How to get useful project analytics on your office screens?
When you manage an important application with hundreds and thousands of users, you have to keep your ear to the ground. Our teams are maintaining business-critical services that are used for sales, remote branch management, partner relationships. Each one of them generates markers that can warn developers about a crisis to come — be it a software error, productivity problems or anything else.
We don’t want to miss such early signs that’s why the developing team got live analytics right before their eyes — on TV-screens. This post puts together some useful tips on how to make these reports useful and descriptive.
Why this can be a problem?
1. You need to cherry-pick the crucial markers from all the important ones — big projects provide enormous amounts of data but most of it is not that useful.
2. In order to choose correctly, you have to establish user scenarios and situations that might cause problems.
3. You will then have to find the right format for the flow of information so that you don’t spam developers with alerts but provide them with a bird-view image.
4. This image must suffice to ascertain that everything is OK at the moment (or not) while enabling users to dive into the data for more refined analysis.
5. Last but not the least, we’d like the graphs to be neat and nice.
If you do everything right, you get a handy analytics tool that will help the team control the situation and also be proud of their growing project. On the other hand, if you mess something up, in a couple of weeks everybody will start to ignore all these graphs and charts, no matter how important they are.
How we managed to do this
We used an open-source visualization platform Grafana. It’s a popular tool for creating customizable dashboards that can pull data from all kinds of sources, including Elasticsearch, MSSQL, AWS CloudWatch. Most Grafana users work with the system from their Pcs so the default interface is tuned for their screens. We found out that this doesn’t work well on a TV screen and came up with some settings that optimize data visualization for our case.
Here’s what we recommend to do if you want to have Grafana on your TV:
Create specific dashboards. The main difference between the two formats: you don’t scrutinize the data on a TV screen. In this case, you need a picture with broader strokes than with a PC dashboard.
· Filter your data. Same reason for cutting all the links, error descriptions and other details that demand thorough analysis. Your dashboard should only answer one question — is everything OK? If you have space, you may leave weekly/monthly statistics but they are not vital, either.
· Calculate threshold parameters. A mistake can suddenly happen in any process, and it’s not necessarily an attention-demanding situation. For example, a user may lack the rights for a certain operation. You should define the amounts of errors that signal real problems and not distract developers with random setbacks.
· Use playlists. A frozen image on a screen can damage it and you will not solve this problem with data refreshment because it leaves the main elements in their places. A better way is to break down the data on a series of graphs and show them one after another in Kiosk mode.
· Use 150% zoom. In our opinion this is the size of choice — you can still see the figures from the other end of the room but the graphs are compact enough to fit in the screen.
· It’s nice to be able to check up on the project any time you need it.
· It’s even nicer to feel that we will see the early signs of any undesirable situation.
· Project managers use this dashboard for live updates to the client.
· The team got yet another reminder about the common goal — that works beautifully for the spirit.