John Barnes

What Car Dashboards Teach About Choosing Metrics

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Zimana
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Re: Conditional responsiveness
Zimana   2/24/2012 10:37:18 AM
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John,

This is one of the best analogies on setting an expectation from a dashboard I have read.  It does make clear aspects from metrics beyond a score that summarizes the results.  And from a former automotive engineer, you've nailed the idiot lights very well!

Thank you for this insight!

Daniel
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Re: Metrics and Analysis
Daniel   2/7/2012 10:42:26 PM
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John thanks for the clarification. From your clarification it seems that the interpretation of data matters a lot. System analysis and interpreting the data for a fine tuning is crucial.

Shawn Hessinger
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Re: Metrics and Analysis
Shawn Hessinger   2/7/2012 9:54:46 PM
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Hi John,

I like the concept of analysis as presentation. When you think about the dashboard analogy, the metaphor follows through with a simple presentation of all your automobile's basic functions displayed in easy view and distilled to easily interpreted symbols. All meterics should be considered with this in mind.

John Barnes
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Re: Metrics and Analysis
John Barnes   2/7/2012 1:40:50 PM
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Thanks for some wonderful extensions on the metaphor!

I'm aware of a couple of moderately odd situations where you might want to have a tach on an automatic -- mainly ones where you have to use the "1" and "2" gears that some automatics still have.  But otherwise, yes, they're the equivalent of a manager getting a number every morning because his grandfather needed it.

And yes, there are occasions on which the dashboard (or dashboard design) has usurped management's decision-making powers.

Cordell
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Re: Metrics and Analysis
Cordell   2/7/2012 1:00:01 PM
The car dashboard is also a perfect illustration of metrics outliving their usefulness.  Will someone tell me why I have a tachometer on my car with the automatic transmission?  Or maybe it's a matter of the management (me) not being educated about what it can tell me.  Right now it's just taking up space on my dashboard because I ignore it.

Also inadequate metrics.  I have two lights come on - check engine and maintenence required.  It warns me of something but I don't know what!  It tells me that whatever it is is best left to the experts.  I know it's true but I can't help feeling I'm being manipulated into taking my car to the expert.  Do you have metrics that give management the impression that you're just trying to maintain your expert status?  You know it happens.

John Barnes
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Re: Metrics and Analysis
John Barnes   2/7/2012 8:36:48 AM
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But analysis is presentation; in any math problem, the answer is already there (or the fact that the answer can't be reached by mathematical means, which is an answer of a different kind).  The manipulations we do only "solve for the result" in the sense that we pull that one answer out of the tangle of the other numbers, because it's the answer we want to look at.

And the car dashboard analytics are predictive -- it's just that the driver has to interpret them into predictions. 75 km/h means that in one hour, we will be 75 km further along than we are now ("if nothing changes," or "ceteris paribus" -- the magic get out of responsibility free phrases in prediction). The fuel gauge predicts whether you will or won't run out of fuel in the relevant timeframe, the oil gauge predicts, very strongly, that if you don't do something right away your engine will irreparabily seize up, and the tachometer predicts that if you shift now, it will be smooth and fuel-conserving.

Your comment, though, very strongly highlights an important principle -- although analysis may specify a prediction or describe a range of conditions, it is up to management (i.e. the driver) to decide what to do about it.  The speedometer predicts that "we'll have to speed to get there on time" but management then chooses between being late and speeding (with the attendant risks).  And the oil light cannot save management that decides it's just one little light and there's only a hundred miles to go ... as happened with a certain ex spouse of mine ... it has already done its job when it predicts "big trouble real soon if you don't get to someplace where you can turn the engine off."

We measure, analyze, and predict, but for the most part we don't drive.  It's a good idea for the driver to understand what we tell him/her, but we can't force them to understand; all we can do is report clearly, about the things that are likely to matter to them.  (Which is what the car dashboard is a great example of).

John Barnes
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Re: Conditional responsiveness
John Barnes   2/7/2012 8:00:29 AM
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The rhetoricians refer to it as the difference between data and construct (data is the domain, construct is the range) and observe that the construct that is the point of one part of the process is the data at the next.  The highway cop's radar gun takes a complicated relationship of microwave pulses (data or domain) and turns it into a number representing your speed (construct or range), which becomes the data he turns into the  construct of deciding  to stop and ticket you, the ticket becomes the data for the judge which he turns into the construct of the fine, and so forth. This is the problem with the "everyone is entitled to their own opinion but not their own facts" declaration that people make so confidently; as the philosopher Richard Rorty said, facts don't speak for themselves, they don't speak at all.  People do, and they find it useful to categorize some of what they say as facts.  (They also find it useful to make up rules about what goes into the domain/data and range/construct and to enforce those rules; "you can say what you want" does NOT equal "and it will work equally well.")

Daniel
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Metrics and Analysis
Daniel   2/7/2012 5:13:37 AM
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John, it's very interesting to convert all the basic metric aspects to a car dash board. Metrics can compare and correlate with any factors but is it right to say the car dashboard is analyzing the data for a best prediction. I think NO, because there is no possibility of analysis and predictions. It's only converting the available data to a suitable format for display.

Shawn Hessinger
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Re: Conditional responsiveness
Shawn Hessinger   2/6/2012 11:28:51 PM
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Hi John,

I like the idea of being able to customize the view of data you want to see. It makes it easier to measure the information of most importance based on your business model. It's also a good reminder of the importance of customizing analytics to meet your specific business goals instead of taking a one-size-fits-all approach.

DataCrunch
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Data Overload
DataCrunch   2/6/2012 7:56:00 PM
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In the analytics world, people sometimes have a tendency to gather and present too much data.  Data overload can defeat the purpose of what the data was originally intended for.  John makes a great point in using the car dashboard example as putting data analytics back into perspective.         

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