Skip to Content
Author's profile photo Holger Stumm

Be careful with that traffic light (OMG its a dashboard)

As usual, hype always soars before the descent into the valley of disillusionment. When I see all the iPads with their dashboards, their touchy screens with fingerprints and colored like kids books, a certain feeling of skepticism starts catching up on me.

It reminds me of the tragic “Powerpoint incident” during the NASA Columbia tragedy. (NY Times – PowerPoint Makes You Dumb December 14, 2003) .

“NASA, the board argued, had become too reliant on presenting complex information via PowerPoint, instead of by means of traditional ink-and-paper technical reports. When NASA engineers assessed possible wing damage during the mission, they presented the findings in a confusing PowerPoint slide — so crammed with nested bullet points and irregular short forms that it was nearly impossible to untangle. ‘It is easy to understand how a senior man-ager might read this PowerPoint slide and not realize that it addresses a life-threatening situation,’ the board sternly noted. “

After that, on future “mission critical” meetings and  decisions, NASA banned all power point presentation and forced people to talk and evaluate details rather to get hypnotized by a false feeling of ease.

When it comes to decision, management loves to relate to three colors: Red, Yellow and Green. It is not much more that fits on Iphones and Ipads. This lead to the impression, that all decisions in live can be made based on some easy peasy piecharts and barcharts. (On average, a newspaper piechart has about 140 factors shown on page, a dashboard just 12).  


But most situations are too complex to get pressed into easy categories. And most traffic light dash boards are like expensive tamagotchis for manager: If it begs for food, press the left button and if it begs for some pads on the back, press the right button.

Life is not that easy. And business neither. If you ask serious managers on tough decision spots, they are all into something that management guru Tom Peters called “Managing by wandering around” MBWA. Go around, talk, ask people on the shop floor, on administration hallways and in the call center, in short: Meet people, not iPads. They provide the facts and not the coloring for the iPad. I am pretty sure that all these i-devices and mobile hype on dashboard will fade away and find their reasonable place in ad hoc communicating, note taking and messaging.

But for any complex analysis and decisions, it is just that: A toy that does not provide the necessary depth for serious decisions.

I met one technician, who shrugged at the presentation on the iPad during Sapphire by Hasso Plattner. “I am sure, when I come into the office tomorrow, all IT leads will demand immediately that their iPads are connected to SAP.” and rolled his eyes towards the sky. I was laughing. I could see servers crushing, but the whole IT Department is busy getting the management iPads to work. 

I am not trashing the iPad or the iPhone (which I usually love to do ) . The iPad will find its corner in the IT and probably the way into board room meetings. But the strategy towards the use should be on gathering and aggregating information in depth, not in dashboards. Look  at traditional information carrier like pdf’s with analysis, additional informations etc. and include communication live with twitters, pictures and video medias as supporter of actual discussions and decisions.

But please, no more traffic light dashboards. Except for the local transportation department.

Assigned Tags

      You must be Logged on to comment or reply to a post.
      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Great blog post. I think you really nail it.
      It's all about adding contextual information to the dashboards or interactive reports.

      At the moment I don't see an out of the box optimized SAP solution to integrate for example social media feeds within your dashboard where you can actually analyse it. Displaying it isn't too hard but getting greater value out of it still is a challenge. Next to that customers often ask me about data and text integration options. This still is something that needs further attention and development.

      The thing dashboards should be doing is aiming for the direction where you should put your attention and focus in. This all begins with decent KPI definitions.

      Concluding I can say that I agree with your view on traffic light dashboards and that it's not columbus' egg. Good management takes more than just traffic lights.

      Author's profile photo Holger Stumm
      Holger Stumm
      Blog Post Author
      Hi Peter,
      thanks for the comment. Happy to see that more people consider dashboards as one of many actions -  there is too much hype around.
      All the best..