzing performance (brief overview only)

      • The two types of Performance Displays:

        • KPI Overview Displays for enabling users to quickly see where the organization is meeting its strategic goals and where it’s falling short

        • KPI Detail Displays for enabling users to deeply understand why a single KPI is behaving as it is, and to formulate ideas for improving performance in the future

      • Note that general performance improvement activities such as strategic planning, goal setting, KPI selection, etc. are not discussed in depth

    • Item Displays for browsing and filtering potentially large datasets of customers, transactions, employees, etc.

      • The three types of Item Displays:

        • Disaggregated Item Displays for displaying very detailed information about a relatively small set of items (25 hospitals, 40 projects, etc.)

        • Aggregated Item Displays for browsing and filtering larger sets of items (30,000 students, 50 million transactions, etc.)

        • Item Detail Displays for displaying detailed information about a single item (a single student, a single transaction, etc.)

    • Canned analysis displays for enabling non-analysts to use complex analyses that have been packaged behind a simple user interface (what-if simulators, scenario evaluators, etc.)

      • Determining which types of analytical questions can be safely answered by non-analysts using preconfigured tools, and which types of questions require a trained analyst to answer

      • Examples of canned analysis displays are shown but design principles and best practices for this type of display aren’t discussed in depth since these vary greatly from one display to another

    • Navigation and discoverability

      • Designing a home screen that enables users to quickly find answers to different types of data-related questions

      • Linking different types of Dynamic Data Displays into a cohesive system that enables users to quickly get answers to new data-related questions as they arise in their minds

    • Implementation guidance

      • Educating users and gathering requirements

      • Review of a typical, complete set of information displays based on the Beyond Dashboards framework

      • How and where to start

      • Maintenance and evolution

  • The three types of Static Data Displays (brief overview only):

    • Persuasion Displays for persuading a target audience to adopt a given point of view or course of action

    • Explanation Displays for educating a target audience regarding a process, concept, organization, etc.

    • Engagement Displays for generating interest in a dataset among as many people as possible

Topics NOT covered in Beyond Dashboards:

  • How to use specific software products to create dashboards. The frameworks and best practices that are recommended in Beyond Dashboards are software-independent.

  • How to create visually impressive dashboards. Only Dynamic Data Displays are discussed in detail, and these are recommended to have a plain, minimalist visual design. Static Data Displays, which can have visually impressive designs, aren’t discussed in detail

  • Performance measurement and improvement best practices (organizational and personal goal setting, strategic planning, KPI selection, etc.), though books on these topics are recommended

Feedback needed

Taking a page from one of my favorite authors (pun intended), Dan Pink, I’m going to attempt to crowd-source the editing of this book, and that’s where you come in. In the coming months, I’m going to be posting short excerpts from the new book as blog posts and asking for your feedback. If you hang around long enough, you’ll eventually see all of the major ideas in the book before it’s published, but I know that you’ll still buy it anyway so I’m not worried ;-) If you think that any of my ideas are off-base, even the high-level ones that I’ve discussed here, don’t sugarcoat. Tell me what’s what. That’s exactly the kind of feedback that I’m hoping for.

(To leave a comment about anything on this page, please do so on this identical blog post.)