8 minute read.
Here is how you can approach a situation where you are consistently coming across clients or C-level users who want multiple static reports when one dynamic dashboard would seemingly do.
Dynamic dashboards can often seem like an obviously better approach than a series of very similar looking static reports.
After all, with a few filters and slicers you’d actually be empowering your users to drill-down deeper into the data themselves. They can explore. They can iterate. They can get much more precise, more granular insights into whatever questions they have. Much more than they ever could via a static report.
Perhaps you feel that that would also be fairly easy for them to do? Todays business intelligence dashboards, like Tableau or Power BI, are sophisticated but relatively easy-to-use in comparision to older technologies. The C-Suite should be open to giving them a go, right?
Or maybe you’re just getting a bit frustrated? Maybe you feel you’re wasting a lot of your time, repeatedly having to build (and maintain!) several similar looking static pages when a single, more dynamic report would cover them all (and more)?
Dynamic dashboards often seem like a no brainer so why the push back?
Well it could be that your users are stuck in their ways? Technology dinosaurs still insisting on printing everything out so they can get busy with the highlighter?
Maybe they lack your technical confidence and skills? Perhaps you’ve even considered (or even tried!) educating them on how easy it can be? Showing them step-by-step what they need to do to find this stuff out for themselves?
Or perhaps it could be something else entirely?
The thing is you feel your job is to provide the leadership team with the ability to get the very best insights, recommendations and answers possible. That’s what you’re there for right?
Yet, to do this properly a static dashboard just won’t cut it.
Sometimes, simple sounding questions require (even deserve?) a more complex, nuanced answer than the leadership seem to want to hear.
If you’ve ever been boxed into a corner and forced to give a yes / no answer, when really, you know its not that simple, then you’ll know the feeling.
A dynamic dashboard can give you options, flexibility and levels of fidelity. Static reports can feel cumbersome, rigid and like they’re boxing you into that corner.
But static reports are what they demand. So what do you do?
Are you stuck forever building several different pages that show very similar information to other pages but filtered?
Or, is there another way?
What if you could be so confident in your work that the C-Suite go from seemingly disinterested, to so in love with what you’re putting together that they start taking pictures of your screen with their iPhones (true story!)
Perhaps you can imagine a situation where they really start to get what you’re able to do with data? Increasingly involving you more and more in their key decision making processes.
How about just knowing your work was making a real difference? That you were being listened too, trusted and respected enough that no-one was going to force you to give a yes / no answer to a nuanced question, ever again …
Tackle the real issue (hint: this isn’t about technology.)
In my experience this situation comes about when your users have a lack of time and a lack of engagement in your efforts.
To get more of both, you need to earn it.
Luckily, with a slight change of mindset and approach, you can quickly do just that.
Firstly, let’s start by addressing any notion that giving them a “fully functional dynamic self service super dashboard” is the solution here. It’s not.
If your users are asking you for static dashboards, they definitely DO NOT want to sit down at your dynamical master piece, with your 400 different filter options, with tab names that they have to lookup on Google and with no idea where to start. Sorry.
Your challenge is to instead use the tools you have around you in a different way, and with a different perspective, to help them.
Yes, build your dynamic super dashboard but use it as a tool to help you rather than thinking of it as the end product in itself.
Use it as another piece in your dashboard development process.
Why? Well the likely reason they’re asking for multiple similar static dashboards is that they do not know exactly what they want to see or what the data holds.
They want certainty in what they’re looking at. They want reassurance that “all” the different views of the data have been considered, and are easily available. Then want it all laid out there so that nothing is overlooked. They can then review everything together, double checking they’ve not missed anything.
Think about what your users are actually trying to achieve.
It might not seem like it to them, but what they are actually doing is a primitive form of data discovery.
Despite what you might believe, the C-Suite are not actually looking for a better data discovery tool to use themselves – even if you think that’s what they really need.
They just want to reduce what one might call the “time-to-a-good-decision” metric.
If you are giving them a dynamic super mega dashboard with lots of filters it actually SLOWS this down for them.
Reducing the “Time-To-A-Good-Decision” metric.
Try reframing your thinking to working out what you can do and what you can give them to minimise the time it takes them to make a good decision from your data.
You’re right, in so far as they are the only ones who’ll know what they want when they see it. But it is a common mistake, in my opinion, to think that it’s wholly their responsibility to discover this on their own.
