Hi, I’m Brad Hines. I’m a technical services team member at iDashboards. I help clients with implementation and development of Business Intelligence projects by using the iDashboards software. I love what I do and do what I love.
I’ve learned a great deal this past year about implementing Business Intelligence projects. To round out the iDashboards blog for 2013, I’ve decided to share some of the best dashboard tips and ‘lessons learned’ while on the road and share some of the experiences I’ve had. Some of the most rewarding, and the most painful lessons, are hard fought and will help with any organization that endeavors to improve its processes and transform its effectiveness in the marketplace.
I hope you will find these as insightful and humorous as I did. Let’s dashboard!
1) Don’t be afraid to start
So many organizations are worried about what their projects will yield or look like that they often agonize and never get started. Champions leave, organizational priorities change, and organizational changes can often make developed dashboards irrelevant. Change happens, and often quickly. I find a far more effective approach with BI design is realizing that dashboard designing is by nature iterative, never ending, and organic. Your designs will change constantly. It’s much more effective to design and get it close to right and correct than it is to never get started. Just know that this will be an ongoing challenge and there will always be a need to develop and change content. This often stems from finding patterns from the first-go round and asking new and better questions over time. To quote Yoda, “Let the dashboard flow within you. With each dashboard you become stronger. Use the Dashboard, and trust in the Dashboard Brad.” …Did I get that quote right?
2) Nobody ever gets it right on the first try – this is iterative
Folks whom are not involved with the dashboard process will change their minds or not articulate what they really need to make decisions. Someone isn’t going to be happy with a design choice. Someone will still mention a significant factor that wasn’t considered when a dashboard was built. It happens, and not only is it OK, it’s expected and welcomed! Build dashboards with designs that are repeatable and allow enough design room for changes. We also built the software to be flexible enough to quickly re-create concepts into completed dashboards. It’s OK if things change, your dashboards can adapt.
3) Recycle and re-purpose with Pride
I find that after I design a chart I am often repeating the same chart designs over and over again. I’m a huge advocate for re-purposing the charts I create and transforming them into new concepts. Steal with pride! Why spend all the extra time involved with re-creating designs when you could re-purpose a chart and spend less time working on design?
4) Create a template gallery
I save a lot of time by creating default templates for my development teams. So, when a new dashboard concept is developed I create a generic chart with design choices, and a generic dashboard layout. Then, when I create additional charts I just re-cycle the template charts and dashboards. This saves me hours of development work and repeating what is previously created.
5) Choose dashboard building efforts based on value-added to the organization and the available skill set
Rather than focusing on an initial dashboard that adds a ton of value but is challenging to create, instead when you are first developing focus on the easiest dashboards to create first. The lessons learned about how team members interact and the capabilities of the organization will become apparent. I like to work on easier dashboards, then circle back to more complex and more value-added dashboards. I always end up saving time in the long run by tackling the easiest first and developing skill sets when training. My students then become confident dashboard sharks eager for their next organizational challenge.
6) Everyone’s data needs work. It’s OK …. Start with building the dashboards first, then provide the real data sets
iDashboards training is aimed at having an even split of users in the room: Users with data skills in Excel and/or database(s), and decision makers interested in making decisions. The synergy of iDashboards is that folks typically not involved in a software development lifecycle can create their own dashboards. By having decision makers use Excel to mock up a data set, when real data is available a user can easily change the source of data from an excel mockup to the real data. Thus, if we have a completed dashboard, and therefore a specific set of data requirements in place from a dashboard, data professionals can have a clear target that doesn’t change to hit. This also gives the data pro the freedom to decide if they want to hit an Excel spreadsheet, a view, a stored procedure, a de-normalized pre-aggregate batch table, data warehouse or everyday transactional table to display data. This leads to rapid churn time and many fewer revisions over time. It also means more people can contribute to the construction effort.
7) This is supposed to be fun
I have a blast coming in and working with folks every day. I love to see how iDashboards creates organizational value and leads to positive change. Make it fun and people will participate. The end goal is to make a fun product that makes life easier, returns millions of dollars in value to an organization, and helps people focus on adding value instead of being stuck in Excel purgatory. If the dashboards aren’t doing that, it’s because of one of three reasons: The organizational politics, the skills, or the dashboards aren’t answering the key questions users need to answer. Create a process for users to challenge data in the dashboard and provide an avenue for people to participate and the project will flourish.
8) The folks at iDashboards really do care.
I see it in every interaction. From sales engineers on the road, our tech support team, our sales people and our leadership, we want you to succeed. If we can do anything to help, realize that every project is different and we want to help you succeed. Some organizations need a bit more time to work on concepts. Others want to develop their data proficiency to add value. If your organization doesn’t have these things, it’s OK to lean on us and develop an action plan. We succeed because we care, and we care that everyone succeeds. We look forward to your comments and success in the coming New Year. Happy 2014 to your organizations and families.
Brad Hines – Technical Consultant, iDashboards