A number of years ago, shortly after we got married, I decided a wonderful Friday night date activity would be for us to go to a baseball game for the local minor league team. I love baseball, and could think of nothing better than splurging on our tight budget and upgrading our seats to be right behind home plate. It was amazing! I was so enthralled that I don’t really remember looking over at my wife until the bottom of the second inning, when I saw she had a look of utter boredom—and I knew she absolutely did not care and was not following the game. I tried explaining the rules, the strategy, or even the history of the game, but there was no spark of life or excitement. The might Casey had struck out.
I was reminded of this story not too long ago when I was with a client and he shared the results of a long-term project he had embarked on to develop a set of KPI and a dashboard for his company. The company decided they wanted to be data driven and set him to develop the tools to help them do it. He had graphs, tables, dazzling colors, and it was all arranged in a beautiful format. When he presented his hundreds of hours of work to the executive team, there was a general malaise. In fact, the best response he got was “those are good colors.” No move was made to adopt the dashboard. No one cared.
There are many lessons that we can glean from these, but I want to focus on a single one that can be summed up in one question: is this relevant to making business decisions? There are hundreds of metrics we can show, in thousands of graphs, charts, or tables, but if the data does not have a direct business impact, it is not important. If the data shown is not important to business decisions, no one will care how pretty or flashy the presentation is, it will not be used.
It is tempting, and common, to be distracted by extraneous data. We are like my client with his dashboard disaster or me when I take my wife to a sporting event when we stray from what should be our focus. The data on dashboards must not only be interesting, it absolutely must be relevant. Otherwise, no one gives a darn about the report.