We’ve all heard of them, most of us use them, but are we getting as much value out of our business dashboards as we should be? Most are created on the fly because there’s a bit of white space that isn’t being used and end up being a sea of meaningless, cluttered data. When this happens, your dashboard is rendered useless.
So what can you do? How can you ensure that your business dashboards are meaningful and, more importantly, productive? In this article I share with you 5 golden rules for building your perfect dashboard.
1. Define your dashboard objectives
The best dashboards always serve a specific purpose and are planned before they are built. During the planning process you should wireframe your thoughts and focus on the most important content.
Content will differ dramatically depending upon the audience; for example, a salesperson will have different objectives to a CEO or IT Manager, so make sure your dashboard is relevant. Don’t try to cram everything into a single dashboard, but instead think about your objective as a question and the dashboard is your answer.
2. Keep it simple
A dashboard needs to be easy to read and the audience should be able to get the information they need in seconds, not spend a lifetime trying to dissect every data set, even if all the information is useful and relevant. So how can you do this? It’s simple really: just cut the clutter.
Cutting the clutter means you can simplify your dashboard into the right type for you, whether that’s purely Operational, Strategic or Analytical. Cluttered dashboards deflect the focus from the important messages so only add exactly what you need. For example, a Strategic dashboard may only need 6 elements, whereas Operational ones may need upwards of 15 or 20.
Also, when trying to be concise, remember that just because you can doesn’t mean that you should. By this I mean that you shouldn’t get too carried away and add a graph or a plethora of text just because you can.
3. Group data logically
Following on from my previous point, remember that you only have a certain amount of space on your dashboard so you’ll need to use it wisely. By rounding your information up into logical groups, you will save space and break your dashboard down into easy-to-manage sections. For example, if your dashboard contains financial KPIs and sales pipeline stats, ensure that your financial data is displayed next to each other, with your sales pipeline stats displayed together in a separate, logical group.
You can also group your information into products, sales and marketing, finance, people etc. It’s up to you how to group your data, just make sure it makes sense.
4. Presentation is as important as the data
When designing your business dashboard, it’s worth noting that the most important real estate is the top left hand corner. Ensure you utilize this space effectively with your most important information such as daily sales figures or KPIs. The reason why this is the most important area is because western languages read from top to bottom and from left to right, so your eye will always start its journey there.
A successful dashboard also needs to be appealing to the eye too. Yes, the information may be there but it needs to be easy to read or view. White space is your friend, so use it often to make the dashboard look clean and don’t over use tables or graphs if you don’t need to, as they will just add more clutter (you can probably tell by now that I’m not a fan of clutter!).
Another way to successfully differentiate information is to use an array of graphs and tables. Mix up donut graphs with bar charts and never include complex data in tables on a dashboard as you can always drill down into this later; dashboards are designed to be an overview of performance, not a barrage of data that takes you a week to analyze.
5. How often does your data need to be refreshed?
Firstly it depends on your objectives. Do you need to sync real-time information if all you need is a weekly or monthly feed? Once you ascertain the level of information you need, you can determine whether to go through the pain of sourcing real-time data or a simple refresh every so often.
As a rule of thumb, Operational dashboards require data in real-time or as close to real-time as possible, whereas Strategic dashboards require their data to be refreshed on a much less frequent basis.
By following the simple steps explained above you should be able to design a perfectly tailored dashboard by generating the insights that you need and nothing more.
How do you currently use business dashboards? Do you agree with my tips above? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.