PowerPoint Tip: Effective dashboard slides

At the start of the year many organizations are looking back to see how they did last year. They will use many different measures, and they may decide that they want to start tracking certain statistics that will make a difference in improving performance going forward. A common approach is to create one or more dashboard slides that give executives a quick snapshot of how the organization is performing. In this article I want to share some tips on creating effective dashboard slides.

The term dashboard comes from vehicle dashboards that use indicators to show the status of such metrics as amount of fuel remaining, oil temperature, and battery power. An effective dashboard slide gives the viewer a single quick view of the performance of key areas in the organization. By glancing at the slide, the executive can quickly determine what areas need attention. Many dashboard slides contain stoplight indicators, with red indicating an area that needs immediate attention, yellow an area of concern, and green indicating acceptable performance.

The first step in creating an effective dashboard slide is to decide on the correct metrics to use. This is done in conjunction with the executives responsible for that area of operations. When selecting the metrics, make sure that you will be reporting numbers that have context. A single number on its own does not have context since you can’t tell if that number is acceptable or not. By comparing the current value to one in the past or a standard, the viewer will have context. Since many dashboards use the stoplight indicators, get agreement on what constitutes a red, yellow, or green indicator for each metric. If the executives will be making decisions based primarily on these colors, it is critical to get the definitions of each color correct up front.

Once the metrics are well defined, the next step is to decide how to show the metrics. If you decide to use the stoplight indicators, remember that some people may not be able to interpret the colors green or red due to red-green color blindness. Medical research suggests that this condition affects approximately one in ten Caucasian males. If you use the stoplight approach, include the first letter of the color (R, Y, or G) in a contrasting text color so everyone is clear on what the indicator means. Don’t restrict your indicators to just the stoplight colors. Use indicator arrows (up or down) to indicate trends. Use a checkmark or ‘X’ to indicate acceptable or unacceptable situations. A thumbs up or thumbs down symbol can also work. By using a variety of indicators, it makes it more visually interesting for the viewer.

Next, don’t get trapped into thinking that every metric must be reduced to a single indicator. Some metrics are more complex and may need more information to allow an executive to properly interpret the results. You may need to show a simple trend graph along with the goal that is trying to be achieved. In this way, the executive can see that performance is better than last year, is improving each month, but that the goal has not yet been achieved. This is a better interpretation than a simple red circle showing that the goal has not been achieved this year.

Also, work with the executives to determine the order of information that will help them make quick and effective decisions. Usually you will start with a broad overview, and then go deeper into each area so they can interpret the broad indicators properly. There are many ways to break down the overall results. You could dive deep by geographic area if that makes sense, or by product or service grouping if that will be more helpful. Some executives will want to break down the information by first looking at what metrics need attention, regardless of what area they come from. Ask the executives how they want to see it broken down and perhaps give some options with a non-linear approach to building and delivering the presentation.

Dashboard slides can be a valuable part of a regular presentation if you take the time to design them to be an effective visual that gives executives the information they need to make decisions. If you are creating new dashboard slides or reviewing the ones you currently use, keep the above tips in mind.