The top questions you should ask and answer before creating a dashboard

So you have decided to create a dashboard.  Awesome.  Dashboards are wonderful tools that can turn data and analytics into business intelligence.  But creating dashboards is as much an art as it is a skill and simply visualizing information doesn’t mean it’s actionable intelligence.  At worse, you could be distracting or misrepresenting the true insights.   Before you get too far down the dashboard rabbit hole make sure you have answers to these questions.

Who is my audience?

You absolutely need to have an audience in mind.  What is their level of understanding of the data?  What is their attention span and how long will they likely be looking at the dashboard?  Sometimes you will have multiple audiences which is an extra challenge as people from all over the organization need to be on the same page.  It’s worth thinking about creating multiple dashboards for multiple audiences rather than trying to create a one size fits all solution.

What value with my dashboard add?

Good dashboards reduce the workload on the viewer as they are able to synthesize and display data in a way that insights can be gained.  Bad dashboards increase the workload on the viewer because it can be difficult to even figure out what is going on.  It’s important to set some goals for your dashboard so you know you are on the right track.  Some common goals are:

  • Help management figure out and track what is important
  • Display goals and progress for various groups
  • Keep an eye on time-sensitive information and encourage action if needed
  • Communicate cumulative progress and success and failure parameters

If you try to tackle many of these in the same dashboard the overall clarity will suffer.  Your dashboard real estate is important, use it wisely.

What type of dashboard am I creating?

Dashboards come in all shapes, sizes, and formats.  You can have live dashboards displayed on a monitor or TV screen in the office.  Or dashboards that are reports which are weekly.  Or that are online and can be interactive with.  Each format has its merits, but it will depend on your usage and expertise.

Some broad dashboard considerations are if it will be strategic or operational. Broad or specific.  Historical or real-time.  Customizable or one-size-fits-all.  If you can answer these and the above questions you will have avoided most of the dashboard pitfalls that people fall into.  If you can’t answer the above questions, then by all means, don’t let this discourage you from creating a dashboard.  Go out and create!  But before you attempt to have others get value from your creation, you better have the right answers.