I am revisiting the post on Government Finance Department Dashboards that was showcased on Dashboard Insight in May, 2007. In this post I will highlight the challenges of one of these dashboards and ways to improve it.
The current challenges with the dashboard
The use of interactivity
Dashboards, by their nature, should display only those performance indicators that are most important to monitor. This dashboard provides the option to filter by department and year, which contradicts Dashboard Insight’s fundamental definition of a dashboard. If the dashboard user will do visual analysis, then this is acceptable. However, assuming that the purpose was to quickly scan performance metrics to see if there are any correlations, trends, outliers (anomalies), patterns, or business conditions, then the department filtering should be removed.
The real estate is not being effectively used
There’s a lot of white space in this dashboard that could be used to represent more data.
For argument’s sake, let’s say that it is important to see every department by these measures. By choosing different visualizations, eliminating unnecessary text, and rearranging the data around, we can maximize the use of the space and display everything.
Poor use of color
I have a fundamental problem with using gradient effects to represent the state of a value as demonstrated by the gauges here. The difficulty with using a color gradation is the uncertainty of the status it represents. For example, what does orangey-red represent? Using discrete colors to represent a business condition that requires action is preferable.
The overuse of different colors in the dashboard also makes it hard to guide the eyes to points of interest and difficult for the user to easily see what needs attention.
The dashboard reformation
In addition to the problems noted above, there is one critical question that must be answered for a proper redesign of the External Departments dashboard: does the department selection provide the same metrics but different values? I.e. each department measures: average internal P.V. Examination Lead Time (Days), Average Entry Variance (Days), Average Internal Audit Lead Time (Days), and Amounts Contribution.
If the answer is yes, then we should provide all the possible values for each department on one screen rather than having the user select a particular department to look at. This will make it easier to compare values across departments if they all appear on one screen.
If the answer is no, then we can simplify the design so that it can complement another dashboard. The less the user has to navigate, the better.
There are other changes I’d like to see happen with the dashboard such as adding a comparative value to the Average Internal Audit Lead Time (Days). I will ignore the value of the performance measures chosen in this example and focus mainly on the design changes.
The following is the end result with the assumption that each department does have the same metrics. In addition, I assumed the dashboard should display the current year by default.
Click on image to enlarge.
Dashboards technically should not require any interactivity to see problem areas. However, dashboards can serve as a starting point for visual analysis. With that said, I kept the year as a drop down option.
Here is the summary of the most important changes:
- Displaying all the metrics for each department, which negates the need for a department filter and offers the ability to compare departments
- Replacing inefficient gauges with space-efficient bullet graphs
- Replacing the pie chart with bar charts, which provides the ability to compare across departments as well as within itself
- Toning down the colors, which make it easier to highlight important values. Those who prefer more color can choose another base color and use different shades of it. However, make sure to choose a color that contrasts with the background for readability.
There’s a lot of real estate still available so it’s easy enough to incorporate the Auditing Sections Dashboard using the same techniques.
One final note, as suggested by the comment in the dashboard, the dashboard can display exact numbers and details for each visualization when the user places their mouse over it. This keeps the dashboard clean and users can still get exact numbers if needed. However, if the exact numbers are critical to determine a condition, then another layout needs to be considered to make room for the text.
If your dashboard needs bright colors and round gauges, then it’s your data that’s boring.