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Letter from the CCO (Feb 2021): Want Insights? Reports and Dashboards are the Answer




Last month I shared the importance of setting New Year’s resolutions and goals, and gave some thoughts on a few “work resolutions.” Just like that, in a flash, we’re already a month into the new year. How did that happen?! By now you and your organization will have likely determined your annual and quarterly goals, and cascaded them down to teams and individuals. The question is, how will you know if you are on the right path to achieving your goals throughout this next year?   

One of my favorite quotes is from Peter Drucker, a management consultant, educator and author, who said “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” This rings true in both personal and professional goals.

For example, you might have a personal goal to learn a new skill, or get a certification you've always wanted. Using the certification example, there may be some courses you want to take, or incremental learnings you need to acquire before you take the certification exam. You wouldn't wait until the day before the exam to check your list and confirm you've completed all the requirements. You would have made a plan and checked in regularly along the way. Ahead of schedule? Maybe you can take the exam early! Behind schedule, or the course requirements changed? Time to adjust the plan.

The same is true for business. At Workfront, we know that our most successful customers are those who are able to clearly articulate the status of initiatives to their teams and their leaders. Those customers rely on reports and dashboards to show progress, constraints and even risks. 

Leveraging Dashboards

Let’s talk about dashboards. Fun fact, the idea of dashboards in business came from the automotive industry. It makes sense when you think about the dashboard in your car. At a quick glance, without having to stop, you can easily find everything you need - fuel level, speed, mileage, engine status, etc. 

Think of business dashboards the same way - quick access to the most important information. They help you visualize your progress and make necessary business decisions based on data. In other words, you can course-correct without having to take your eyes off the road. 

Getting Started

Where should you start? Let’s look at the attributes of an effective dashboard: 

  • Built for a specific audience. Take time to consider who will be accessing this dashboard. Maybe it’s a team of designers who need to see details about all their projects that are in-flight, or maybe it’s a leadership team who needs high-level data on capacity planning or risk. The audience, and the questions the dashboard will help them answer, are the keys to what should be included in the dashboard. It’s not uncommon for organizations to have multiple dashboards, each serving a specific audience and purpose.  

  • Meaningful and actionable. A term I ran across recently was ‘vanity metrics.’ Those are the numbers that make you feel good, but don’t necessarily inform your business. Choose objects for your dashboard (reports, calendars, etc.) that are meaningful to the audience and help answer specific business questions. 

  • Easy to understand. There is no faster way to lose an audience than to present something that cannot be immediately interpreted. Put yourself in your audience’s shoes, or ask a peer if it is easy to understand, before you share. Remember to keep your audience in mind, especially when it comes to the level of detail in your dashboard. 

  • Aligned to business priorities. If your metrics don’t align to business priorities, one of those things needs to change. Take a step back and look at the priorities of the business vs. the actual work being done and reassess - do the business priorities need to change, or does the dashboard? 

  • Ties to a baseline. In order to demonstrate progress, you will need to have a clear starting place. Looking back at the certification example. While the accomplishment of passing the exam is the goal, all the incremental steps along the way tell the story of your progress. It’s impossible to tell a great story about progress without first understanding where you’ve started. 

I hope this has given you some food for thought. If you aren’t already using reports and dashboards today, it might feel daunting, but we have loads of resources to help you get started. Here are a few of my favorites: 

  • The blog post Manage Your Team's Work Using Dashboards is also a great resource for understanding the most common reports within a team dashboard, and steps for building them in your own environment. 

We hope you are feeling inspired and think about reporting and dashboards in a new way. Keep being curious and asking the big questions (and then create a dashboard or two to answer them!).