Recently, I got a chance to work on creating an executive dashboard.
By an executive dashboard, I mean a dashboard that is used by executives to get relevant data in one place and make a decision based on the dashboard results.
Since it was data intensive, I used Excel to create it and then used specific views from it and presented it using PowerPoint. I have learned over the years that executives react favorably to dashboards presented using PowerPoint.
Now creating an Excel dashboard is a long process and it takes certain skill and experience to get the work done.
Here, I want to share what I have learned in the process of building a dashboard and mistakes to avoid when working on one.
Choosing the Wrong Metrics
Most of the time, those who are tasked to create an executive dashboard for their organizations make the mistake of including all metrics that are set by the company. While it is imperative that you consistently check your standing vis-à-vis your business goals, you have to make sure that only the relevant metrics appear on the board. Make sure that you include only the valuable metrics by choosing those that are directly aligned with your core objectives and the efforts that individual executives make towards achieving them.
Make sure that you include only the valuable metrics by choosing those that are directly aligned with your core objectives and the efforts that individual executives make towards achieving them.
Now the big question is, how to know what are the right metrics? You can only know this if you keep the objective of the dashboard in mind. Ask your clients/management on how they would be using the dashboard and what questions would this dashboard answer.
Only when you have a clear understanding of the objective, can even begin to think of the metrics that would be needed.
Trying to Include Data Just because it is Available
We live in the age of big data is more often than not, you are inundated with relevant and irrelevant data.
When creating a dashboard, don’t try to include everything just because you have the data. Ask the question – is this data helping me in answering the key questions. My suggestion is to only keep the data that is 100% relevant.
Overloading the Wireframe with Too Much Formatting Guidelines
Designers often make the mistake of thinking that colorful prototypes are what the end users want. This cannot be farther from the truth.
The creative dashboard should be kept as simple as possible. If you are to use colors, you have to make sure that it has something to do with signifying points for contrast among the elements on the dashboard. The function is the primary concern here, so focus on detailing the requirements of the organizational tasks at hand.
Not Making the Dashboard Interactive
When you design an executive dashboard, you need to consistently go back to the function of the tool.
With this being said, the dashboard has to include functionalities that will empower the users to customize their views depending on the kinds of information that they need at a certain moment.
This helps as while you are presenting the insights, your audience may ask questions that can be answered by simply changing the view of the dashboard.
This is why you need to make the dashboard as interactive as possible. Ensure that you include the necessary details and functions that will help the users gather relevant information with just a few clicks.
Failing to Add Provisions for Data Context
Yes, executives are mainly inclined towards using numeric data to create decisions and to plot out their next steps; but this does not mean that number exist in a void. The dashboard is, after all, a tool for tactical analysis. For this reason, you need to ensure that you include a provision that your clients may use to add and acquire the context surrounding the figures.
To be on the safe side, so a preliminary interview and ask the organization what their benchmarks are for evaluating the numbers. This will help you ensure that you produce a design that will include features for proper analysis.
Not Using the Right Data Representations
When creating a dashboard, you are always limited by the real estate you can use on the screen.
Ideally, you would want to use the tables or charts that your audience is familiar with. At the same time, you need to make sure that the data or charts are the right ones that answer the question your management or client are looking to answer using the dashboard.
While creating a data representation, you need to see if you can minimize the use of space while still showing the same level of details. For example, you can use comparitive charts that plot more than one type of data in the same chart.
Not using the Organization’s Business Plan as the Foundation
It is the executives’ main task to create a business plan that will propel the organization forward. As a designer, it is your task to ensure that you produce an executive dashboard that will help them achieve what they plan to achieve for their business.
Creating a board that fails to take the overall plan into account will render the exercise moot. You have to ensure that you produce a design that will allow users to assess real-time standing versus the plans that they have for their organization.
Showing Too Many Alerts
Believe it or not, alerts can be counterproductive at times. Imagine working on something and consistently receiving alerts that divide your attention and divert your focus.
As much as you can, try to keep alerts at the minimum. Have a sit-down discussion with your clients and determine which actions require immediate actions; and use your findings to design your alert mechanisms.
Ignoring User Feedback
The ultimate test of your design lies on how user-friendly it is. This is why you should do some beta tests and make the necessary adjustments based on your findings.
Feedback from people who are within the organization will help you optimize your design. By taking their opinions into account, you will surely be able to create an executive dashboard that people in the organization will be delighted to use.