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Bad Dashboards

Ten Examples of Pablum Dashboards

Too many dashboards are designed to spoon-feed their readers just a few facts at a time, wasting time, energy, and money. Here are ten examples.

by Charley Kyd, MBA
Microsoft Excel MVP, 2005-2014
The Father of Spreadsheet Dashboard Reports

Many of the people who design business dashboards act like they were trained by the friendly folks at the Pablum Software Company.

(I drew this cartoon using only Excel, by the way.)

They assume that their audience has a low IQ, poor vision, and a short attention span. So they dumb-down the data. 

"Don't worry your fuzzy little brain about complicated things like facts," these dashboards seem to say. "If our few numbers confuse you, just look at the bright colors and pretty pictures."

I show several examples of these pablum dashboards below. By showing them, I don't intend to pick on either of the organizations involved. Sad to say, it's easier to find bad examples than good ones.

Virginia Department of Transportation

The VDOT site apparently shows the actual status of the department's performance. Below, they take up a whole screen to display what amounts to seven numbers, along with a tiny map.

When you click on any of the gauges at this site, you get another spoon-full of facts. Here's what we got when we clicked on Construction:

Good dashboards explain more than facts about a particular instant in time. They describe how performance has been trending. But the VDOT dashboards provide no trends at all, and very few facts.

From ExcelUser

Xcelsius Samples

The last time we tested Xcelsius software, it could display 30 charts on a page. But Xcelsius now is owned by Business Objects, which now is owned by SAP. And now, their dashboard designers must believe that they're in competition with the folks at Pablum.

To illustrate, the table below shows eight figures I found on their site. The figures are too small to read, but it's easy to tell that not many facts are in play. (Click an image to see it at the Xcelsius / Business Objects / SAP site...if the page hasn't been taken down.)

In contrast, the Excel dashboard at the right above shows many chart figures, with easy-to-read trends. This format provides information that's much more useful to managers than the eight displays below.

Revenue Tool   Portable Report
Monthly Sales Analytic   Banking Dashboard
Analysis By Regions   Competitive Comparison Dashboard
Loans By Branch   Projected World Sales Model

Notice that many figures in this display use gauges and the always-popular but seldom-useful pie charts. Both of these types of displays take a great deal of space on your screen, or printed page, to provide virtually no facts.

What's the alternative? Down With Gauges! provides one alternative for gauges. And bar charts provide a good alternative to pie charts.

Our stamp dashboard presents 110 Excel charts on one printed page. Each chart displays 13 numbers. The dashboard also includes 220 numeric measures. If Excel users can display that much information clearly in Excel -- for free -- the least that "real" dashboard software can do is to give us at least one-tenth that amount of information in their expensive products.

Otherwise, "pablum" overstates their products' capabilities.


Down With Gauges!

Excel dashboards offer a more useful solution for most managers.

Free Excel Dashboards

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Charley's SwipeFile charts

Click to see who uses Excel dashboards.