26 February 2021

Top tips for analytics dashboarding 

Man pointing at dashboard

Do your teams have access to the information they need, right when they need it? This is why a well-designed data dashboard is so important: a single page user interface, providing an at-a-glance view of everything the user needs to keep track of. 

A recent survey suggested that for 60% of employees, it takes hours (or even days) to get hold of the data they need. To help solve this access problem, the right dashboard gathers everything you need from multiple data sources, visualising it within a single interface. It can make all the difference in boosting data analytics usage within your business. It also makes it much easier to spot problems, make decisions and act quickly.  

The best dashboards are easy to navigate, understandable and hyper-relevant to each user’s needs. Here are our tips for getting your dashboards right… 

1. Define user needs  

A HR Administrator, Logistics Supervisor and Finance Director all require frequent access to certain information in order to fulfil their roles. But of course, this information will vary widely from role to role.  

This is why dashboard design must always start by defining user needs. Liaising with stakeholders from each department, you should ask the following questions:  

  • What specific information do individual employees require access to?  

  • How often do users need to view this information? For example, a HR manager will probably want to keep a constant view over metrics such as absenteeism, workload capacity and overtime costs. Other metrics (for instance, linked to employee satisfaction and gender pay ratios) while undeniably important, perhaps do not need to be monitored so frequently. 

  • How will this information be consumed? For the majority of employees, data will probably be viewed over a desktop machine or laptop. For others (e.g. technical supervisors based in the field), it may be that metrics will mostly be tracked via mobile devices. This has implications for dashboard design; in particular, ensuring that the interface does not become cluttered or difficult to navigate on a mobile or tablet.   

2. Pin down the KPIs 

Once stakeholders have supplied a broad idea of the information they require access to, it’s necessary to identify the specific KPIs to feature in the dashboard.  

One way of doing this is to present the user or manager with a list of KPIs that it’s possible to include, and ask them to rank how often they would need to view it (e.g. every day, often, rarely, never).  

The metrics tracked every day or often are usually the prime candidates for dashboard inclusion. So for example, the elements to be included on your finance manager’s might include the following:  

  • Current ratio 

  • Berry ratio  

  • Gross profit margin  

  • Operating profit margin  

  • Operating expense ratio 

  • Net profit margin  

  • Accounts payable turnover  

  • Accounts receivable turnover  

  • Cash conversion cycle  

  • Budget variance      

Beware of making assumptions about what KPIs are most relevant to users without confirmation. For instance, you might assume that the managing director requires instant access only to the top level strategic and financial metrics. In fact, they might have a special interest in monitoring a particular area: e.g. performance figures for a ‘special interest’ department, or the conversion rate on a big new campaign.  

3. Visualisation options  

Data analytics and performance management tools tend to include an extensive and sometimes bewildering array of visualisation options to incorporate into your dashboards. Choosing the right charts depends on both your audience and the particular data story you want to tell.  

Here are some of the more common examples:  

  • Number chart. A simple ‘ticker’, that gives you an immediate overview of a particular KPI. Often, it will consist of the headline figure for a metric (e.g. revenue over the last 7 days), accompanied by a single trend indicator; say, the percentage uplift on the previous week.   

  • Line chart. Capable of demonstrating patterns of change over a continuum, line charts are useful if you want to illustrate trends, accelerations or decelerations.  

  • Bar graph. Horizontal bars are useful for comparative rankings. Column bars are standard for displaying chronological data or for comparing data across categories. Stacked bars can be a useful way of displaying part-to-whole relationships.  

  • Pie chart. An alternative way of showing a part-to-whole relationship. Beware though: the more ‘slices’ you have, the more difficult it becomes to gain insight from the pie (consider alternatives such as stacked bars).  

  • Gauge chart. With a speedometer design, these gauge charts can be an effective way of illustrating progress towards a target.  

4. Choose a layout based on priorities  

The most important and frequently referred-to charts should generally be displayed first, followed by secondary metrics. At the same time though, it’s useful to have thematically linked visualisations in close proximity to each other. For instance, it’s going to be rather frustrating for your procurement manager if the ‘supplier quality rating’ graphic is situated on the opposite end of the page to the ‘supplier defect rate’ graph.  

For a senior manager’s strategy-focused dashboard, it may be appropriate to start with ‘big picture’ organisational performance and financial health metrics and cascade through to more detailed charts.  

Getting help 

Designing and configuring an easy-to-use, comprehensive and relevant dashboard is actually harder than it looks. It involves a deep-dive into user needs and organisational processes. It demands a thorough grasp of the reporting and analytical tools in play within your business. It also helps if you have plenty of real-life experience of what type of visualisations work best in different contexts.  

Would it be better to substitute multiple number charts with a couple of bars? Have we got the right mix between prioritisation and thematic links? Are our dashboards too simplistic to be of value, or too cluttered to be understood? Less-than-optimal dashboarding can be a barrier to evidence-based decision making. In the worst cases, poor choices can give a misleading picture of organisational performance.  

An expert perspective can prove invaluable. As part of MHR’s new Managed Data Services offering, customers can access expertly scoped dashboards, tailor-made for specific types of users within your organisation. It makes ‘on-demand insights’ a reality, and thanks to ongoing support, you can always ensure that your dashboards are aligned to organisational needs.  

On day 4 of our Data Week, we explored just how valuable an optimised dashboard can be in making insights accessible.  

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