Best Practices for Creating Useful Dashboards

Determine the Metrics to Monitor

What do they want to know?

Building a dashboard that meets all the main principles of one as we outlined previously can be boiled down to another acronym, KISS, keep it simple stupid.  If there is too much information trying to get attention on a dashboard, some if not all of it will be lost in the noise. Keeping the, already compromised, attention span of your audience focused on the information in front of them is important so don’t give them too much at once.  Build the dashboard around a central premise.

Whether it be a more detailed question like “How does Product A sell?” or it is higher level like simply “How are we doing?”  you are just asking them to tell you what they want to know. The point is that each dashboard should answer a central question, and all of the charts contained in that dashboard are a part of the answer.  

Interview the Business Owner first and ask them that very question first, “What do you want to know?”.  For example, a company might want to analyze the current performance so the question could be as simple as “How are we doing?”.  Whatever the Business Owner wants to know will help guide you through this process. Like most journeys, knowing where you want to go will dictate how you are going to get there.

Now that you know the central question you can work with the business user to find out what metrics answer that question.  Keep a spreadsheet with the metrics in Column A, you will be filling out additional columns in future lessons.

In our example, “How are we doing?” will be a regularly scheduled update the CEO will want to know the answer to.  So you need to determine from the Business Owner how the company measures success. In our example, the company monitors company-wide performance with 7 key metrics or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs).  Those 7 KPIs are:

  • Revenue
  • Monthly Recurring Revenue (MRR)
  • Users
  • Subscriptions
  • Activities
  • Operations Cost
  • Marketing Spend

Knowing those seven metrics can easily lead you into the next step of the process and that is determining the data that builds each metric, but first, you need to work with the business user to define each metric for the company’s purposes.

The most important questions you need to ask the Business Owner are:

  • What do you want to measure?
  • How do you want it measured?
  • How do you want it filtered?
  • How is this metric calculated?

The first step in building a great dashboard is understanding the central premise or purpose for building the dashboard.  This understanding can be obtained by interviewing the business owner of the dashboard and first finding out the question they want to have answered.  Then you can work with them to define the metrics that are involved in answering the question. Then knowing the metrics and how they are calculated can lead you into the next step, finding the data.

Conclusion

You have to know where you are going to be able to figure out how you are going to get there.  With this lesson you have figured out where you want to go, now let’s figure out how to get there.