Dashboards and Data Viz | Data Strategy

As data is becoming increasingly accessible across all industries, it’s no surprise that many companies are no longer confident in making their decisions based solely on intuition or a “gut feeling”. In fact, 91% of companies say that data-driven decision making is important to the growth of their business.

They understand that data can empower businesses to make more credible and consistent decisions that they are able to validate before fully committing to them. It may come as a surprise then, that only 57% of respondents from that same survey said that they currently base their business decisions on their data.

With the New Year and the beginning of Q1 just around the corner, there’s no better time to make a drastic change in the way your business uses data if you find yourself in the same spot as many of those survey respondents. It’s one thing to understand the merit of data-driven decision making, but it’s much more difficult to know the best way to change your current processes to adapt to that model.

If your business is serious about making improved decision-making your New Year’s resolution, we’re here to help with some tips on how to design your dashboards to aid in the decision-making process.

1.     Prioritize Data Quality

Business women and men in office looking at presentation in a standup meeting

Before you start designing a dashboard, you need to ensure that you are using quality data. This is especially important if this is the dashboard that will be driving your decision-making for the next three months. If there are any gaps in the data you are using, for instance, it could skew future decision-making because the data is not reflecting the full picture.

While not exhaustive, here’s a quick checklist to get you started. In order to have high-quality data, your data must be:

  • Complete: Are all required data points present?
  • Accurate: Did you double-check the validity of the data?
  • Timely: Is this information up-to-date?
  • Relevant: Is it serving a purpose?
  • Consistent: Are all variables measured in the same format?

2.     Determine the Audience

Young business partners sharing ideas and planning work at meeting in office

Once you’ve ensured that your data quality and cleanliness is up to par, the next step is to determine the audience for this dashboard. This step should not be overlooked, as it is absolutely critical to keep your audience in mind when designing your dashboard. It’s difficult to communicate the story of the data effectively if you don’t know who you are communicating with.

Typically, you’ll create separate dashboards for different departments, teams, projects, etc. Once you’ve determined your audience, ask yourself (or even better – a focus group) the following questions:

  • How data literate is this group?
  • What are the main functions of their job?
  • What data sources are used to track their KPIs?
  • What would they want to see on the dashboard?

Remember to pause periodically when creating your visualizations to consider how your audience will process and interpret the information that you are sharing.

3.     Bring Your Goals to the Forefront

Set goals for productivity

Now that you know the audience, what is this department or team looking to accomplish? The manager may have a couple of different goals they’d like their team to achieve in Q1. Instead of cluttering the dashboard with all of the smaller goals they had in mind, it’s important to prioritize or think of one goal that encompasses all of the smaller goals. Then, display that primary goal at the front and center of your dashboard.

Remember that your organization’s goals should be S.M.A.R.T:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

For example, a goal like “increase the number of leads” is a pretty common, albeit vague and uninspired, goal for a marketing department. Instead of providing a direction and a purpose, a goal like that is likely to leave that team with a lot of questions. What type of leads? How big of an increase are you looking for?

Instead, you could change that goal to “by the end of Q1, increase the number of marketing qualified leads (MQLs) by 10% compared to Q1 of the previous year.” This goal is specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound. It is clear enough for everyone to understand and easy to track on your marketing dashboard.

Gauge and thermometer charts are two great chart options for showing progress towards a goal. They allow you to do quick spot checks and see at a glance how close you are to hitting that number. If you are not on pace to hit your goals, then you can use the data from this chart to influence your decision-making and develop a new strategy that will help get you back on track.

4.     Consider Additional Metrics to Track

Program management metrics

Once you’ve established your primary goal and created a chart to track it, it should be easier to fill in the rest of the dashboard with supporting visualizations. Consider any additional data points or actions that would support the achievement of the primary goal. You could also add in graphs that provide a more detailed breakdown of the larger goal.

Going back to the marketing dashboard example, it might be useful to track the lead sources as well, so you can see which channels are delivering the best ROI and make future decisions based on that information. For example, if paid search is bringing in more leads than organic, you may make the decision to increase your advertising budget in order to reach your overall lead count goal.

Decision-making is an on-going process, but the best way to keep up is by using well-designed data dashboards. Well-designed dashboards are simple, with plenty of thought put into the chart types, colors, and layout. When all of these elements come together and you’ve utilized the optimal dashboard design for your audience, data-driven decision making is simplified. Everyone is able to quickly identify trends in the data and make quick adjustments in order to get your team back on track to hitting their objectives for the quarter.

Need some inspiration while designing the decision-making dashboard of your dreams? Click here to view our live dashboard examples gallery.

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Samantha Marsh Marketing Content Coordinator

Samantha Marsh focuses on SEO and content marketing for iDashboards. She enjoys playing golf, listening to podcasts, and cheering on the Wolverines at the Big House.


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