Less is more

There are some great resources and wiser minds than me on the topic of dashboard design, but let me go back to the oft-quoted Kenneth McGee at Gartner, and his 2003 book, Head’s Up, for some fundamental guidance on how a community/engagement marketer can best act as a listening post for an organization.
In a meeting with Andy Beal of Marketing Pilgrim last month, I cited McGee and his case example of the Galveston Hurricane of 1900 which decimated the Texas coastline and killed over 6000 people because the local weather expert, Issac Cline, ignored the obvious warning signs. McGee’s thesis comes down to this: in business intelligence the issue is not measuring enough things, it’s knowing which things to look at. Pilots crash planes when they take their eyes off the job at hand and worry about fetching the pencil that rolled under their seat. CEOs can crash companies if they fret over the wrong bullshit.

McGee cites as one of the book’s case studies the CEO of GM, Rick Waggoner, and what he looks at every day. Comes down to three things: daily dealer sales (for a geographical view of demand), factory floor rejection rates (for a view of quality), and a third I can’t remember but will when I return to my home office and my bookshelf.

So what do dashboards have to do with my lot in life? Lots. We run the business on dashboards. We spend a lot of time peering at red, yellow and green spreadsheet cells to determine if the business is on track for the quarter, if our advertising is delivering the ROI we expected, and if we need to develop a promotion or coupon to make our goals.

Now I need to develop a single page, to be produced once a week, for the company’s leadership that encapsulates, at a glance, what they need to know about Lenovo and the online world known as Blogistan. This isn’t a KPI achievement dashboard. This isn’t a green-yellow-red series of gauges. This is a simple thing that permits a CEO or SVP to see, at a glance, that last week the Blogs were chattering about us more or less than the week before and the prevailing themes were A, B, and C. Maybe a chart scraped off of Technorati showing number of gross mentions of “Lenovo” and “ThinkPad” trended over the last three months with a Plus/Minus indicator. This basically is blunt buzz. Then, underneath two sets of bullets. One titled Highlights with the three good things that were blogged, posted, or commented in the previous week. Then Lowlights with three bad thing. And, at the end, a sentence or two from me saying something like: “Buzz spiked on Thursday with the announcement of the R61 and T61. Commenters hate the placement of the audio jacks on the front panel. Competitor X stepped into a mess when it told the Old Lady Association to go to hell and Blogger X called the CEO of Competitor Y a pinhead.”

This word of mouth dashboard is dependent on the verbatim quotes of the forum posters, bloggers, and blog commenters. What I lack is an overall positive-negative sentiment rating — a leading indicator of customer satisfaction — and in the ideal world would have one benchmarked against my competition. Yes, there are services that provide such ratings, but we don’t subscribe to them. I sense there may be a way to kludge something together with some degree of dependability.

What is the purpose of the measurement and reporting (the battle cry of our metrics and analytics leader, Jim Hazen)? Primarily as a communications mechanism to alert our CEO and his direct reports of commentary and customer satisfaction over issues which may not be understood, or detected internally as soon as me and my team see them. As McGee emphasized, the earlier something is detected the number of options and the amount of time to react to increases. Waiting for the hurricane to arrive is too late to evacuate or bring in the patio furniture.

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