Dashboarding Shouldn’t Be Like Waterboarding

Steve Davis | 14 December 2021

Project dashboards… ugh. We all use them. You know, the little status reports with “Green-Amber-Red” dots (or arrows or check-marks or stoplights or…) along with one or two quick phrases to condense an entire week’s worth of effort into one Powerpoint slide? Guess what – I think they are torture. OK, definitely not as bad as waterboarding, but you get the idea, right?

Here’s the thing… it’s not the dashboard itself that drives me nuts, or the color-coding. It’s the fundamental way that companies, and managers/leaders particularly, abuse the dashboard. See if this sounds right to you:

  • Green – project on track
  • Amber – issues/risks identified; solutions being researched and/or implemented
  • Red – dates/deliverables at risk, additional resources needed to get back on track

But in reality, this is what happens in “Dashboard Review Meetings”

  • Green – “OK, next person… move along”
  • Amber – “How’d you let this happen?”

Dashboards turn into weapons, with nowhere to go but down

The unfortunate reality of Dashboards (and the dreaded Project Status Meeting) is that no one gets kudos for Green. Therefore, the entire process boils down to abject fear of being in Yellow, and real job insecurity for Red. I once had a CEO of a company tell me that he doesn’t tolerate Red on a Dashboard. Well then, I guess you won’t see it, sir.

Dashboards turn into weapons, with nowhere to go but down. Participants lie, obfuscate, hide the truth, and attack each other so that their own dashboards receive minimal scrutiny. Nobody wins.

It doesn’t have to be that way. What if we gave out praise and cheers for Green – after all, a lot of work probably went into keeping it that way! What if Yellow was met with “I trust you can resolve this – keep me informed”. And, what if Red (should it ever happen) is seen as a request for help – for all-hands-on-deck? What if the manager, instead of yelling and screaming, said “OK – thanks for being honest. What resources do you need, and how can I help you be successful?”

Leaderful managers should use Dashboards as they were meant – to ensure the successful completion of the project. That’s the focus – that’s the goal… right? Maybe if more of that happened, more productive work would be done, and people wouldn’t dread Project Status Meetings…

– Steve Davis

14 December 2021