Ditch Your Business Analytics Project Charter!


Ditch your Project Charter!I have always strongly recommended that all business analytics clients complete a Project Charter. The Project Charter is a working document that defines the goals of a project, the resources, the risks and the timeline written to ensure all team members were on the same page and the definition of success was agreed upon.  As a business analytics coach at Lodestar Solutions, I found clients reluctant to do this step in the process.  Maybe they thought it was too much work and maybe they feared putting their thoughts in writing for fear of being wrong or held accountable.  I reflected on the situation for a long time and then I realized it was time to scrap the project charter.

At Lodestar Solution, we focus on constant improvement and for 2016 we are telling you to forget creating the formal project charter! We recommend a new and exciting method for defining success for the project.  This method will:

  1. ensure that all team members are actively engaged in the definition of success for your business intelligence or analytics project
  2. will allow for changes midstream without huge cost overruns
  3. increase team member job satisfaction
  4. save a lot of time

Are you ready to get started? Here’s how it works:

Step one: Project Evaluation Workshop – This is an interactive workshop where participants brainstorm on what they need in a solution and write their ideas on sticky notes. As a group, they then categorize these needs and prioritize them.  Check out this Post-it’s blog for ideas:


Step two:  Document results on Scrum Board or results template – We recommend the items be converted into user stories and added to an Agile or Scrum project board.   If you are unfamiliar with Scrum Management tools check this out: http://www.softwareadvice.com/resources/project-management-scrum-tools/

Step three: Estimate a ROI for this phase of the project.  If this is a new project and you need to get funding and resources, we recommend developing the benefits of having this solution.   Focus on how this could save or make the company money.  During one of our recent 2-day workshops, one client realized by implementing a dashboard with timely information they could save the company $1.2M a year.  Now that’s a nice ROI.

If you want to ditch the project charter and you like these ideas, please reach out to us at 813-254-2040 or at Coaching@LodestarSolutions.com.

Choosing A Visualization For Your Dashboard


A C-level executive recently handed a 42-page stack of tabular reports to me and said business dashboards would need to be a priority for him. This isn’t uncommon. In today’s analysis paralysis world, analytic individuals often mistake exploratory analysis for explanatory analysis. To move to a true bottom-line impacting analytic culture, you should move away from laborious reporting to quick glances at key metrics which impact strategy and tactical decisions. That is the main goal of business dashboards but choosing a visualization is just as important. You should be able to very quickly glance at the key metrics driving an operational area and know whether to stay the course or change actions for a more favorable outcome.

In a 30-minute business analytics coaching session with this CFO, we were able to boil down the 42 pages into 5 KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and 5 trends he looks at regularly to adjust actions. However, one of his challenges was choosing a visualization. It’s our job to choose a visualization which allows the reader to quickly interpret data. We want to keep cognitive processing to a minimum. We don’t want them spending time thinking about, “How do I read this graph?” We want them to quickly determine what’s my next course of action.

I always recommend, “Storytelling with Data” by Cole Nussbaumer Knafilic. She masterfully breaks the process into 6 simple steps. Even if your not a creative person, this book will help you quickly and easily implement function, form, and design best practices. Here are a couple of tips to get you started: Simple Text If you only need to convey one or a couple of numbers, use simple text. In the Gross Profit example, we might be tempted to put the data into a bar chart, but that’s added information the reader would have to weed through when all they are really looking for is a single number telling them how off target they are.

Choosing a visualization
Business dashboards – Simple Text

Tables In our analysis paralysis world, we are tempted to put lists or tables on business dashboards. Tables are great for mixed audiences because they will just locate the row and column that is pertinent to them. However, just because the dashboarding tool “Workspace Advance” from Cognos has scrolling functionality for large tables, you should still think carefully before using it on a dashboard. Use tables for summarized data and allow the end user to drill-thorough to a more detailed report if they need to get into the weeds of the data. In the Table example, they summarized the information as a % of total year. This allows for a quick comparison on how they are doing versus other regions. The table is also drillable so they can drill down to the country for comparison in a particular region.

Choosing a visualization
Business Dashboards – Table

To take the ease of understanding one step further, in the heatmap table, I put conditional formatting on the data to draw the end users eyes to higher percentages.

Choosing a visualization
Business Dashboards – Heatmap table

Bar and Column Charts Bar or column charts are very common as they are common for a reason. We all know how to read them. Bar charts are great for categorical data, however, as we add more data points, each categorical data becomes harder to read. I recommend that if you have more than 3 data points for a category, consider using a point graph. You can see in the bar graph example below that trying to compare multiple regions against multiple years is challenging yet in the point graph, the data is concise and easy to interpret.

