I think dashboards are pretty cool. In fact, I would go so far as to say they are one of the most powerful tools that have come into the enterprise world since we began capturing data. Transforming data into visible insights has never been done in such a paramount way. When it comes to what you can see, the possibilities are endless. But unfortunately, this may also be the issue when it comes to creating a useful tool versus an eye chart.

The trick is figuring out how to take advantage of dashboards without overdoing it. I’ll tell you how to do so in five easy ways. When choosing a dashboard tool, make sure it is:

  1. Answer-driven: Before you even get to building a dashboard, you should determine what you are trying to answer in each data visualization. What makes a useful dashboard is what it tells you – not the display! My personal rule is that you should be able to change the title of any item on the dashboard to be the question that it answers. “Have I achieved by sales target?” “Is my production on track?” “What is the state of my KPIs?” Using this approach ensures you are testing the presented information against its purpose. If you do this and get a clear answer, then you may proceed to the next steps. If not, try checking out some of my previous posts around KPIs and then come back.
  2. Simple: First things first – keep it simple. If you have ever heard someone describe a dashboard as “busy,” “noisy” or “overwhelming” you’ll recognize the importance and value of simplicity. A dashboard is a window into your business. But I am not talking about a floor-to-ceiling window. If you put too much on a dashboard, you’ll lose focus and impact, thus making the tool ultimately invaluable. Pick what’s really important and ensure that you can get to the other, more detailed information if and when you need it.
  3. Organized: Like a well-organized closet, dashboards should have items grouped in a way that makes sense to you. Shirts with shirts, shoes with shoes, you see where I am going. Heck, it could even be organized by color. Just make sure it makes sense to the consumer. Information randomly thrown about the screen makes it impossible for someone to quickly internalize the results. Organize your dashboard so related information is together, and reevaluate on a periodic basis – you can call this “spring cleaning” if it makes you feel better.
  4. Visual: Of course, in item #1, I said that display doesn’t matter. There is a caveat. While visualizations are not the first priority, they do matter once you’ve made it here. A great visualization helps you see, understand and interpret answers quickly. Visuals can help spot something that you might not have caught in a grid (for example spotting a trend or an outlier) and it can also impact user adoption. Consider the visuals to be the beautiful presentation of your gourmet meal. It would taste good no matter how it looks, but it tastes even better when it’s presented on fine china.
  5. Personal: Wondering why everyone in the business hasn’t embraced that new, expensive dashboard you’ve invested in? It’s probably because it was shoved down their throat and preconfigured for them. This is why mobile phones let people customize their home screens – we are all making calls and checking emails but I don’t use my phone like my kids do. Ensuring that everyone can personalize what they’re seeing and how they see it is vital. Do this and they’ll feel it’s their personal solution and they will love it, care for it and keep it.

There you have it! The five dos of your dashboard are all laid out for you. Implementing any one of these items would improve your dashboard experience but combine all five and you’ll quickly go from “pretty cool” to “downright outstanding.”

Now, go get a normal-sized window into your highly-organized closet full of clear questions and answers that are served on fine china and personalized like your phone. Any questions?


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