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KPI Dashboards In A Nutshell — 4 Crucial Mistakes You Have To Avoid!

Personally, I love reading blog posts about mistakes. Mistakes in the context of KPI dashboards but also in any other topic I'm interested in. Why's that? Certainly not, because I derive pleasure from other people's trouble.

It is because I genuinely believe that those articles are the most open, frank, and true stories. On top of that, it is about describing their own experience in terms of vulnerability to help others avoid the same. And as a person that admires that noble act and loves creating content, I actually enjoy talking about my mistakes.

Setting up a KPI dashboard is everything but trivial. Moreover, there are probably hundreds of mistakes one can make. After having set up dozens of KPI dashboards —mainly in the aviation industry— I’ve probably encountered all of them. Nonetheless, I also had the opportunity to analyze each mistake with my team and our clients.

It was interesting to see that most of the project issues trace back to four crucial mistakes in that context. Accordingly, once we focused on those crucial mistakes, the following KPI dashboard projects went much smoother.

We put them together with this blog post to help you avoid these mistakes (and make your KPI dashboard project a successful one).

Mistake #1 — KPIs Are Not Clearly Defined

When starting a dashboard project, the definition of KPIs seems to be so trivial in the beginning. However, after a few workshops with business departments, two things become evident. First, defining KPIs turns out to be super-complex. Second, you need a whole bunch of additional workshops with the business department. The reason is simple. There’s an enormous amount of details that are not evident in the beginning.

Here’s a practical example from the world of airlines. The Departure Punctuality is a widely used KPI. And it seems trivial at first: All flights departing as (or almost as) planned in relation to all departed flights. 

But once you get into the details, questions explode:

  • What’s the basis for the KPI? The actual and scheduled time or probably delay times?
  • If we go for delay times, do we receive the delays instantly and in good quality?
  • When does unpunctuality start? 3 minutes late? 15? 16?
  • How do we consider canceled flights?
  • Do we use different thresholds?
  • Shall all airports be included?
  • Shall all aircraft operators be included?
  • And on, and on, and on.

And you have to bear in mind: Departure Punctuality is one of the most simple KPIs. So I guess you can imagine how complexity grows when you start defining complex KPIs for your dashboard.

Now, the problem is that —most often— the dashboard development starts on an insufficient specification. Accordingly, complexity is postponed to upcoming project phases. Quite regularly, this leads to massive project duration, effort, and risk of total failure problems.

Mistake #2 — Starting With Too Many KPIs

Based on mistake #1, it is evident that complexity grows with each KPI you want to add to a dashboard. Accordingly, kicking off a KPI dashboard project with a huge number of KPIs isn’t a good idea at all.

We’ve seen so many KPI dashboard projects that got stuck after a few months. Every time because it was simply impossible to handle various KPIs’ complexity — each with the challenges described above.

In this context, it is a total misunderstanding that only KPIs drive the value of a dashboard. Always keep in mind that:

  1. The value of a KPI dashboard is defined by content, visualization, and distribution.
  2. Instead of adding more and more KPIs, tailoring existing ones is often more valuable.
  3. It’s much better to constantly add additional content instead of a big bang.

My clear and essential advice in that context: Start with a small set of KPIs. Six to eight KPIs are sufficient.

Mistake #3 — Paying Too Less Attention To The Visualization Of Your KPI Dashboard

KPIs are important. Reliable data and correct calculation are essential. But it accounts for 50% only. The other part is related to visualization. Without a proper —but preferably perfect and delightful visualization— you won’t establish sustainable usage. And always keep in mind that usage defines success and failure.

And by the way, perfect and delightful is not a question of favors. On the contrary, it’s a science called Information Design.

Again there are so many mistakes to make. But, in the end, each of them will lead to reduced usage:

  • Wrong usage of colors and fonts
  • Improper usage of charts
  • No clear design concept
  • Missing alignment between content and design
  • Unstructured content
  • And many more

Mistake #4 — Limited Accessibility

This is probably the most critical and absolute killer mistake. Your KPI dashboard is not seamlessly integrated across required devices. That means it can’t be accessed (seamlessly) on notebooks, tablets, smartphones, etc.

Oh, and by the way: When talking about seamless integration, this is not about providing browser access to your dashboard. On the contrary, it is about delivering a perfect user experience on each device. A user experience that leads to a situation where everybody wants to use your KPI dashboard.

Apart from that, there’s not much to say —the project success stands and falls with the accessibility of your user group— take care of it.

What Do You Think?

Always happy to receive your feedback and thoughts. Just hit me up on Twitter or get in touch on LinkedIn.

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Benjamin Walther

CEO, Frankfurt

Benjamin is Information Design's CEO and a proven content-maniac. Besides running a successful business and developing pioneering ideas, he's dedicated to writing blog posts and creating content.

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