Optimizing Dashboard Design to Drive Action

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Dashboards are strategic tools that become the face of your initiative’s insights. And, if they’re designed well, they are the launching point for relevant action within your organization. The steps below will help you optimize dashboard design to drive action.

Figure 1 - Dashboards are strategic decision-making tools

Start with the Right Data

When a dashboard is working well, it focuses each recipient on how they can specifically impact organizational core metrics, or Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) such as retention, conversion and lifetime value.

Before you build your first chart, understand the context in which your initiative operates. What are the core metrics your company cares about? What are the existing dashboards your executives look at every day? Make sure your data includes a semi-live feed of these core metrics so you can display them in your dashboard. This information is vital to an effective dashboard.

Analyze your data to identify the correlations that will answer the “why” for action. Include customer sentiment data so you can identify the path from your organization’s activities, through customer sentiment and behavior, to resulting KPIs.

These are the important correlations that will help you build dashboards that will drive effective action. When you know which company activities create the strongest tie to improved KPIs, you can promote the most effective behaviors throughout your organization.

Figure 2 - Combine Business Data with Customer Feedback

Know Your Audience

Dashboards are only as good as they are helpful. To create a dashboard that motivates and inspires, you need to meet dashboard consumers where they are. This means asking some basic but important questions that will help you understand what each person needs:

  • • Who is the information for? Once you understand your target customers, many decisions will become easy.
  • • What is their need? This knowledge will help you cull the truly essential from the merely nice-to-know.
  • • Why do they need it? What surrounding situations make this dashboard important? Will it help them raise their department out of the red? Will it help them look good to the executives? Will they be able to finally see the relevant information they’ve been clamoring for?
  • • What actions are they able and willing to take? A great dashboard presents addressable opportunities and links to resources on how to address them. You want to make sure that the actions you suggest are doable by those who view them.
  • • When do they need the information? Do they need new information once a day? Several times a day? Once a month?
  • • Where will they view it? Do they consume information more easily in an e-mail or in a Web browser? Would they rather receive a printed report?
  • • How will they consume it? Are your users apt to ask additional questions of the data or will they just focus on a few key numbers? Will you need to supply additional exploration tools, such as drill-down capabilities and supplementary reports? Are they on a mobile device or at their desk?

First build dashboards for the executives, because they will help you see what’s truly critical for the organization. With this understanding, you can then present the right information to the rest of the organization. Figure 3 shows some common needs for various levels of the organization.

Figure 3 - Know your Audience

Executives are looking for a KPI view, with indicators regarding trend. For example, are the core metrics up or down from the previous period? How do you compare over the same period last year? Executives also want to see improvement priorities.

Managers want to see the enterprise KPIs, but couched in a comparison with their division(s). For example, if I’m a manager of 10 units, I want to see how each unit is doing on the core KPIs, with the ability to reference the full organization’s scores. I also want to see who’s doing great, and who needs some extra direction or help from me. Additionally, I want to see a prioritized view of what each unit should be working on first.

Front line employees — those who regularly interact with customers — are very important to your organization. They’re typically most interested in their own performance and whether they’re “making bonus” if that’s the way your organization motivates them. They also care a great deal about customer feedback, as people at other organizations might.

Craft a Great Visual Experience

Creating a beautiful dashboard is more than just “nice,” it makes business sense. When a dashboard looks good, your users will want to view it. The visual display speaks clearly about the priority your organization places on the dashboard information.

Communicate with Color

Let color speak wherever it can. We have immediate emotional reactions to color, so if you can say something with color instead of text, it is usually a good idea. Use red, yellow and green to communicate risk, warning or success. Highlight combined index scores with a blended color that represents the individual contributors of that score. And, use grey and blue to display non-descript background information from which viewers can reference and compare.


Figure 4 - Use Color to Communicate

Keep it Simple

Avoid the temptation to cover every small issue that could potentially come up. Instead, focus on the top five reasons for churn, as an example. You can link to additional dashboards or outside information to provide more detail.

Sort information in charts from most to least important. This gives executives a quick punch list of issues to focus on. People can't meaningfully focus on more than five to seven concepts at the same time. Make use of this fact in all your chart designs.

Develop a Plan to Drive Action

A dashboard does its job when it answers three key questions for the viewers:

1) How am I performing?

2) How does that compare?

3) How do I improve?

You can answer these questions with various chart types and links. Some examples are shown in “Putting it All Together,” below.

Since your dashboard viewer’s actions will be the driver of success, employ several forms of influence to motivate action. Here are some additional suggestions:

  • • Measure what you want to improve
  • • Motivate with the why
  • • Teach how to improve
  • • Make improvement tools available
  • • Make it social
  • o Make progress visible
  • o Show how they compare o Involve them in the conversation
  • • Incent for performance
  • • Focus on a few vital behaviors

Putting it All Together

Here are two examples of dashboards that work well. Figure 6 displays an executive dashboard. In the top row, the first two charts display the key metric, comparing it against goal and past performance. A third chart displays Net Promoter Score (NPS) by brand.

On the second row, information is organized by color and size. In the middle chart, only the top 5 reasons are displayed in red. Notice the use of color in the charts. Green is positive, red highlights concerns and other colors represent brands.

This dashboard answers the questions: How am I doing? How does that compare? And, improvement priorities are clearly shown.


Figure 5 – Executive Dashboard

In Figure 7, a Manager Dashboard displays Sales and Service Top Box scores and shows how the scores compare to goal and to others in the organization. A trend chart shows how both sales and service have been trending over time. Notice the headings that make information easy to understand. And, clickable links move to additional information. An alerts chart displays results of action the organization has been taking.


Figure 6 - Manager Dashboard

Never forget: Companies purchase business intelligence tools for the outcomes they produce from data. A well-designed dashboard, first and foremost, provides an at-a-glance snapshot of how the displayed data translates to concrete business goals.

(About the author: Michelle Pfister is senior product manager for MaritzCX, a global provider of customer experience software and services.)

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