1. What is a dashboard?
Let’s start off by defining what is a dashboard. For Business Intelligence experts, dashboards are used to visualize raw data, making it more accessible and comprehensive. Data just makes more sense when it is on a dashboard. In order to make data easier to read, dashboards use different visual tools and order the data in different ways.
Dashboards are practical when you want to see your data in real time or as historical graphs and charts, depending on what you are working on. Key data summaries allow you to be more efficient and make better decisions.
The recent shift in technology has changed the way data is collected. And with that, nowadays companies are lost in their data, storing thousands of terabytes of useless data for analysts to plow through. For such companies, dashboards are fundamentals as they provide a remedy. Visual representation using graphs and charts offers an experience that can’t be created otherwise.
Which brings us to ‘How to build a dashboard’. There isn’t any dashboard template that is suited for all organizations.
In order to create a successful dashboard, there a few steps to follow.
2. What methods should be used to create a dashboard?
Step 1: Straight to the point
A dashboard is one single screen made up with the most important indicators. Therefore, a dashboard should not show all the data points. It must only cover essential information. It should be a selection of the most relevant indicators of your business.
When looking at your dashboard, the first thing you should see is a quick presentation of the most important data related to your activity.
Excel tabs or other secondary menus created with other data visualization tools will allow you to study your data more in-depth.
Step 2: Addressing a problem related to your activity
You must start by identifying your operational needs, then understanding your audience. You have to ask yourself: which data best addresses the specific questions of interest? As organizations and professional fields are very diverse, the way the dashboard is configured will have to accommodate their different needs and backgrounds.
Create a screen or a tab for each data query. Too often dashboards are full of irrelevant data. The problem with these dashboards is that they do not portray a clear message. Your user doesn’t need to see all of the data which are available. They only need to see the information that they can use for their tasks. Therefore it is your job to organize the data for them.
In order to do this, you must know what the board and your colleagues expect to see.
Useful tip: a huge amount of public data is available on Office for National Statistics’ website and on other public databases. With this data, you can give your audience the big picture.
Step 3: Creating action points
Building a dashboard is a process that evolves constantly. Your projects will evolve, and so will your company. An effective dashboard is one that you can revise later if necessary. Meet with colleagues regularly and review the objectives to make sure the selection of indicators still meets their needs.
Each indicator must represent an action for its users. To give an example, a declining number of visitors for a website can alert the marketing department to take immediate action. The data must generate an action; the data can signal an anomaly. This is one important criteria that needs to be build into a dashboard for it to be effective.
Step 4: Defining performance indicators
The wrong choice of indicators is a curse for the organization. Each indicator must serve the company’s global strategy. Furthermore, it should be clear what actions are required if there is a sudden change in the data.
If you choose the wrong indicator for your dashboard, you risk that your team loses focus and takes the wrong decisions.
For an indicator to be on your dashboard, it needs to be comprehensible and adapted to all the people that will have access to it. In addition, it must be reliable and comparable contextually.
For example, it wouldn’t make sense to give the company’s annual revenue without first comparing it to the previous years’ revenues or to another company’s revenues.
It is necessary to keep this logic with respect to the audience and for all indicators.
Step 5: Creating a mobile dashboard
How does your audience use information? Most users like to use their computers to look at reports. However, some users might have a more mobile profile, like managers and salesmen. These users are always on the go. Therefore it is important for them to be able to access the dashboard freely on a mobile device.
Since dashboards are interactive tools, mobile compatibility allows the user to interact with the data at his fingertips. You can touch your creations to show more detail, navigate through the main menu into different subcategories. Most importantly, you can give a live demo when making a presentation to clients.
3. How to tell a story with your dashboard
Our brains are comprised of three parts. When we listen to a story or experience an event, the same part of our brain is stimulated. The neocortex links the reasoning to the emotion. Our decisions are therefore influenced by our emotions.
The challenge is to create a dashboard that is clear, has impact and touches on the reader’s emotions!
The worlds best speakers always talk about their past experiences and feelings when they want to present a fact or a statistic. During your presentation, don’t forget to give context to what you are presenting, it will help you keep your audience focused on what you are saying. Give your data a human touch.
How can you tell a story with data?
Step 6: Making your data more familiar
If your audience is knowledgeable about the data that you are presenting, they will be more receptive to the message you are trying to relay.
It is your job to find the best examples that relate to your audience. Try new things, show not only your data but also why you are showing it. Give context and illustrate your data with stories and experiences.
Step 7: Making it easy to read
Are you tired of not understanding someone else’s dashboard? Don’t make the same mistakes.
The easier the data is to read, the quicker it will be understood. Decision making is also affected by the clearness of your dashboard. If it is clear to the reader, he can take instantaneous decisions on the outcome. Something to keep in mind is that the user isn’t always familiar with the data format. Therefore it is very important to give accessible information to the users.
A graph must convey a single message. Often, dashboards present dozens of indicators and graphs which result in the loss of the users’ interest. Do not overwhelm the audience by presenting graph after graph of information. Present only one idea or visualization per screen. You can use many slides if you have a lot of things to present.
Step 8: Plotting the data
To captivate your audience, narrate a story.
Data is used to add truth to what you are saying. It shouldn’t be the center of your arguments. To tell a story, you must contextualize your data. Write a story that evolves around your data.
Work on making your dashboard more colorful. Your comments and titles should be easy to read. This allows your audience to follow and anticipate the data that is being presented.
Step 9: Understanding your audience
When you are preparing your data analysis report, it is essential to answer the right questions. To do this you must put yourself in the shoes of your audience.
You have to ask yourself, ‘Do the reporting tools that I am using correspond to the message I want to convey? Is the graph I am using intuitive enough for my audience? Is this indicator comprehensive enough?
Step 10: Presenting it smoothly
Fear of data and statistics is often an obstacle for the audience in understanding a report. You can overcome this by visualizing the data. At times, the audience needs you to guide them. The situation is to demonstrate and use data storytelling.
Emilie Ribo, Business Developer @ Toucan Toco.
Since 2014 Toucan Toco helps managers to make decision in a much faster and more efficient way thanks to data visualisation available on any portable device -iOS, Android- like tablet and smartphone but also on PC and Mac.