Best Practices for Creating Useful Dashboards

Making Sure Your Dashboard Always Gets Better

Perfection is not attainable, but if we chase perfection we can catch excellence.

Vince Lombardi

Continuous Improvement, more than just a phrase or a buzzword.  It is the key to success. I once read a web development team’s mission statement and thought such a mentality was going to drive this team to success.  It was a plain white wall that had the word “iterate” on it 74 times, in the final position was the word “excellence”. Why 75 words, I will never know. But this type of strategy is going to help you not only launch a dashboard project because you have iterated your skills many times over but also help you to understand that excellence is only achieved through multiple iterations of the same project.  Setting up a continuous improvement effort on your dashboard will push you to the same type of result.

Open a feedback channel

This brings up the first piece, in my humble opinion, of continuous improvement.  Opening a feedback channel.

Giving yourself the opportunity to collect real feedback from the users and consumers of your dashboard is going to position yourself nicely for development into the future.  There are a few options for opening a feedback channel that you may want to investigate.

Straight user feedback – Vox populi, vox dei

      • More than just a suggestions box that might be sitting near the door of a restaurant.  You will want to open some kind of easy, written feedback avenue, to give your users a place to comment, offer suggestions, and ask questions.  They key here is making sure it isn’t just griping and is producing results.
      • Everyone knows that a person is most often motivated to provide feedback when things are going wrong.  This type of feedback is powerful, but maybe not always constructive. It may just be criticism for criticism sake.  To find constructive criticism you may need to sift through the noise to find the signal.
      • That being said, I do encourage you to set up an option for feedback for the general user.  This can be something like an email repository or even a commenting function in the dashboard itself.  These types of comments may not be flattering but they can definitely expose to you either a real flaw in your dashboard.  You may also find an opportunity to train the end user to better understand the dashboard and that it is not having a shortfall they just might not understand what is being presented.  That type of feedback opportunity is a huge benefit.

Consumer community

      • You may also want to investigate some kind of community building software like Discourse, that will give you the opportunity to set up connections from consumer to consumer that will be encouraging discussions.  These discussions are something you can engage in and observe to see what the people are talking about.

Consumer support

      • What to do when the dashboard is not working or is wrong.  You will want to give your consumers the opportunity to ask questions or let you know when something is broken.

Set up an iteration review and schedule

Additionally, you are going to want to set up an iteration schedule.  Especially if the use case of this dashboard is for a long-term analysis and display.  You can revisit the feedback you’ve gotten at a regular interval like every month or every week, or even once a quarter or year.  The important thing is to keep to the schedule.

You should also set up a checklist of items you will want to review in this type of regularly scheduled review session.  Know what you might want to analyze for the dashboards effectiveness.

    • Have metrics that will be analyzed for adoption.
      • Examples:
        • How many dashboard views
        • How many different viewers
    • Check the performance of the data source
      • Mitigating the dashboards load on your data source will keep the data team off your back.  
      • You will also have an opportunity to optimize your SQL if necessary.
    • Data maintenance.
      • Every so often your data sources may get re-architectured for performance and system reasons.  In this type of review, you can make sure that the columns, tables, and databases are still named what you thought they were when you wrote the SQL and still live in the same environment.

Conclusion

The voice of your dashboards consumers should be one of the leading voices you listen to when analyzing its current performance.  They are likely experts in the field the dashboard is reporting on and are going to be able to provide you with insights that will not only improve the dashboard but also improve your ability as an analyst.