We talk a lot about creating dashboards and how creating and developing different dashboards can help your business, but not all dashboards are created equal. There isn’t necessarily one correct way to build a dashboard for your business, but there are definitely wrong ways to do it. The purpose behind having a dashboard (or many dashboards) is to make analytics and data aggregation and review easy. It’s meant to make your life easier so that you can spend less time tracking down all of your data and analyzing it.
Now, there are many different kinds of dashboards that you may want to build and each will have different requirements. These tips are meant to be general tips for your dashboard, but if something doesn’t make sense for a specific dashboard, don’t use it.
Before we get into building out the dashboard, you will want to consider what the purpose of the dashboard actually is. Here are some of the types of dashboards that you may want to consider building:
- Operational dashboard
- Strategic dashboard
- Marketing dashboard
- Financial dashboard
- Competitors dashboard
Obviously, there are some great tips in that post to consider when building your dashboards, but we’re going to take it a step further with this one. Let’s dive in!
Organization of widgets & dataThere is nothing worse than going to a data dashboard and the information is all over the place. That kind of defeats the purpose of having the dashboard, doesn’t it? Having a good organization method that flows well with consistent data segmentation so that similar data is next to each other will make it easier for the recipient to read, digest, and understand the relationship between different pieces of data.
We highly recommend creating multiple dashboards instead of trying to cram all of your data from operations, strategic, marketing, financials, and competitors into a single dashboard. It will make it easier to comprehend and you won’t have nearly as much issue directing the recipient to the data that needs their attention.
We also recommend adding text blocks within your data to help identify different sections and even give your notes on how the data correlates. Doing so will make it much easier for your audience to understand what the data is telling you.
Clear widget and data namingEvery widget comes with a default name which usually is just the name of the service (ex. Quickbooks, Facebook, Google Adwords, etc.) and may have data set name (ex. Facebook Likes, Quickbooks Recent Payments, etc.), but setting up a consistent and easily understood naming convention will help you and your audience understand what data is really being reported and it will also make it easier for them to find the exact data that they’re looking for.
PRO TIP: This is especially helpful for marketing agencies. Most clients do not understand what is actually being reported. Adding custom names that clearly identifies the data that is being examined in each widget will save you a lot of time from having to explain what they’re looking at. It’s also a great idea for marketing agencies to incorporate the last point about adding a text block below each widget to point out trends, what the data means, and why it matters to your clients.
Correct time framesIt’s extremely easy for data to lie. No, really. Check out our 4 Ways Your Data Insights Are Lying to You blog post. One of the easiest ways to have your data lie to you is to have incorrect, inaccurate, or inconsistent time frames.
If you’re preparing several pieces of data for presentation, each piece likely needs to be set to the same time frame in order to avoid confusion or false assumptions.
PRO TIP: Of course, there are times that having different time frames will be needed. In this case, it is very important to clearly outline the different time frames and why they are different. The last thing that you want is the person that the data was prepared for to misinterpret it because they don’t realize that the time frames are not the same.
Avoid data overloadThere is so much data out there and more and more is becoming accessible by the day. This is truly the information age and it’s extremely easy to get overwhelmed and drown in your analytics. This is true for everyone from solopreneurs to Fortune 100 companies. It’s very important to remember the purpose of your dashboard and then determine which data is actually needed to make the data story clear. Avoid using vanity metrics or any data that may confuse your intended audience. Simpler is always better, unless it inaccurately skews perspective.
PRO TIP: If you’re drowning in your analytics or feeling overwhelmed, your audience definitely is as well. Be sure to view your dashboard from the perspective of the intended recipient, not from your perspective. It’s common that the person that is developing a data dashboard has more knowledge and experience with the data than the person receiving it. Scale back and only report on the data points that are absolutely necessary in order to prove your point.
PRO TIP 2: As you scale back your data for better comprehension, be sure not to pull out data that affects what the data is telling you. Removing a single piece of data from your dashboard can completely change the story that the data is telling. Be sure not to let making the dashboard more digestible compromise its accuracy.
How does it relate?Like we talked a lot about in 5 Ugly Truths About Small Business Analytics, no data should ever live in a vacuum. All of your business data is related and changing one thing within your business will likely have an affect on multiple data points across many of your dashboards. One of the hardest things to do is to spot and understand how one data point or set of data points correlates to another. We highly recommend mapping this out in your data dashboard so that it is clear how data point “X” of one widget has impacted data point “Y” of another widget.
Using a text block here is vital. Unless you’re only going to review the data once with your audience and they won’t be going back to review it later, it’s important to have this live in the dashboard so that there is no confusion if your recipient(s) go back to review it a second time or after you’re gone.
It all relates, it’s your job in creating dashboards to make it clear how it relates.
SharingThis point kind of builds on the last one, but it’s important to determine how you will share your dashboards with your audience. This will likely change how you structure the dashboard and what information you will want to spell out clearly.
If you’re presenting the data in person, you can likely leave out some of the text blocks and simply explain the data within your presentation. More likely, however, is that you’ll be sending the dashboard to your audience and they will be reviewing the data on their own. If this is the case, be sure to give as much detail and explanation as possible. You don’t want your audience misreading or misunderstanding the point of the dashboard. That could result in poor business decisions and mistakes.
Widget sizingWhile it may be a little more aesthetically pleasing to have every widget be the same size, it’s human nature that we expect larger items to be more important. Take advantage of this within your dashboards.
The data and widgets that are most important to your audience should be the largest and also be placed as far to the left as possible. Larger widgets will attract more attention and will naturally be viewed as more important than smaller widgets.
PRO TIP: If there is a main data point that is most important for a section, make that widget larger than the rest and have the supporting data points smaller surrounding it. This will make it clear that the main widget is the focal point or target KPI and the other, smaller widgets relate to it.
Like we mentioned at the start, there are many ways to create dashboards, but in general these are some important steps to take to ensure accurate interpretation and understanding. We recommend using these tips in every dashboard that you build.
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