Choosing a visualization
Business Dashboards – Bar graph
Choosing a visualization
Business Dashboard – Point graph

Destination Dashboard If you are looking for a dashboarding workshop where you can learn about choosing a visualization, Lodestar’s 2-day “Destination Dashboard” workshop, which is offered periodically throughout the year, will cover visualization development in-depth. You will leave the workshop with a physical blueprint, a repeatable process you can teach your organization, and Cognos training on how to build in Cognos Workspace. To learn more about the next Destination Dashboard events, contact us at Coaching@LodestarSolutions.com.

Cognos Workspace Advanced – 5 Dashboard Rollout Steps


As a business analytics coach at Lodestar Solutions, I coach clients in planning and executing the deployment of dashboards with IBM Cognos Workspace.  If you are not familiar with Cognos Workspace Advanced, it’s time to investigate because IBM is sunsetting, or as they say “deprecating”, IBM Cognos Query Studio and Analysis Studio.  The replacement is Workspace advanced.   Here’s a link to FAQ from IBM: https://www-304.ibm.com/connections/blogs/basupportlink/entry/query_studio_and_analysis_studio_deprecation?lang=en_us

 Cognos Workspace Advanced

You probably already own the licenses that include Workspace Advanced.

To learn more about it, watch our video on “Why Move to Workspace Advanced & Demo”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LV6c5zuTvGc

 Here are five steps you should consider so that you maximize end user adoption of the dashboards. Please remember that to effectively deploy dashboards in your company, you need to plan ahead.

  1. First…check your Cognos licensing /entitlements to see how many users have access to Cognos Workspace Advanced. Call Lodestar Solutions if you would like a “What the Heck Do I Own” license review. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pkAdNgUC-bU
  2. Plan what functional area you will roll-out first.
  3. Host a Dashboarding Workshop with key players to determine what the users need on the dashboard. Don’t assume anything! At Lodestar Solutions, we offer a “Destination Dashboard” workshop that rapidly defines what the users need. Contact us for information on the workshop.
  4. Prototype the dashboard – you might want to use Cognos Insight for this because you can easily grab data sources that might not be in your Framework manager today. You can also leave a copy with the user to play with.
  5. Demonstrate the new dashboards to the users. You might want to watch our video on how to demonstrate software first: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_dmGpBmdOMo.

It’s time to start planning.  At Lodestar Solutions, we have a complete Destination Dashboard project checklist we would be happy to share with you.   Lodestar also offers a 2 day training class on Workspace Advanced both virtually and onsite.   For more information, just email us at Sales@LodestarSolutions.com or call us at 813-254-2040 for your free copy of our checklist.  

5 Tips to Designing Executive Dashboards

designing executive dashboards

Are you designing executive dashboards that will be useful to the entire company as well?

1. Dashboards must be interactive
The key to designing executive dashboards is to make sure the dashboards not only present what's “top of mind” for the executives but allow for interaction. When a data point is out of tolerance or expectation, the executives will then ask, “Why?” The dashboards must have the ability to drill down and be interactive. A dashboard that is not interactive is just a sexy report.

2. Host a Dashboard Design Workshop

The best way to identify what should be on the dashboard is to host a dashboarding workshop where the team defines the objects and visual presentation of the data. Try a software agnostic dashboarding workshop where team members create a visual representation of their dashboards on paper during an interactive dashboard exploration. Workshops eliminate the situation where report designers create dashboards end users don't use. During the workshop, the team should define a standardize template including color and logo guidelines to provide a consistent visual experience for all dashboards. If the dashboard will be used on a mobile device, the design must consider the limited real estate of mobile devices. Executives will not want to continuously scroll.  Lodestar Solutions Destination Dashboard Workshop can help everyone agree to an effective dashboard design.

3. Dashboards must display a measure of “Why Clients Buy from You”

Dashboards should reflect your company's competitive differentiator and why your clients buy from you. Your competitive differentiator is what your clients’ value.  When the organization is focused on the unique value they provide to clients, it is much easier to hold margins and market share even in a highly competitive market.   The challenge can be how to measure why your clients buy from you, but this can be accomplished with surveys.  Including the measure of your competitive advantage on your dashboard will motivate the entire organization to perform and improve the number resulting in increased sales.

4. People will perform based on what is monitored and visible

One example is a company with rapid growth had an issue with attrition of employees at 5 years. When they evaluated exit interviews, they realized managers were not performing annual employee reviews. We included a score for each manager that measured the percentage of reviews that were performed on time each month. Within 45 days, managers were hitting 100% and thus were able to remove the graph from the dashboard. Dashboard items will affect behavior of team members so choose your items carefully but be open to modifying them as your business changes.

5. Leverage the request for designing executive dashboards as an opportunity to evaluate what you measure

New dashboard projects should be used as an opportunity to evaluate the focus of the organization. The question should be not be what we are measuring, but instead, what SHOULD we be measuring. If you are implementing a new dashboard, use this opportunity to examine how you look at your business. Technology has advanced and dashboards can now incorporate data from sources like Goggle Analytics and other comparative data sources.

Click here to view our video on Dashboards For Success