Three Questions to Help Triage Your Dashboards.

I’ve been helping someone recently whose organisation has been overwhelmed by “dashboards” — collections of KPIs, OKRs, and other Important Things that have accreted over time into an unmanageable mess (well… many unmanageable messes in this instance!)

Having hit this problem a few times in the past I’ve a quick and dirty checklist that seems to help when reviewing those big piles of pretty graphs and status signals.

  1. Is it visible at the right time?
  2. Is it actionable?
  3. Is it used?

First of all — is it visible at the right time? The entire point of a dashboard is that it should be in front of somebody at the point they need the information to make a decision.

I want to be looking at a product’s OKRs when we’re planning or reflecting on product work. I don’t want to discover things are off-track in a monthly status update. Often you get the business equivalent of an update on the speed of a car after the speeding ticket has arrived.

Getting information more often that you can act on it is just as wasteful. Are people getting daily updates, but only make decisions monthly (if at all)? This can sometimes be a signal that responsibility for action is getting lost somewhere.

Time to start asking questions:

  • Who should be using the dashboard to make decisions?
  • When are they making decisions using it?
  • Should they be getting fewer/more updates?
  • Should they make decisions more/less often?

Second is it actionable? Does the dashboard help people make better decisions? Is it actually relevant to the work? Can people affect change?

If it’s something completely out of your control do you need to know about it at all?

If it’s something you’re delegating do you see it as often, or at all?

If it’s something you should be acting on, can you act on it? What’s blocking you? Do you need to pay more attention to that blocker?

Finally — is used? Is there a culture of actually taking action based on the dashboard? If the dashboard is visible, and actionable by the right people — do they actually do anything with it?

Do the OKRs get ignored in retros? Does the slide with velocity numbers and throughput rates always get skipped over in the exec update deck? Supposedly useful dashboards not being acted on is a really interesting signal that something odd is happening. Time to start asking questions again:

  • Is it actually visible to the right people?
  • Is something blocking those people acting on it?
  • Is there something more important driving behaviour?
  • Is there a better signal that people are paying attention to?
  • Is it actually relevant at all? Do people ever use it to make decisions?

TL;DR: Is it visible at the right time? Is it actionable? Is it used? If the answer to any of these questions is “no” the value of the dashboard vanishes and you need to probe further:

  • If it’s not visible then people can’t see when the dashboard changes — so you need to figure out when and where seeing that dashboard is useful.
  • If it’s not actionable then people cannot do anything when the dashboard changes — so you need to figure out who should see it, and make sure they have the autonomy to act on it.
  • If it’s not used then people don’t care if the dashboard changes — so you need to figure out what they do care about and why, and how the dashboard fits in.


Published: Jun 7, 2024