What do German Telekom, Credit Suisse, Swiss Post, German Armed Forces, and SAP have in common? They are all following the seven HICHERT®SUCCESS Rules in their financial reports. In Part 1 of this blog, we talked about why you should use a standard visualization framework. Now, let’s get into some more details of the rules.
Professor Rolf Hichert answered some question for me recently about the actual methodology and visualization standards that he has defined.
Question: Out of your SUCCESS methodology, what would be the top pieces of advice you would give to teams trying to build dashboards?
Rolf Hichert: There are three core components to a good dashboard: clear message, good structure, and meaningful design. Dashboards are meant to communicate, and successful communication is based on binding rules – not on creativity in verbal expression or in visual design. Messages are clearer when reduced to the essential. To teach companies how to communicate better – specifically around statistics, financial, and other numbers – I created the seven SUCCESS Rules to provide a basis.
- The “S” in SUCCESS stands for SAY – and it’s about the clear message. Often dashboards are merely a collection of data with no discernible message for the audience.
Example: Illustration of much clearer the key message (Source)
- The “U” is for UNIFY – it’s about consistent and meaningful design. This involves ensuring that things that mean the same are represented in a consistent design. For example, you always want to represent actuals using one color/shade, budget another, and previous years yet another consistent color/shade.
- The first “C” is for CONDENSE – or concentrate the information. In order to give users a correct evaluation of detailed information, you need to provide a high level overview to situate the information in the context. A high level of information density makes it possible to display complex facts.
- The second “C” is for CHECK – it’s to ensure quality of the information. Manipulated charts are often used in business communication. Make sure the correct data is presented accurately ( for example, consistent scaling). This is one of the most difficult aspects of dashboard design.
Example: Credit Suisse – Improper and Proper Use of Scale (Source)
- The “E” is for ENABLE – it’s about implementing the dashboard. Every dashboard project needs to think through building awareness, planning the introduction, training of users, and other elements of implementation.
- The next “S” is for SIMPLIFY – to facilitate the readability of charts and tables. Nothing should be on the dashboard screen without meaning! Focus is on eliminating noise and redundancy.
- The last “S” is for STRUCTURE – to group the content properly. For example, it’s important to group the key performance indicators in a dashboard and ensure that things don’t overlap and are exhaustive, making it easier to understand what’s being communicated.
Example: SAP Annual Report – Improved Insight Through Hichert’s Methodology (Source)
Question: We hear about the high levels of failure in business intelligence projects (dashboards, reports, etc.). In your mind, what drives successful projects?
Rolf Hichert: There are two main categories of dashboard users: analytically-focused people (mostly in middle management) and people oriented toward results responsibility (mostly in executive management). Present dashboards often apply to middle managers who want to drill down and analyze numbers. This group wants to interpret the data for themselves. On the other hand, top management wants to hear a story. But without text and context, dashboards don’t lend themselves well to telling a story.
Question: Fairly frequently, dashboards don’t get adopted broadly across the organization. What do you think is one of the root causes of this?
Rolf Hichert: It is the explaining text and story that is missing in most cases. Most dashboards nobody can “understand” because they don’t say anything. A collection of pretty charts and nice tables does not necessarily tell interesting stories. In addition, we obviously need a “notation conception for consistent meaning,” this is why my suggestions of HICHERT®SUCCESS have been widely adopted.
Question: How can conveying information with clear storytelling drive real business bottom line results? Why is good design of charts important?
Rolf Hichert: Trustworthy information increases executive or middle management knowledge, and with better knowledge they can come to better decisions. There is no such thing as a “good chart” if it does not transport a “clear message.” In general, charts have to have an objective, but the majority miss this written message that tells the story and helps the business user get clear insight. In the analysis phase, charts should provide interesting relationships and root causes, but at the executive level it is necessary to tell a story with proof points.
Interested in learning more or perhaps adopting the principles at your own organization? You may want to think about joining the International Business Communication Standards association, which is just being created.
And don’t forget that our partner graphomate does add-on charts for SAP based on this concept for SAP BusinessObjects Dashboards and SAP BusinessObjects Design Studio – it’s available in the SAP Store and you can watch a short video demo.