Executive Dashboards

Cavemen with a spreadsheet

Executive dashboards go through the Tuckman model… like team members, they have to be understood before they are accepted. 

Forming: a need for a dashboard is recognized and that dashboard is introduced to the executive staff. It may or may not be challenged, but its place is not certain.

Storming: if not at introduction then soon after, the dashboard’s ability to accurately reflect reality will be challenged. Where is this data from, how is it generated and collected, what biases does it reflect, how much delay does it contain, what role will Goodhart’s Law play if we rely on it. Perfection is usually recognized as unattainable, but most executives will want to know what risks are encoded in the tool. This process is ideally conducted offline as preparation for staff or board meetings; it’s a sign of ill health if regular meetings are derailed with storming about the tools.

Performing: Once the dashboard is understood, the executive team can work with it without a deep dive into the data that backs it, until something changes. Conditions of reality are altered, there’s additions or subtractions in the executive team, or the tools used for reporting change. Then the model starts over.

As below, so above; as above, so below. A similar process can be so served in relationships between field (sales and support) and factory (product and engineering). The list of hot issues can be a dashboard.

The best choice for discoverability is spreadsheet: links to data are relatively easy to follow, and formulas and lookups are readily followed by executives with varied backgrounds. Unfortunately spreadsheets make it easy to break data links and introduce staleness. Worse, their legibility makes them corruptible; anyone working with it can accidentally change the behavior. There are mitigations and workarounds to all problems but they add brittleness. More modern data reporting systems can reduce risk of corruption by using role based access control at more granular levels. They can also help with staleness by being closer to data collection. Unfortunately, most of these systems lose the discoverability of a spreadsheet, so in my experience the most common dashboard tool for planning is still a spreadsheet.

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