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The 5 Most Important Do’s And Don’ts Of Data Dashboards

By John Dillard

Next Time You Use A Data Dashboard For Your Federal Security Agency, Keep These Tips In MindFederal agencies at every level have realized the value of data dashboards – and there are plenty of operations improvement experts willing to service those requests.

Yet, even with this explosion of approaches and techniques for developing dashboards, there are still a number of important principles your defense or security agency needs to get right before it embraces the trend.

While a data dashboard can be one of the most pragmatic and useful tools in the world, if you don’t use it correctly, it won’t help you. The following list of do’s and don’ts gives you some guidelines on making sure your data dashboard is helpful – and not detrimental – to your national defense agency:

#1: DO Pick Your Top 5 Priorities

When you’re building a dashboard, you need to decide what data matters most in your program or government agency. Before you even start creating your dashboard, you need a deep understanding of your processes and which metrics are the best indicators of success for your strategy and objectives. Then, use those critical metrics to build your dashboard.

In order to keep your dashboard uncluttered, you need to prioritize your top five most important metrics and measures. While having more than five metrics isn’t wrong, any secondary information should be relegated to the margins of your dashboard reporting. When you prioritize your top five metrics, you ensure that data collection and reporting is giving you the information you need to make the best decisions.

#2: DO Analyze Which Measures Are Most Predictive Of Success

You also need to understand which metrics are most predictive of success at your agency before you build your data dashboard around the wrong metrics. Take a deep dive into your agency’s data and determine what measures or information on a potential dashboard would give you the best sense of progress towards your goals and ultimate success.

Unless the reporting tools on your data dashboard are aligned and relevant with your final outcome, they’re not going to be useful. So, before you begin creating spreadsheets, formulas and data collection workflows, start by determining which data sets you should even be paying attention to.

#3: DON’T Fill Your Dashboard With Lagging Measures

An unsettling number of data dashboards make a critical mistake: They report on information and measures that are too late to correct or change. These past-facing reports don’t help you influence the future, so you need a data dashboard that’s focused on telling you what to do today that changes the course of tomorrow.

A robust dashboard gives you predictive measures, not lagging measures. Predictive measures are the upstream metrics of the lagging measures on most data dashboards – so if your predictive indicators slip into the red, you know when to intervene before a crisis erupts at your agency. For example, if you are measuring employee satisfaction in your office, you may want to consider tracking metrics like engagement and happiness levels, vs. tracking attrition. At the point where employees are leaving, it is generally too late to do anything to reverse course.

#4: DON’T Mistake Fancy For Effective

Over-design is another major mistake that many agencies make when building data dashboards. Not only does fancy, over-the-top design distract from your fundamental numbers and indicators, but it often misrepresents the data. Special effects, moving graphics and 3D displays don’t help you better understand your data – in fact, they mostly muddle it.

Instead, do away with the bells and whistles on your data dashboard and pick the simplest possible representation of the data that helps you make a better-informed decision.

#5: DO Make Your Dashboard As Simple As Possible

When it comes to data analysis tools, simpler is better. Not only should you strive for simplicity in design, but also in terms of data collection and reporting. Simplicity doesn’t mean you build a watered-down dashboard with weaker functionality, but you need to make sure it isn’t too complex, especially in the first iteration of your dashboard.

If it’s too difficult or complicated to collect the required data each day, your data dashboard ultimately won’t be helpful, because the collection process isn’t time effective. The same happens with over-designed and cluttered data dashboards. In the end, it’s always better to simplify than to complicate.

Data dashboards are powerful tools that accelerate process and operations improvement at your agency, but they need to be built correctly to be beneficial. Keep these do’s and don’ts in mind as you create your data analysis dashboards and you’ll be on your way to success.

Need to improve operations at your defense or security agency with a limited schedule and budget? Click below to download this e-book from Big Sky Associates and discover how to make process improvement efforts more cost effective for your national defense organization.

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