My belief is you need to help them discover the answers to the questions they have and also those that they might not know they have. (The old: “Don’t know what we don’t know” saying.)
Try reframing your own purpose if need be. You’re not only there to data wrangle, create amazing algorithms and produce cutting edge dashboards with insanely impactful data visualisations. Thats a given.
Your job doesn’t stop at producing the tool.
The real reason you’re there, I believe, is so you can also support the C-Suite with the comprehension of the data.
You’re the one who spends most time with it after all. You therefore need own the responsibility for the data discovery but involve them in the process too.
Yes they’re busy but equally, you need to know (or confirm) what is going to offer meaningful value to them.
Make it in their interest to help you.
Why don’t you try this 9-Step approach:
1: Setup an in-person “feedback” session with your client or C-Suite.
Say you’re after fast feedback to be able to finalise the reports that they have requested (or want improving.)
2: Now put yourself in their shoes.
Tell them your current assumptions. Tell them how you anticipate they will be looking at the data. Tell them you expect them to want to be able to answer x,y,z questions that they might have when looking at this data.
Tell them that you’re looking to confirm these assumptions during the meeting.
3: During the session, take them step-by-step, through answering each relevant question.
Do this using your dynamic dashboard as it should be faster and better.
4: In the meeting get them talking. Ask them things like “Is this what you’d like to see?”, “Is this data presented in a way that is meaningful to you?”, “Is there too much? Is there too little?”, “Tell me, what are you really looking for from this data?”
5: When they ask questions or start highlighting how they’d like things presented in a different way, show them then and there, if you can.
If the filters won’t cut it and it needs some more work take a note and promise to get back to them on it.
Better still, if you’re feeling confident, maybe even try some on-the-fly dashboard development!
Clearly, this is Pro level but by handling the feedback there and then you maintain their attention, build momentum and maximise their contribution right in the moment.
You’re also proving you’re in control of the data, and, incidentally, showing them the value of a dynamic dashboard but without them having to invest time learning about it themselves.
You’re showing them the data they want to see, hopefully better, clearer and faster than via static reports.
6: Look out for an inflection point in the meeting when they start talking about the implications of the data you’re showing them, rather just how they’d like it presented in front of them.
If they start saying things like “well if that’s true, than this means a,b,c …” Then this is a MAJOR success for you!
7: Remember though you’re still not trying to sell the full fat dynamic dashboard. You are just trying to confirm your assumption and that you’ve understood their needs right.
You want to give them what they asked for – static reports – but, if this process goes well, it might just be that you find yourself with people more open to the value of dynamic dashboards.
8: Now judge the room.
Now they’ve seen what you did, how easy it was to filter and slice, perhaps you could suggest something a little more interactive for them too.
If it looks positive, perhaps imagine yourself saying something this:
“How about for these separate static annual reports we instead add this one simple filter just so that it makes it easier for you to say switch between years?”
“You’re not losing anything, if you want to print each year out as before, I can still do this for you, or you can just toggle through the years and print off the ones you’re interested in yourself. Like this.”
“Oh and if you now want to print out all the years in one plot, just select the years you’re interested in, like this, and look they’ll print on one chart for you.”
9: Post meeting you can use your dynamic super dashboard to create any of these what you might call “static plus” pages that the C-Suite decide they’d like. It’s not fully dynamic but it is a start, plus this approach should also cut down massively on the amount of maintenance work for you – maybe, given the new clarity in their needs, you can even look to automate things in new ways too?
I’ve used this approach successfully several times. Maybe next time you find yourself in this position, give it a try?
By effectively involving the senior team in your dashboard development process (by way of “feedback” sessions) and using the fully dynamic dashboard setup, you can quickly zero in on what is going to make the most difference to them.
You also quickly (re)discover what they actually want – and I’m sure you’d much rather make static reports for a client who knows that they want rather than the alternative – a self service environment for users who just aren’t going to use it.
By focusing on reducing their “time-to-a-good-decision” metric, you’ll also drive up the engagement of the C-Suite massively. This is because it’s is clear your focus is on supporting them to get exactly what they need from the data, as effortlessly as possible.
I really did have people taking pictures of my screen on their phones! If you try this, maybe ping me an email (firstname.lastname@example.org) and let me know what happens to you.