I love a good dashboard. The challenge of assembling one, of unifying data sources, of cleaning, transforming, and showcasing your data is fun. (This version of fun is why no one invites me to parties.)
Despite all this, most of the dashboards I have seen in my career are useless. In fact, they are worse than useless because the dashboard is an excuse, a substitute for the hard work we actually need to do.
Why? Decision makers don’t need data. They don’t need charts. They don’t need scatter plots with regression lines.
They need actionable answers to their questions.
What should we do?
What is the next step?
What is your recommendation?
What’s the plan?
When you hear these questions after you showcase your data, your dashboard, your analysis, it means you’ve fallen flat. It means that your work, hard though it was, ultimately didn’t achieve the goals that your decision makers wanted it to achieve.
Every analysis you do, every presentation you make must implicitly answer those questions above. Most of the time, a dashboard can’t actually do that. At best it’s a visual aid to your explanation. At worst it’s a distraction.
Before you launch a dashboard project or buy a dashboard tool, ask whether you need it to see that data for yourself or if it’s for your decision makers. If the latter, you probably don’t need a dashboard at all.
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