For many, IWMS dashboards have become the tool for compiling and sorting data in order to gain actionable insight into the inner workings of an organization. A well-planned dashboard can track performance, unite organizational objectives, and speed up the decision-making process. Despite the multitude of benefits, however, this business tool is often overlooked by many professionals, perceived as cumbersome to operate, and thought to only offer a snapshot of the big picture.
With technology almost always within arms reach, why, then, are so many business professionals still arguing the relevancy of data-driven dashboards? Assuming your enterprise has the proper business tool in place, designed to gather all disparate data into one centralized location, the answer is simple; mistakes are being made in the actual creation of the dashboards, rendering the entire data dashboard useless.
Are you spending too much time in the dashboard creation process? Are you sacrificing organizational efficiency and accuracy, simply to generate a report that offers no true insight into the subject in question? By asking yourself the following questions, you ensure the data stars align and your dashboards deliver actionable data that supports enterprise objectives.
1) What are my objectives for this dashboard?
Begin by asking and answering what and why; as in
“Why do I need the dashboard?”
“What do I want to accomplish or improve with this addition?”
This will not only help in answering the next set of questions on our list, but will also assist you in determining if the dashboard is even necessary. How much is too much? Will the dashboard deliver the right balance of information, or could the message be just as easily delivered through a single report?
2) Who is my audience?
Who will you be presenting the dashboard to? What are their professional responsibilities and what interest do they have in the data you are presenting?
The primary objective of every dashboard is to deliver relevant information in a concise and easily understood form. Is your audience a visual learner or verbal? Do they do better with spreadsheets or tables and graphs? If your audience consists of multiple users, can you cater to individual needs by generating the report in multiple forms. Remember, your data runs the risk of being lost in translation if your delivery isn’t up to par.
3) What questions does my audience need answered?
Before creating your dashboard, take a moment to answer a few questions about the interests of your audience. Your dashboard should not only tell the user what is happening within the business, it should help them ask and answer the age-old question—“WHY is this happening?” Depending upon your audience, you may even need to create multiple versions of a report, each highlighting the individual’s critical questions.
4) How much time will they have to review the numbers?
How long will your audience spent reviewing the numbers? If the dashboard is being created for a brief, end-of-the-day meeting, you’ll want to limit the data to just few reports. If it’s being designed for a lengthy board meeting, you have more time to deliver a bevy of reports and metrics.
5) Am I speaking their “language”?
No, we’re not talking about the audience’s native tongue; it goes much deeper than that. Don’t assume that every reader has an in-depth understanding of the information being presented and ask yourself: Does my metrics language make sense to those that will be reading it?
6) Which metrics should be included in my dashboard?
You’ve already answered the question: why? Now you need to determine what metrics are necessary to meet your dashboard objectives. What data is necessary to offer of a clear, full picture, as opposed to a snapshot of your organization’s situation? Be sure to blend data from all disparate resources, so that it fully supports your overall goal and supports a higher level of quality decision-making. This should help you prioritize your metrics, eliminating the details unnecessary for this specific project.
7) Am I presenting the data in the best possible way?
As a rule, you want your dashboard to be visual in nature. But too much clutter will simply confuse the reader and your message will be lost in translation. Be sure your dashboard is simple, clean, and easy to follow and includes the best types of graphs for the information being presented.
8) How often should the dashboard be refreshed?
The answer to this question is dependent upon the type of information you’re presenting. For example, if you’re measuring customer service response times, you’ll want to update the dashboard more frequently than, say, financial data, which could be monitored on a monthly or quarterly basis.
9) Am I acknowledging ALL performance measures?
It’s human nature to want to avoid the negative, particularly when you’re analyzing your business’ performance. Don’t make the mistake, however, of glossing over poor performance data. All this will do is raise more questions and void all your efforts thus far. Acknowledge all negative performance indicators in your report and dashboard, but put some thought into identifying a pattern as to WHY this is occurring. After all, the purpose of analyzing data isn’t to pat each other on the back of a job well-done, it’s to identify any holes in your strategy and determine how to adjust it in the coming months.
10) Should the dashboard be segmented?
If the enterprise has 5 offices spread out across the globe, creating one dashboard that includes data from every office doesn’t tell the full story. You’ll need to break it down into segments so that each location’s unique data is presented appropriately.
11) What actions am I trying to ferret out from each report?
This directly relates back to question #1 - what are your objectives? Each report you run should be provide actionable data the audience can walk away with.
12) Do I provide enough of an explanation to tell the full story?
Before writing your summary, consider the data you’ve provided, and the picture you’re trying to paint. Does the data back up your summary, and vice versa? If the two don’t sync up, it might be time to trim some of the fat. Just make sure you don’t trim too much, leaving holes in the final story. Your final test is whether you can discernibly explain how each dashboard metric connects to the organization’s comprehensive objectives.
13) Can I build an ongoing data strategy based on these metrics?
While you may occasionally have the need for a one-off report, your dashboards will typically be something reviewed on a regular basis. Spend a little extra time now, developing a well thought-out dashboard that delivers consistent, concise, and practical data, and you’ll save yourself countless hours in the long-run.
The mark of a well thought-out, data-driven dashboard is the ability to see and understand business-critical data at a glance. Key decision-makers utilize dashboards to gain business intelligence regarding happens behind the scenes, gleaning insights that turn ideas into action. Although there can be a slight learning curve when getting started, dashboard creation shouldn’t be a long, drawn-out process. By putting a little extra time and thought into your preliminary metrics, you pave the path for knowledge-driven decisions that will serve the organization well on its path to success.