Let’s be honest, insatiable obsession with dashboards can be overwhelming for analysts across e-commerce or traditional business. We all have witnessed pages of never ending graphs, charts, and tables that seem to bring more questions than answers and deliver sleepless nights at the computer keyboard.
To alleviate the pain, here are my top 3 tips on how to develop useful and effective dashboards and avoid being filtered into a trash folder. These steps should be considered prior to embarking on the wonderful journey of magical creativity and are the cornerstone of any successful dashboard.
- Know your audience and purpose! Before developing any dashboard, the first question to ask is who is going to revel in your ‘masterpiece’ and what purpose it is trying to accomplish. Sounds pretty simple, but it is one of the most common fallacies in the reporting world. Knowing your ‘customer’ is the first building block in creating the dashboard. Data complexity with a variety of metrics and level of detail should match the audience comfort zone. What is the point of developing complex 3D scatterplots or fancy Gantt charts if nobody can read them? Consider developing an explanation of used terms (KPI glossary) or add comments in order to help guide less experienced readers of your reports.
Finding central objectives will help in designing the report structure and its functionality. Is your dashboard going to be broad or specific focusing on a certain product or function? Does it have a strategic (long-term view) or operational goal? What is the time frame and level of customization? Those are a few questions to ask before starting the development process.
- 2. Find key metrics and clarify goals. The amount of data we are dealing with on a daily basis can get very intimidating. The success of a good dashboard comes down to the ability of identifying and separating target metrics from the ‘noise’. I recommend picking no more than two or three key KPI metrics that will be the focus of the dashboard. Establish goals and stick to it. Context is crucial in any dashboard. You cannot define success without some type of yardstick. A benchmark can be an internal company standard, external industry number, or even a past historic performance. It is important to get people to buy-into those goals and benchmarks for increased accountability and dashboard consumption.
- Proper structure flow. Organizing and grouping data into certain parts of the dashboard can be a scary process but, if done properly, it actually comes easier for many data ninjas than the two tips described earlier. Analysts often have problems communicating and identifying audience needs or clarifying the goals, but I have also seen a share of challenges with the dashboard structure design as well. The layout of information helps ‘customers’ understand the big picture and see how it all fits together. If the purpose of the dashboard is to see conversion improvements, then showing sales flow from the lead generation all the way to the sale completion could be the proper structure to follow. Another grouping could be location-driven by starting with overall sales and gradually progressing to continents, regions and countries. The level of detail typically flows from top to bottom or from left to right. Items that are related to each other should be positioned in close proximity on the dashboard. It is ok to use larger graphs or font for a more prominent look in order to highlight key performance indicators.
Intuitive comprehension and easy readability are achieved by properly structuring the report. Displaying key metrics on the very top with a clear distinctive format allows users to immediately gauge performance without getting lost in the data mosaic. As my own rule of thumb, I want my dashboards to provide a clear picture within the first 10 second glimpse as well provide some deeper insights for data hungry executives. It is very important to remember that more is not always better, try to stick with a one page (or one tab in excel) dashboard that gets to the point while providing enough detail for your target audience, key metrics, and goals.