Monday, July 29, 2013

Tutorial on Effective Dashboards: Takeaways and References

This blog post is about my tutorial ‘How to Build an Effective Dashboard for CXOs, Senior Management, and Business Leaders’ at the Annual Conference of Software Process Improvement Network, Bangalore Chapter (BSPIN Annual Conference 2013) on 26th July.   It was a memorable experience delivering this tutorial to more than seventy five or eighty attendees clustered around twelve round tables in a big conference room.  Considering the number of participants, I think we had very good exchange of ideas, questions and discussions.  And we spent the last 15 minutes in group discussions summarizing the takeaways. That was a fulfilling experience. Wasn't it?

Many of you wanted to know additional examples on visual representation. In this blog post I have summarized the takeaways and shared a list of references. These references include several examples on visualization techniques and good practices.  Enjoy!

  1. Dashboard is a communication tool – not an analysis tool.
  2. Make it customer or consumer specific.  A dashboard that suits one category of audience need not suit another category.
  3. Dashboard design and delivery does not happen in one shot.   Customer or consumer feedback is very important for dashboard improvement.  Without this dashboards will become stale.
  4. Identifying the right data (metrics and measures) is important. Goal-Question-Measure (GQM) technique helps in identifying the right data.   Metrics are context-specific, multidimensional, and seasonal.
  5. Ask questions. For example, ‘What are the top n questions (say 3 questions) do you want your dashboard to answer?’ can help you in doing the right thing.
  6. Removing the unwanted is equally important.  Ask, ‘What can be removed from this dashboard?’ in addition to asking, ‘What is missing in this dashboard?’.
  7. Consider a good balance of enablers and drivers.   Check if you have the right set of leading and lagging indicators. 
  8. Use the right representation. For example, why do we use Red-Amber-Green to represent project status? Why not follow something better – for example, weather reports?    
  9. Choose the right visual elements such as colors, charts etc.   When you use bar graphs make sure that they show data values in specific order (ascending or descending).  
  10. Data correctness, accessibility and usability are equally important.
  11. Understand and apply ‘Balanced Score Card’ principles when you design dashboards. Also, feel free to unbalance the score card when necessary.
  12. Make sure that your library has copies of the book Information Dashboard Design, The Effective Visual Communication of Data by Stephen Few (O’Reilly, 2006).

  1. Effectively Communicating Numbers by Stephen Few 
  2. Common Pitfalls in Dashboard Design by Stephen Few  
  3. Uses and Misuses of Colors by Stephen Few 
  4. Practical Rules for Using Color in Charts by Stephen Few
  5. Choosing Colors for Data Visualization by Stephen Few
  6. Pervasive Hurdles to Effective Dashboard Design by Stephen Few
  7. Telling Compelling Stories with Numbers by Stephen Few 
  8. Show Me the Numbers – Designing Tables and Graphs to Enlighten by Stephen Few 
  9. Information Dashboard Design by Stephen Few 
  10. Effective Dashboard Design by Andrea Janes, Alberto Sillitti, and Giancarlo Succi 
  11. Guide to Dashboard Design  - Juice Analytics 
  12. 10 CIO Dashboard Tips  -
  13. 5 Characteristics of a CIO dashboard  -
  14. 6 Innovative Dashboards worth Learning From  - Juice Analytics

Do you want to add more to these lists? Please share.

Friday, July 19, 2013

My Next Two Speaking Sessions

Next week, on Friday (26th July) I am speaking at BSPIN Annual Conference. The topic is 'How to Build Effective Dashboards'. I discussed some elements of this tutorial in my earlier posts.   BSPIN is the Bangalore chapter of Software Process Improvement Network.   BSPIN Annual Conference is a 2-day conference scheduled on 26th and 27th July 2013.

On Saturday (27th July) I am speaking at Scrum Gathering India Regional 2013, in Pune. This conference is scheduled on 26th and 27th July.  The topic of my session is 'How Do We Learn? - A Key Question for Practicing Scrum Teams'.

Team members of Scrum teams are busy delivering working software iteration after iteration. Do they get adequate time and opportunities to learn?  Are they too busy delivering working software? Do they find it hard to ensure work-life balance? Do they feel that they learned nothing much at the end of their project?

How do we learn? This is one of the seemingly most simple but important question you and your team members need to ask yourself and think through.  We are professionals.  Obviously we know why we learn and what to learn.  However, many of us seldom think enough about how we learn.

The objective of this session is to find answer to this question.  Register and attend these events happening in two different cities.  Even though the dates are the same for these conferences, registration are happening and only few seats are left!

I look forward to presenting,  interacting and learning from these two events!

I have elaborated my presentation in these two sessions in these two blog posts.

  1. Tutorial on Effective Dashboards: Takeaways and References
  2. My Session at Scrum Gathering India 2013 

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Effective Dashboards: Communicating Your Project Status

In the previous post, I mentioned about my upcoming tutorial ‘How to Build an Effective Dashboard for CXOs,Senior Management, and Business Leaders’ at the Annual Conference of Software Process Improvement Network, Bangalore Chapter (BSPIN Annual Conference 2013).  I am writing this post to share with you a very simple but an interesting aspect about communicating project status in status reports or dashboards.

