In the world of data analytics, we tend to build reports to tell a story about a specific segment we are analyzing, and let’s face it. Sometimes we just don’t know where to start. For example, if I am attempting to tell a story about a new loan product that was introduced, I try to paint a robust, holistic picture by showing the data in table and chart forms with a matrix or list embedded at some point. More times than not I go down rabbit holes and include too much information, overwhelming my reader. I end up having to take a step back, stare at a document overloaded with tables and charts, and reboot my thought process.
Instead of wasting all this energy just to start over again, I should have asked myself some critical questions that beg answers before I commence my dashboard report efforts.
- What data is pertinent to tell the narrative of this segment I have chosen to analyze – using today’s data?
- What visualizations will bring life to this narrative, making it the easiest to understand, in a quick manner?
- What story do I need to get across to my audience?
So where do you start? What are some of the fundamental objectives of a dashboard report and how does this type of report differ from others? Here’s some tips to keep in mind when building dashboard reports.
Measurements of Success
There are various ways to track success. KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are metrics that companies put forward to monitor performance and to ensure that day-to-day operations are not going too far off-course. Not to be confused with OKRs (Objectives and Key Results), which should be in place when your ship may tilt off center, and the company needs tangible goals to get back on steady ground. Conversely, OKRs can also be established to simply push the company further, deeper, and wider in whatever endeavors they are seeking. OKRs are forward looking with specific milestones that need to be met to reach each objective.
Whether the specifics of a certain KPI are spelled out on the dashboard or not (i.e. Maintain a healthy overall delinquency ratio ≤ 0.60%), a dashboard report should give a quick update surrounding the KPI. The visuals below reveal that the delinquency ratio is sitting consistently where it should be in relation to this KPI.
A dashboard report shouldn’t take 20 minutes to read, but rather be quick and brief enough that your audience (whether it’s your direct reports, upper management, board of directors, etc.) opens the email attachment or report packet where the dashboard is housed and gets information by skimming over it. Have you ever felt like you spent all this time and energy creating and sending reports to colleagues, to eventually question if anyone is looking at them? I’ve been there, done that. If so – re-evaluate your dashboard report and ask the three questions above to yourself.
Helpful visuals include single-line boxes, multi-line boxes, standard charts and trend charts. Below is an example of a dashboard that has one of each – providing a quick glimpse of the Used Auto portfolio.
A vital characteristic of an effective dashboard report is simplicity. A U.S. Navy design principle says it best: K.I.S.S. = Keep It Simple, Stupid (or for delicate ears, Keep it Short and Simple). As a product director, I repeat this to myself weekly relating to all things in the product management world. Although my personality type responds well to glitter, rainbows and butterflies flying out of reports, I know better not to get all fancy when it comes to dashboard reports. The audience wants a pulse on how your business units are performing, and they expect it in a comprehensive, yet straightforward manner.
Hopefully by now, you are chomping at the bit to go create your own dashboard report. The world is your [dashboard-making] oyster! Go out and build one – and make it a good one.