The problem with Dashboards is everybody has a different idea of what makes up the “Perfect Financial Dashboard”. Opinions are important and the sharing of those opinions is even more important and sharing those opinions in an interactive/collaborative process is rewarding. But as often happens, human nature takes over or Mom telling you to keep your opinions to yourself kicks-in and we naturally just shut down when we should be doing the opposite and share our opinions openly about finances. One thing I know for sure, if you stare at financial reports long enough by yourself you miss more and more. If you have an open discussion among individuals about financial reports, layers of the story-line magically appear and questions arise and sometimes even answers appear that you never would have stumbled on by yourself.
So back to dashboards, now the mistake that is made time and time again is that dashboards are almost always built by an individual. Just like there are no two people who are alike there are no two dashboards that are alike so you end up with a dashboard that works for one person. Of course if the dashboard only works for one person then it is not really a dashboard. Makes sense sort of but a good question comes to mind; what is a “Good Dashboard” and why? The more that I look at this question the more convinced I become that the question needs to be modified by swapping-out the word “Good” and replacing it with the word “Useful”.
The word “Useful” does two things; first it acts as a better qualifier of the main purpose of having dashboards and second it begins to explain why we have dashboards. So in my opinion defining why we need a dashboard to begin with is an enlightening process. Basically, saying that we need a dashboard is really saying we do not know how to read financial reports and management reports that are naturally available as part of any decent working accounting system. No, we do know how to read financial reports. What we are lacking in is time and the main purpose of dashboard is to gather together in a single page document somewhat random bits of financial information that together tell a story in about 60 seconds that would take us much longer to pull from various financial and management reports.
Second and just as important “Useful” means useful to the many and not to the few and especially not to the one. Assembling the components of the dashboard through a collaborative process is essential to ending with a report that has a chance to fulfill its mission to “Highlight and inform as many users as possible in the shortest time as possible”.
I hate to set the bar low but what needs to be communicated to the individuals participating in the process is that we want to include 70% of their needs while stressing we want 100% of their ideas. You can accomplish this without discouraging any one by first asking each individual to independently submit what they feel is important to be included in the dashboard and then agree to get together in a group meeting to select the components from a master list compiled from all participants.
The process works. Each individual gets to ahead of time without interference or bias from other participants to list what feels the most important to them. Next the lists of components are compiled without the author’s name so people can see a master list of components and see where others had the same components.
Two things happen at once, everyone can see where there is automatic agreement on components by seeing duplicated components and second they will then need to work together to get the list down to a reasonable number of components that fit on one-page and tell the most complete story. The resulting discussion to cut-down the list will be very enlightening and the end product will have a high probability for success and actually work for the group. The end result is a working dashboard not a perfect dashboard. The discussion to include or not include components will focus the group on having the best end-product and bring a team feeling while retaining ownership.