How do we communicate project status?  In many organizations and project teams, I have come across the usage of traffic lights -   ‘Red’ - ‘Amber’ - ‘Green’.

Do you know? Using traffic lights to indicate project status is not a great idea because of two reasons.
  1. Project status is more than traffic lights.   In general the status of software projects do not turns suddenly from ‘Green’ to ‘Amber’ or from ‘Amber’ to ‘Red’.  Also, all ‘Amber’ projects do not mean the same ‘Amber’ and all ‘Red’ projects do not mean the same ‘Red’.  That’s why we come across the question ‘How Red is Red?’ - sounds familiar?
  2. Even if you prove to me that the statuses of your projects are as discrete as Green, Amber and Red, it is very important to consider those who are color-blind.   10% of males and 1% of females are color-blind.  When you include traffic light in your status report, this is how it appears to them.

Project Weather Reports
Learning from alternate sources can help us in coming up with a better representation of project status.  For example let us consider weather reports.  At a high level, weather status is categorized as ‘Sunny’, ‘Mostly Sunny’, ‘Partially Cloudy’, ‘Cloudy’, ‘Rainy’, and ‘Severer’. When we represent project status using this scheme, we have more than three level of classification and each of them can have a clear meaning and hence can help us do the right things. This is what Johanna Rothman says in her article ‘Sunny Skies or Storms? – Project Weather Reports'.

Project Status: Is it Binary?
Some of us claim that project status is binary – especially in case of agile projects.  The project moves forward in short iterations and we know if something works or does not work.  It is either ‘Green’ or ‘Red’.  Do you think it works that way?  Think!

Building effective dashboards involves many challenges.  What to know more? You are welcome to attend my tutorial, ‘How to build anEffective Dashboard for CXO’s, Senior Management, and Business Leaders’ at BSPIN Annual Conference 2013, Bangalore on 26th July 2013.

Takeaways and References
Do you want to download white papers and presentations (PDF files) to learn more about how to build effective dashboards?  Read 'Tutorial on Effective Dashboards: Takeaways and References'.   Happy Reading!

Saturday, July 6, 2013

How to Build Effective Dashboards

My next speaking session is at BSPIN Annual Conference 2013, Bangalore on 26th July - I am going to conduct a half day tutorial titled 'How to Build an Effective Dashboard for CXOs, Senior Management and Business Leaders’.   The preparation is on.  I am writing this post to collect your inputs, understand your questions, and collaborate with you.   Your inputs are going to enrich this tutorial.

What does a dashboard mean to you? The dashboard of your project, program or organization - Is it a sleeping pill or a nightmare? Or is it an effective dashboard? What is your role? - do you create or consume dashboards? This tutorial is going to start with these questions and explore several interesting aspects.

Let me stop questioning and provide a brief on this tutorial.  Dashboards, when built right, can become powerful decision making tools for stakeholders at different levels such as CXOs, senior management and business leaders.   Creating an effective dashboard starts with collection, consolidation and presentation of meaningful metrics to consumers.  This has to be carried out by considering the organizational strategic objectives and vision.  This is where the fundamental concepts of ‘Business Score Card’ add value to dashboards.  A scorecard based approach provides for a balanced or holistic treatment to the process of dashboard design.  In addition to this it is imperative to consider the business needs of various groups of stakeholders and deliver them the right set of parameters or metrics because a single dashboard cannot serve the needs of all stakeholders.  Dashboard is what stakeholders will depend on as their starting point to understanding business from a point of view which is appropriate to them.  An effective dashboard is something what provides them relevant information and saves their time from seeking more data points from additional sources of information.

This tutorial is to systematically analyze and learn the process of building effective dashboards.  Organizations in IT industry are people-intensive with multiple service lines and project types.  The role of ‘Quality Head’ or ‘Process Head’ and her/his team in designing and providing dashboards to business leaders involves continuous collaboration and deep thinking with several internal groups such as project teams, CIO organization, as well as senior leaders.  This is because dashboards are one of the primary sources of information that influence decision making in senior leaders.

Is this a topic of interest to you? If yes, what questions do you have? In your current role, what do you expect to see in an effective dashboard? Do you have any interesting experience or thoughts about the utility of dashboards? Please share.

Note: Early bird registration for this conference is on.  Visit for more details.

How do you represent project status in your status reports or dashboards?  Do you use traffic lights ('Red', 'Amber', 'Green') to represent project status?   Learn why that is not a good idea and the two reasons.  There is a better ways of representing project status!  I have explained it in the next post!

Takeaways and References: Do you want to download white papers and presentations (PDF files) to learn more about how to build effective dashboards?  Read 'Tutorial on Effective Dashboards: Takeaways and References'.   Happy Reading!

Photo courtesy: The picture included in this post is an edited version of a photo shot at an ethnic jewelry shop by my colleague Rama during our team outing in Goa this year.