Summary: While a business dashboard will help you make sense of your data, not all dashboards are created equal. Some don’t deliver the expected results. Others are nothing more than charts on a page. How can you create an effective dashboard that improves your business? In this article, we explore a few questions you must consider before starting a dashboard project.
Businesses now deal with more data than ever before. But, all of this data is worthless unless properly harnessed. How can they turn this flood of data into meaningful management information?
To address this issue, more and more businesses are gravitating towards dashboards. Dashboards help businesses make sense of their data–turning mountains of information into actionable insights. They alert leaders to business problems, and can help stop issues before they get out of hand.
The problem: Not all dashboards are created equal. Some businesses place graphs and charts on a page, and call it a dashboard. Then, they wonder why it’s not helping their business.
The big question: How can you create effective dashboards that improve your business?
It starts with asking the right questions before you begin your dashboard project. There are many factors to consider before creating a dashboard(s). There are many questions you must ask to determine what type of dashboard to build, and what to include in the dashboard.
Today, let’s focus on a few of the most important questions to ask before creating a dashboard. While the list could certainly be longer, here are 4 big questions to ask:
1. What decisions will our dashboard(s) help us make?
Let me ask you a question: What makes an effective dashboard? Does it need fancy charts and graphs? Does it need real-time data?
While the answer varies depending on your business, there’s one aspect everyone can agree on: An effective dashboard is one the drives a decision. Too many dashboards amount to nothing more than charts on a page. Why? Because they’re not designed around action. They’re not designed to drive business objectives.
“If a dashboard isn’t created to display metrics that are aligned with the objectives of the business, it is focused on the wrong thing,” says Jerry Rackley, Chief Analyst at Demand Metric. “There are plenty of interesting things to include on a dashboard, but not all of them show progress toward things that matter.”
2. What type of dashboard do we need?
Many view business dashboards through a narrow lense: as a tool to give executives a quick view of the business. But, that isn’t the only type of dashboard you can build.
In reality, dashboards can serve many purposes. For instance, I’ve seen some manufacturing companies implement operational dashboards on their shop floor. These dashboards help employees track their progress against daily shipping goals.
I’ve also seen dashboards used for analytical purposes. Department managers prefer the dashboard format for exploring their data. Still others use dashboards as strategic tools. The fact is, you can use dashboards to solve many different problems.
So, what type of dashboards do you need? As explained the below, the answer to that question comes from your users.
“Conduct workshops with consultants and client stakeholders to get an understanding of what the dashboard will be used for and who will use it,” says John Bird, vice president North America, Dapresy. “How long this will take depends primarily on how much is known about what is needed.”
3. Who will use the dashboard?
A single dashboard cannot be all things to all people. Yet, many make the mistake of trying to cram their dashboards full of data that applies to different audiences.
What happens? The dashboard is so overwhelming, no one uses it.
Before creating a dashboard for any group of users, do your research. Understand their goals, needs, and technical skill level. Then, create a dashboard focused on that user group.
“Different audiences absorb information in different ways and require deeper dives into the data set than other groups,” says Dan Nordale, CMO at Flowroute. “It is vital to keep your dashboard succinct for the audience who is consuming it. Don¹t think you need to throw everything into the dashboard–doing so will just complicate matters.”
Now, one important question to ask before creating a dashboard for a group of users: Will everyone in this group have access to the same information? For instance, suppose you’re creating a sales dashboard for the sales department. Each salesperson needs access to the same dashboard, but they should only be able to see their sales numbers.
How do you get around this issue, without creating a different dashboard for every salesperson? Make sure that any dashboard solution you choose includes multi-tenant security. This lets you control data access at the row level–ensuring that different users can access the same application, but only see the data they’re authorized to see.
4. How will the dashboard be accessed?
Over the past 5 years, mobile devices have moved from a luxury item to a necessity. They’re quickly overtaking the desktop PC.
Let’s take a look at the stats. Since 2012, mobile browser usage has jumped from 8% to 33%. Meanwhile, desktop browser usage has fallen from 92% to 66%. Expect those trends to continue over the next few years.
What does this mean for business? You must understand how and where users will access their dashboard. Unless it only will be used on a PC, modern dashboards should adapt to any device.
Now, these are just a few questions to ask before building a dashboard. If you would like to add anything to this list, I’d love to hear it. Feel free to share in the comments.