Who needs computers?

I was in the Cabinet War Rooms a little while ago (the bunker where Churchill ran his WWII operations – for anyone not familiar). Something that struck me was the universal use of really clear, concise and well thought out charts, graphs and maps. Here’s a shot of one:

One of the graphs from the Cabinet War Room


The key on this graph is only partial as it was covered on the graph next to it.

What I like about this graph is:

  • Spare use of colour (faded red pencil is used to show another data set – that’s it)
  • No clutter on the graph (gridlines, logos, patterns or tick marks)
  • Easy to read at a glance

I suspect that some of the graph’s economy comes from being hand-drawn in ink. The less you put on the easier and the less likely you are to make mistakes.

It shows that good dashboard and graph design has been around for a long time, we may have just got a bit lazy using default Excel chart types and have forgotten how to do simple.





  1. Avatar Bernard Morris on September 24, 2012 at 08:15

    Visited the War Rooms on Saturday. I was also impressed with ethe clarity and range of the graphical data available which would have provided those “running” the war with clear trend data. The sourcing of much of the information would have been very interesting. I left feeling that there should be a publication of how such analysis and presentation had helped in the war effort.

    I spent a significant part of my career in the oil industry trying to ensure that management focused on significant KPIs. As many managers are not highly numerate presentation is key, and my belief was that any organisation should be managed on no more than 10 KPIs.

    Perhaps there is a coincidence of our christian names in this interest!


    • Avatar Bernie on September 24, 2012 at 08:23

      Hi Bernie. I agree, the information side of WW2 seems to have been pretty much invisible (apart from Enigma), but was clearly prized by Churchill. In defence of your managers, studies show that most people struggle to retain more than 3-7 “chunks” of information in their short-term memory, so I would agree that you shouldn’t present too much information in one go. Unfortunately some of my clients work on the basis that ALL you need are 10 KPIs. You can end up missing out a large part of the picture if there’s no depth behind the headlines! Thanks for your comment Bernie.

      • Avatar Bernard Morris on September 24, 2012 at 08:48


        Agree with your reply.

        If you regard the KPI system as a cascade (or funnel), each top level KPI presented may rely upon a subset organised by function / department / activity etc as you dig lower into the organisation, as long as there is clear ownership of the results and the ability to impact performance by management action.

        Out of interest how many of your clients have at board level a KPI based upon the condintion of their Internal Control Systems?

        I should say that I am 58 and retired 6 years ago!



      • Avatar Bernie on September 24, 2012 at 08:56

        Clients with KPIs based on Internal Control Systems? Prior to my involvement =0! Admittedly this may be a self-selecting group.

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