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[zz]8 Features of Successful Real-time Dashboards

2009/07/17

8 Features of Successful Real-time Dashboards

By Zach Gemignani
December 18, 2008
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dashboard

Cell Center Dashboardvia Dashboard Spy

Real-time dashboards — the kind that show up on a big screen in a
call center — are an entirely different beast than your standard
management dashboard. Their job is to support immediate
decision-making. As a result, the information must be easy to
interpret, alert users to problems, and make the next action obvious.
In addition to key success metrics, real-time dashboards may show
detailed data about the action “on the ground.” Here are eight
characteristics that can make a real-time dashboard effective:

  1. A summary status that indicates how things stand
    overall. Users need to be able to tell at a glance whether they should
    worry or not. Here’s a great example from the folks at Superblock. The “Is it going to rain?” site tells you the single most important thing you need from a weather report.
  2. Is it going to rain?

  3. Reflect a well-understood structure of the business.
    By the time you design a real-time dashboard, you should have a strong
    theory for how the pieces of the business fit together (i.e. the
    relationships between key measures, drivers, and available actions).
    For example, in the call center business, there are clearly defined
    success measures (e.g. wait time), a mathematical relationship between
    these measures and their underlying drivers (e.g. call volume), and
    known levers to address problems (e.g. staffing levels).

  4. Support quick diagnosis of problems. The data
    presentation should point directly to the likely source of the problem.
    Real-time dashboards aren’t the place for deep analysis or
    introspection into the drivers of the business.

  5. Simple data presentation. In my view, real-time
    dashbaord’s aren’t the place for complex or advanced data
    visualizations. Imagine you were Napoleon and you had to use a
    half-completed version of this chart to make a battlefield decision in
    the next 5 minutes.

  6. Napoleon's March

  7. Granular view of the “unit of action.” Real-time
    dashboards are often about tracking activity. It may be useful to show
    the raw data around these events in the form of a ticker, scroll or RSS
    feed. We use at a real-time tracker for our website called Sitemeter. It does a nice job of tracking the basic unit of action — visitors.
  8. Juice Analytics Sitemeter

  9. Appropriate time window. Getting time right on
    an operational dashboard is critical. If the measures and trends
    represent too long a time period, users may not react to changes
    quickly enough. On the other hand, very small time windows encourage
    frantic reactions to changes that may not represent real trends.
    Ideally, the dashboard should offer the ability to configure this time
    range and “freeze” a moment in time.

  10. Prominent but balanced alerts. Naturally,
    alerting users to problems is a central mission for real-time
    dashboards. The challenge (as always with alerts) is to balance between
    “the sky is falling” hysteria and “don’t worry, be happy” apathy. I’ve written before about alerts,
    but one item to emphasize is the need to show a sense of relative
    importance. Not all problems have the same impact on the business, and
    finding a way to communicate this relative importance is valuable.

  11. Point to specific action. If real-time
    dashboards are about identifying and responding to issues, the tool
    should point users to what they can do about a problem. This can be as
    simple as displaying the phone number of the right person to call.

Real-time dashboards can be ignorable, create mayhem, or drive great
behavior in an organization. Thinking carefully about the design and
functionality will make a huge difference.

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