At a glance, it’s easy to see why a dashboard will benefit your organization: a central, easy-to-use tool that lets you access data at any time and track key performance indicators (KPIs) from virtually any place. Don’t be fooled, though; the beauty and efficiency of a well-planned dashboard only comes with careful planning and hard work. Just like any business improvement strategy, creating a dashboard isn’t just about planning for success. You need your plan to succeed too.
The first step to dashboard success? Understanding the factors that could make your dashboard ineffective.
You don’t really know why you need one
Getting the most out of your dashboard means understanding its purpose. Sure, data visualization, charts, graphs, and visually appealing reports are great – but these aren’t the real reasons your company needs a dashboard.
- Do you want to base decisions on data? If so, you’re moving in the right direction. Dashboards aren’t just there to display information; their true purpose is to help managers and stakeholders make informed, data-drive choices.
- Do you have specific challenges to beat? Dashboards are most effective when applied to a defined set of challenges based on business needs. In other words, you need to know what success and failure look like, otherwise you’ll never know when you’ve reached one or the other.
You don’t have buy-in from the top
Executive support can make or break your dashboard initiative. Without it, you won’t have the resources or foundation needed to get results. Additionally, buy in from the higher ups isn’t enough; you’ll need the approval of stakeholders, too. This includes any individual or team who will reap the benefits of the dashboard when it launches.
Without the support of stakeholders, your dashboard could fail because the people it’s intended to serve will never use it. The solution is simple: Show your audience how the dashboard will make their jobs easier. Then, pay close attention to their feedback and make adjustments as needed.
Your dashboard is hard to use
Dashboards only work if people use them, and nothing makes users avoid otherwise useful reports like a bad user experience. After all, simplicity and ease-of-use should be two of your dashboard’s biggest assets.
Here are a few ways to make sure your dashboard is easy to use:
- Make sure you’re using the best charts for your data
- Don’t pick an overwhelming color palette
- When in doubt, keep it simple
- Keep the user experience as intuitive as possible
You don’t communicate with stakeholders during development
Okay, you got feedback about your dashboard before it went into development. Don’t stop there. Through every step of the development process, the dashboard stakeholders and future users should communicate. The goal is to create a dashboard that meets the needs of its audience.
Understand the stakeholders’ goals and what they need to reach them. Ask about their most commonly used metrics and metrics they wish were readily available. By doing so, you’ll cultivate a data reporting experience that grabs the attention of its audience and keeps them engaged.
You go over budget
It might seem simple, but sticking to your project budget is important. With a dose of planning and foresight, sticking to budget is easy. On the other hand, going over your budget is a surefire way to make sure the project never gets off the ground. Often, dashboard initiatives go over budget for one of three reasons:
- They aren’t scalable (they cost too much per user)
- They take too long to develop
- They employ the wrong software
When it comes to picking the right software, focus on finding a product that meets your most important qualifiers. Instead of finding software that comes with every possible (and most likely expensive) feature, find one that’s complex enough to support your goals but simple enough that it doesn’t eat up IT resources with maintenance and upkeep.
You don’t pick the right goals to measure
KPIs give your dashboard project purpose and direction. Focus on performance indicators that are specific, attainable, and trackable. Then, collect data that’s designed to measure these goals. If you can’t look at your data and say “We’re on track to meet our goals” or “This isn’t successful because of X, Y, and Z,” then your KPIs aren’t specific or data-driven enough.
You don’t define key performance indicators
Vagueness will sabotage your KPIs. Understanding what you want to attain is important, but you also need to know how to reach your goals. As you brainstorm KPIs, consider the following tips to keep them as specific and refined as possible:
- Only choose to collect data points that relate to your KPIs
- Identify the most important goal and support it with several KPIs
- Identify supporting goals and find data sets that correlate with them
- If possible, keep your goals simple and strategic
You don’t safeguard against bad data
In the simplest terms, bad data is vague, outdated, or wrong. In some cases, accurate data falls into this category because it is unrelated to your key performance indicators, making it little more than a distraction.
To make sure “bad data” doesn’t creep into your dashboard, create a data governance strategy to eliminate unrelated and outdated information. Then, make sure the individuals and teams who manage the data in your dashboard understand its purpose. That way, everyone who has eyes on the dashboard can help you identify potentially useless or inaccurate data.
You don’t invest in dashboard maintenance.
Dashboards don’t run themselves. You need to maintain your project once it launches. Start your maintenance plan during development. Figure out how you’re going to keep data updated; understand the best way to monitor your KPIs, and set milestones to circle back and re-evaluate your strategy and adjust it, if needed.
Some ways to set your dashboard maintenance plan up for success:
- Remember that your dashboard is never “finished.” Set times or milestones to re-evaluate and adjust your strategy.
- Determine which metrics are the most beneficial and find others like them to track.
- Never forget about data trends. If projected data indicates a challenge ahead, plan for it.
- If one data point is weaker than the rest, consider replacing it with something new.
You don’t give users actionable data.
Actionable data, in short, prompts action. Don’t give stakeholders information for the sake of information. Metrics should not only support your key performance indicators and business goals, they should provide the insight that stakeholders and decision makers need to continue moving toward success.
In some cases, raw data doesn’t lend itself to data-driven decisions – unless it’s displayed in an easy-to-digest format, such as a dashboard. If you aren’t sure whether or not a particular data point is actionable, ask yourself, “How will this information help my organization meet its goals?” If the data provides a clear path toward success, it’s actionable. If it doesn’t, consider cutting that data from your dashboard.
Want to start your dashboard initiative on the right foot? Find reviews and Dashboard Software product comparisons with our Product Selection Tool, or call for a free 5-minute consultation with a Technology Advisor today.
Jennifer Horne is the Senior Digital Marketing Coordinator at iDashboards – a data visualization and ETL tool for organizational data. iDashboards lets you blend messy data from multiple sources and create beautiful custom dashboards that can be securely shared with stakeholders, so that you can make data driven decisions every day.